This is “Dots,” VolleyballMag.com’s weekly look at 10 things in club volleyball, past or present, that interest me and hopefully will interest you. Look for Dots every Tuesday through Junior Nationals this summer:
• This was such a busy volleyball weekend, with national qualifiers in Salt Lake City, Philly and Dallas, and the JVA World Challenge in Kentucky. We have it covered, provided that coaches responded to our requests for information. I sure hope they did!
We start today with the current top five teams nationally in the four age groups we cover. Hopefully, soon, you’ll be able to see the top 25s I’ve been doing since February but for now the top five will have to do. I am in the midst of a deep forensic analysis of my weekly rankings to make the list as accurate as possible. I have completed the 15s and 16s, with the top five as follows:
1. Dallas Skyline 15 Royal (TX)
2. TAV 15 Black (TX)
3. Mintonette m. 51 (OH)
4. Legacy 15-1 Adidas (MI)
5. Boiler Juniors 151E Gold (IN)
1. 1st Alliance 16 Gold (IL)
2. Surfside PV 16 Legends (CA)
3. Drive Nation 16 Red (TX)
4. AZ Storm Elite 16 Thunder (AZ)
5. A5 16-Gabe (GA)
Lots of changes to the 16s, with 1st Alliance, 16 Open winner at Lone Star on Sunday; overtaking yearlong No. 1 Surfside, which won the 16 Open title at NEQ this past weekend. The analysis in this age group also pushed down Houston Skyline 16 Royal a few spots and elevated Drive Nation, AZ Storm and A5 Gabe.
Here are the 17s and 18s, which have not yet undergone the same forensic rigor:
1. NKYVC 17 Tsunami (KY)
2. Colorado Juniors 17 Kevin (CO)
3. Dynasty 17 Black (KS)
4. TAV 17 Black (TX)
5. A5 17-Jing (GA)
Note that Ping Cao’s team at Drive Nation is out of the top five for the first time this year after a shocking loss at Lone Star to CHAVC 17 Black, from the Carolina Region; and another loss to A5.
1. Drive Nation 18 Red (TX)
2. Coast 18-1 (CA)
3. Munciana 18 Samurai (IN)
4. MAVS KC 18-1 (KS)
5. Club V 18 Ren Reed (UT)
• We are now less than two weeks away from the USAV 18s Junior National Championships. The field of 48 in 18 Open was completed last week with the addition of six At-Large teams:
Alamo 18 Premier (TX)
Excel 18 National Red (TX)
HJV 18 Elite (TX)
Legacy 18-1 Adidas (MI)
Madfrog 18s National Green (TX)
Mizuno Long Beach 18 Rockstar (CA)
As you will recall, last year Alamo 15 Premier won the 15 Open national championship as an At-Large team and Munciana’s 17s did likewise back in 2002.
Will any of the six above be wearing Cinderella’s slippers in Columbus?
The most likely to turn heads is Legacy, which is located only 200 miles from Columbus. Bryan Lindstrom’s team has 13 wins against the field, contrasted with 14 losses.
The team, which had to be remade after the early graduation of three starters, including Gatorade NPOY Harper Murray; has only 20 losses total. Lindstrom said that the team has a ceiling inside the top 15, just like a Triple Crown, where Legacy knocked off Milwaukee Stong 18 Gold, Tri-State Elite 18 Blue and Premier Nebraska 18 Gold in succession. The key is consistency.
“We have struggled to play consistent volleyball, twice not qualifying because we couldn’t close in a third set, losing 15-13 each time,” Lindstrom explained. “We have the ability to get to the Group 1 Challenge Rounds on Day 2, which is all you can ask for because it’s a crap shoot from there.”
Setter Erin Kline, OHs Kennedy Louisell and Abby Reck, MB Laurece Abraham and libero Kaitlyn Hoffman have been key players for Legacy.
Lindstrom has been proud of how his team has responded to the ups and downs of the season.
“This entire year we have watched players grow into better versions of themselves as they have had to step up to play positions and be leaders like they never have in club volleyball,” he explained. “It would have been really easy to pack up shop for their 18s year as some of the superstars of the team graduated early, but our five new additions to the team have gelled with a group of players that were coming off of back-to-back AAU National Championships. To watch a group of players step up into opportunities they have never had and to see new families seamlessly get along like they have played with each other for years has truly been memorable.”
