This is “Dots,”’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:

• Friday morning at 8 a.m. in Columbus, Ohio, 48 teams will get underway in the USA Volleyball 18s Junior National Championships to try to determine which team is the best of the best from the qualified 18 Open field.

A total of 271 additional teams will compete in six lower-level divisions – 48 in 18 National, 48 in 18 USA, 48 in 18 Freedom, 64 in 18 American, 32 in 18 Liberty and 31 in 18 Patriot. Most of these teams will be chock full of seniors playing in the final club tournament of their careers.

If this is the end of your organized volleyball journey, we wish you well and hope you take away a lifetime of fond memories of sweaty kneepads, organized cheers, early-morning wakeup calls, matching scrunchies, late-night pizza, podium finishes and celebratory hugs. Thank you for  being part of this world. We will miss you.

• Seeds and pools came out for the biggest prize — 18 Open – yesterday. Drive Nation 18 Red – no surprise – is No. 1 overall. Jason Nicholson’s team won Triple Crown and went 28-1 in three qualifier wins. Coast 18-Ozhan is seeded second. The San Diego squad finished runner up to Drive Nation at Triple Crown, won three of the four SCVA Region events it participated in and won the Red Rock Rave qualifier.

Drive Nation and Coast also are 1-2 in our national top 25, the forensic review of which was completed on Friday.

What about the other seeds? Well, in our opinion there are some teams seeded too high and others too low.

Too high: No. 3 Gainesville Juniors 17/18 (FL); No. 15 FC Elite 18 Elite (WI)

Too low:  No. 12 NPJ 18 Forefront (OR); No. 20 Elevation 18 Spinney

Elevation 18 Spinney, which hasn’t lost in more than six weeks, is a favorite for the podium at 18s Junior Nationals despite being seeded in the middle of the field

We have Gainesville ranked sixteenth nationally. Seeing that team, which is led by setter Jalyn Stout, as the third overall seed, made us do a double take. We see how “the Committee” might have fallen in love with a resume that includes two qualifier wins and a second-place finish, but the wins at NEQ and Southeast, were against small, weak fields. The second-place finish at Florida Fest was more impressive. Gainesville had its best win of the season, versus MAVS KC 18-1, there. When we rank, however, we look at the entire body of work. Gainesville lost matches to CHAVC 18 BlackBama Elite 18 Renegades, Legacy 18-1 Adidas, Legacy Girls 18 Elite, Topeka Impact 18-1 and Mintonette m. 81 as well. That’s four losses to teams well outside our top 25. That does not present as a top five resume.

FC Elite we have about 10 spots too high. The Wisconsin club went 19-14 in four qualifiers, with two fifth-place finishes, a seventh and a ninth.

We have NPJ ranked seventh overall, as the Oregon club won a qualifier and went 19-7 in the three qualifiers it attended. Add wins over Elevation, A5 18-Marc and OT 18 J John and losses only to Drive Nation and MAVS KC in a defining weekend at Triple Crown and you have a resume of a team clearly deserving to be a 1-seed.

We also see Elevation, which has lost just once since February and won titles at Bluegrass and MEQ, as MUCH higher than 20. Elevation has the momentum and tools to finish top three, led by Player of the Year candidate Brooke Bultema in the middle.

• We asked teams we see as medal contenders whether they were healthy heading to Columbus and what their expectations were once they arrived.

Drive Nation head coach Jason Nicholson, said that his team, which has lost once all season, is healthy and ready to go.

“I feel good about where the girls’ heads are,” he explained.  “Focus was a challenge with such a big break in the competition schedule, but the last couple of weeks we have had some opportunities to work with some other Open teams.  This, I feel like, has helped us get our focus back as we head in to Nationals. The #1 seed is a huge honor and shows what the girls accomplished in the regular season.  We realize this puts a huge target on our back and I hope we can use that to play with an intensity and urgency from start to finish this weekend.”

Coast head coach Ozhan Bahrambeygui said that his team is healthy and will strive to play as one unit from start to finish. This is a deep team that has pulled up sophomore star Jaidyn Jager to help compensate for the anticipated absence of left side hammer Claire Little on the final day. Little does not play on Sundays for religious reasons.

MAVS KC is healthy and focused on winning a championship.

“The girls have been focused the last six weeks on getting better at every practice,” said coach Beau Barnthson. “They have had some recovery time and are ready to get back on the court. This team has been an underdog the last few years and they are using that as motivation to push for a championship run. I believe anything less than that would not be acceptable to them. They are ready to do what it takes to get the job done. We look forward to the great competition we are going to see there, and welcome the challenges of our opponents.”

“I think you are going to see a great preview of what the landscape of college volleyball looks like for the next few years,” Barnthson added. “There are some great teams in the field, and we all have one goal on our radar. Whomever wins the championship will have to play three days of very clean, high level volleyball.”

Setter Macy Hinshaw will miss Junior Nationals for Circle City 18 Purple because of her sister’s wedding, but that won’t change the expectations for a team Scott McQueen has called the ultimate team.

“We expect to go in and compete at a high level and will be working in each match to reach those goals,” he said.

Club V 18 Ren Reed has all the physical tools to contend. One right side will miss the event, but the team has been rotating three all year so the impact should be minimal.

“Everyone else is healthy,” Reed Carlson said. “Like always we are going there to medal!”

1st Alliance 18 Gold won 17 Open at Junior Nationals last year. The team, which has been playing its best ball late in the season, will miss libero Gigi Navarette but will be okay with 17s libero Ava Falduto (Penn State commit) filling in. The team comes in with 16 wins over the field and eight losses total, all to teams playing Open in Columbus.

“The team has made some good improvement over the last month and we feel like we’re playing our best volleyball right now,” said coach Meghan Keck. “I expect that every match is going to be competitive this weekend and am hoping that we can make a good run!”

NPJ was a bit of a surprise this year. Coach