Houston Juniors has 40 wins this season, 10 against the qualified field. That’s pretty good for what was essentially a new team. Outside Hitter Cindy Tchouangwa, a standout in six rotations; S/RS Claire Dewine and steady middle Arissa Smith have been the team’s leaders.
Coach Steve Williams’ team, which also has 10 losses versus the field, thinks that anything can happen in Columbus because of how new the team still is.
“Realistically, if we are in the mix on Day 3, who knows?” he contemplated.
Asked about his best memory of the season, Williams said, “I will remember being awarded an At-Large bid. This was a new team. We lost 3 significant starters from last year, added new players, and players playing new positions. After falling short during the qualifier season, we wondered if we had done enough.”
Alamo is another team that lost players to graduation yet persevered and made it back to the Dance. Jennifer Montoya’s team is 42-19 on the year and is an impressive 10-6 versus the field, with three of the six losses in three sets.
Montoya said that every win at Triple Crown in February was big, and there were five of them, including a win over 1st Alliance 18 Gold, the defending age group national champions.
“Our team really came together and played consistently solid, especially under pressure,” Montoya said. “It was fun to coach, watch, and I’m sure, for them, very fun to play! We dominated some great teams, never letting them get in any kind of rhythm. Once we got to the next level teams, we kept it close and learned how to seize the moment at the end, and pull out a few victories. We held our own and surprised many, but to us, it felt right…like we should be there every time competing with those teams. We didn’t want it any other way!”
Libero Alyssa Manitzas and S/RS Taylor Anderson have been the team’s catalysts this year and will need to be stupendous for Alamo to make the Gold Bracket in Columbus. But a top third finish is realistic for a team that continuously found a way to be competitive despite losing its big guns from last year to early graduation.
“At the beginning of the season, we set our goal extremely high…on an Open bid,” Montoya explained. “I wasn’t exactly sure if that was possible for us at that time (primarily because of our size and experience level of everyone we added on to the squad), but as we progressed through our season, it was looking more and more within reach! The fact that we ultimately checked that box is crazy awesome! This team has often found a way to get it done! I’m very proud of their work ethic, their mindset, and their relentless grit!!”
• Let’s start our tournament coverage in Salt Lake City, where the 15 Open division went to SCVC 15 Roxy, the darlings of Triple Crown. The second-place finishers in KC, still looking for a bid after T-5 at Red Rock while going 7-1; won its first two pools at the Showdown, but was in trouble after losing an 8 a.m., three-team Gold pool match to region rival Forza1 North 15 One in three sets. Aspire 15 Premier then won two deuce games versus Forza1, giving SCVC an opening.
“SCVC knew they had to take Aspire down in 2 to have any chance of getting a bid, which they did, winning the pool,” said director Melissa Boice. .
The first set of the finals went to Club V 15 Ren Reed, a Utah squad that hasn’t traveled much this year. SCVC came back to take the next two games and the title, thanks to amazing defense from libero Kaitlyn Herweg, a quick offense led by setter Milly McGee dishing to OHs Audrey Flanagan and Sammy Destler, RS Abby Zimmerman, and MBs Mia Miller and Taylor Boice.
• One weekend before, Idaho Crush 16 Bower won its second qualifier of the year by winning 16 Open at Salt Lake City. Cruish defeated Miunzo Long Beach 16 Rockstar in the championship match.
“I was curious to see how this team would respond after winning PNQ,” said coach and club funder Caroline Bower. “I was very happy to see my players were still hungry and it showed.”
Crush has now won 18 matches in a row.
“It was truly a team effort with my girls holding each other accountable,” Bower added. “The only Idaho team to ever win a qualifier did it back to back! So proud of these young women!”
• Triple Crown 16 Open champion Surfside 16 PV Legends yielded a Day 2 loss to nationally-ranked Michigan Elite 16 Mizuno after it had already clinched its pool, but was otherwise unscathed in winning the 16 Open division at the Northeast Qualifier in Philadelphia. The field was strong, with six teams among the national top 25.
Olivia Foye was outstanding in the libero position and is quickly becoming an elite recruiting target. MB Daniela Rusich led the team in scoring with her incredible speed in the middle. And OH Kaci Demaria and MB Kalyssa Blackshear continue to drive the team’s success with their big attacks from all along the net.
• Turning now to the Lone Star Classic and all that Texas talent, would you be surprised to know that Texas teams won only one of three Open divisions in the high school ages we cover?
TAV 15 Black won 15 Open, adding to its title at Show Me. TAV lost on Day 2, to HJV 15 Elite, after the pool had been decided in its favor; then defeated heavyweights Dynasty 15 Black, Houston Skyline 15 Royal, Madforg 15s National Green and Legacy 15-1 Adidas, all national top 25 teams, to capture the title.
“We played very consistent all weekend,” said coach Arthur Stanfield. “Our service receive was steady so we were able to set different hitters. Danielle [Whitmire] and Anna [Flores], our two setters, are both tall and athletic. They do a great job of moving the sets around.
“It was nice to finally beat Mad Frog since we had lost to them three times this year. Beating Legacy in the finals was good because we had lost to them at Triple Crown.”
1st Alliance 16 Gold moved to No. 1 nationally with its 10-0 showing in 16 Open at Lone Star. 1st Alliance won 16 Open at Northern Lights the last weekend in March, against a field that had seven top 25 teams; then impressed in Dallas against a field containing 10 top 25 squads. Going 19-0 over those qualifiers was enough to push Trish Samolinski’s team past Surfside for No. 1 honors nationally, even though, in between, the team sandwiched a T-5, with two losses, at Windy City.
1st Alliance benefited by a balanced offense, paced by Abby Vander Wal, Addy Horner and Keira O’Donnell, great defense and passing, anchored by Aniya Warren, which kept the team in every match; and solid touches at the net by blocks leader Gabby Stasys. Hannah Kenny ran the offense with speed and efficiency with the help of Horner.
“It was a complete turnaround from the week before [at Windy City] and I am really proud of how hard the girls worked each match,” Samolinski said. “It is tough playing back-to-back and this tournament was filled with tough open level talent. It was a great end to our qualifier season.”
Dynasty 17 Black won its first big event of 2023 by taking first in 17 Open at Lone Star. Dynasty dominated 16 Open at Triple Crown in 2022 on its way to an amazing year, but surprised by finishing 17th this year in Kansas City, and fell just short of winning in two prior qualifying efforts.
“Our team was disappointed to come up one game short in previous qualifiers, so we were able to refocus and improve in all phases of the game, but especially on defense,” noted coach Cassie Rockers. “Our team had great serving pressure which allowed us to really go to work in transition. We got great first contacts which led us to balance offensively.”
Dynasty won despite a Day 2 loss to Milwaukee Sting 17 Gold – 17-15 in the third.
“I was extremely proud of our response after some adversity on Day 2,” Rockers said. “We played some of our best volleyball of the season!”
Libero Ryan McAleer led the back row, with pins Skyler Pierce, Carlie Cisneros and Abigail Mullen all making big plays. Cy Rae Campbell and Jada Ingram were great going pin to pin blocking.
• The JVA World Challenge in Louisville was chock full of good teams, though, for the second year in a row, Munciana 18 Samurai did not make the trip.
The 18 Open division went to Circle City 18 Purple. Scott McQueen’s team is doing just fine despite losing superstar hitter Chloe Chicoine to early graduation.
McQueen, when asked, said that he could not name a team MVP.
“We are as much a definition of a sum of its parts as I have ever had,” he said. “Quinci Thomas, Molly Urban, Avery Hobson, Ella Chapman and Macy Hinshaw have all been essential.”
Metro 18 Travel finished second, adding a JVA podium finish to four Open bids. Safi Hampton led the offense with 83 kills. Brielle Kemavor and Gabby Allen fortified the defense with 24 blocks and 92 digs, respectively.
Tri-State had itself a weekend in Louisville. The Cincinnati-area squad played the part of Louisville Slugger by winning championships in FOUR divisions: 14 Open, 15 Open, 17 Open and 17 Premier.
TSE 17 Blue went 9-0 on the weekend and only dropped one set.
“We have not competed in five weeks, and have faced some injuries, so to come out this past weekend and play strong from beginning to end was a huge step,” said director Kelly Crowley. “We trained hard, mentally and physically, during the past five weeks and it showed this past weekend. We saw a lot of new, really talented teams and players, which was a good challenge for us. It helped our team put a focus on communication and attention to the details that can take you to the next level. We were a well-balanced team all tournament, from solid passing (Kelsey Niesen, Dakota Henry and Lexi Wolff) and attacking (Sophia Adkins, Addy Brus, Molly Dorger, Reese Wuebker, and Faith Young). The leadership, decision making, and ball placement of setter Maria Drapp was outstanding all weekend.”
Crowley said that TSE 17 White, which won 17 Premier, has had a very exciting couple of months.
“Coming off of an undefeated run to win Bluegrass, there was quite a bit of pressure to hold the 1 seed at JVA Worlds,” he explained. “They worked hard the five weeks leading up to the weekend, focusing on first contact and adding more speed to our offense. The whole group rose to the challenge, going 9-0 and only dropping one set in the final to a very talented team. Outside hitters Ruby Klusman and Alli Kirch have been instrumental to the team’s success all year, and this tournament was no different. Not only do they lead us offensively but both also carry a lot of serve receive and defensive responsibility.
“Libero Christen Tarter and DS Meredith Shea anchored the back row, keeping us in system and frustrating opponent’s hitters, while DS Felicity Siu added many important serves. The middle tandem of Anna Guard and Maddie Lambers provided key blocks, hit for a high efficiency, and allowed us to spread our offense. The right side duo of Maggie Best and Stella Ceddia shut down the talented outsides we faced all weekend. Setter Taylor Grubbs stepped up big running a 5-1 and pacing the offense with speed, accuracy, and great decision making. Overall, it was a total team effort from start to finish.”
Sports Performance 16 Elite, in only its second big tourney of 2023, captured the 16 Open division over Adidas KiVA 16 Red, avenging a championship match loss to the Louisville club at the Bluegrass Tournament in early March.
“It was great to come back to Louisville and be able to have a rematch against a great KIVA team and walk away with a championship this time,” said coach Seth Salmon. “This whole weekend the kids got better each day and to be able to not drop a set on the last day was great to see.”
Four players from the victors hit over .300 on the weekend, led by outsides Bella Bullington and Haley Burgdorf, who combined for 133 kills. Lauren Coyne added 50 kills, Audrey Aselson sparked the team setting and blocking and hit .474. Morgan Aselson led Sports Performance in passing and had 115 digs, almost half of the team’s total. Bullington led in aces with 14.
“Everyone had their turns where they were needed and the ‘it person’ of a match,” Salmon noted. “But a big contributor all around was our six-rotation middle Sophia Pursley. It’s already hard enough to play middle at a high level but to do that job and then stay in and also play backrow is extremely impressive. Sophia had 10 blocks, 92% in serve percentage with opponents passing a 1.52 average against her, 20 digs for the tournament and had a great ‘volleyball IQ’ moment with an unexpected championship match winning kill!”
TSE 15 Blue, which won the 15 Open division at the World Challenge, hadn’t been on the court since what Crowley called ‘a somewhat disappointing 11th- place finish at Bluegrass.”
“The group came out determined and ran the table with a perfect 9-0 (18-0) weekend,” he said. “It was an incredible team effort with all 10 members contributing big plays along the way. The defensive gang was passing in system and making plays all weekend (Libero Grace Jones (104 digs), DS tandem of Stella Penker (55 digs) and Madison Moine). Middles Kendall Bosse and Gabby Semona combined for 82 kills and 31 blocks. OPPs Milyn Minor and Bre Miller did a great job frustrating opposing OHs with block touches and had 25 timely kills. OH Nattie Slusher contributed 68 kills as a go-to attacker. The group runs a modified 6/2. S/OH Morgan Heater had 201 assists, 13 kills, and 55 digs. Last, but not least, the do everything S/OH Emma Adkins had 83 kills, 15 aces, 32 assists, 12 blocks, and 48 digs.”
• Here are some other highlights from the weekend:
East Carolina Juniors 17 National won 17 USA at NEQ.
“The team put together a four-match win streak on Day 3, defeating strong teams from across the country,” noted Kelley Kraniak. “The focus on the mental side of the game and team cohesion created all of the success. Holding one another accountable and building our confidence drove this team past high levels of competition. Every single player put it all out of the floor to win.”
Colorado Juniors 15Sherri finished seventh in 15 Open at the Salt Lake City Showdown. The team went 2-1 on Day 1, which was good enough to advance; but was on the wrong end of a three-way 2-1 on Day 2 and missed the chance to compete for a bid. On Day 3, Juniors dispatched HPSTL 15 Royal in two, then faced off versus Academy 15HP Danielle for seventh. Juniors started down big in all three sets but managed to prevail.
“The thing I am most proud of is the fact that we have been struggling with mental toughness and having the fortitude to be able to win close matches,” said coach Sherri Hawkins. “For the first time all season, we saw the team pull together and win matches that we would have just rolled over and died in before. The team played well all weekend and I am really looking forward to see how we compete in a couple of weeks when we head to Reno!”
Hawkins received this text from a parent afterward: “We have struggled for 3 years closing a game and we did it repeatedly this weekend! Didn’t know if they would be able to get out of their own heads! So proud of the hard work physically and mentally!!!”
Surfside 18 MB Legends took the trip of a lifetime together over spring break to Portugal and Italy to compete against professional teams and celebrate an amazing volleyball career together. They played four different Portuguese and Italian teams and got to tour the most beautiful sites in their off time.
“We couldn’t think of a more unique and special way for these girls to finish their club careers!” exclaimed director Hayley Blanchard.
CPA 17 Drew had a phenomenal weekend at the SLC Showdown, taking 3rd in 17 USA. The team went 8-2 for the tournament. One of the losses was to the eventual champions. The other loss, in an early crossover match, was subsequently avenged in the match for third place.
CPA 17 Drew is a 9-member team with no player over six feet, which makes winning nationally at the 17s age bracket impressive.
JJVA 15 Teal played its first USA-level tournament this past weekend at Lone Star and went 9-0 to reach the championship match before falling to Madfrog 15s National Black. The team did not drop a set on Day 1, and swept SA Juniors 15 Adidas, a team with USA bid in hand, on Day 2, thanks to the strong net play of OH Sofia Munio and MB Morgan Ainsley.
Strong passing, anchored by Bella Tavares-Seda, Alexis Sowers and Julia Howard, helped the Jacksonville squad get by TAV 15 Blue and Dallas Skyline 15 Black in the Gold Bracket. Mollie Fitzpatrick and Sarahbelle Jameson also shined at the net.
In the final versus the Frogs, setter Mollie VanDeusen did a lot of everything in a valiant team effort that fell just short.
VanDeusen for the weekend had 240 assists (10.9 assists per set), 10 blocks and 14 aces.
• Looking at the 18s rankings on AES yesterday, I came across a team called Champions 18-1. The team consists of five juniors and four seniors from low-income, rural northeast Alabama. Despite the challenges of geography and socio-economic status, this team is thriving at 30-1 on the year, with five first-place finishes in six events!
Three of the seniors are committed to play in college, led by Jorda Crook, a stunning athlete who will play at UAB.
The club, which was established in 2016, has grown to 13 teams, including the 18s, most of whom have played in the club since they were very young. Champions 18-1 will finish out its season at the Southern Regional Volleyball Association Regional Tournament this weekend in Atlanta.
“They work hard and they play hard,” said club director Jordan Costner.
• Finally, I asked coaches if they could change one club volleyball rule, what would it be? Many responded by saying to eliminate the double contact on the first or second touches, mimicking the way boys’ matches are called.
One other suggestion was for officials to stop worrying so much about bench protocols and where coaches and players are standing.
“It’s our side of the court and our disadvantage if we don’t allow for pursuit of the play,” the coach emphasized.
Until next time …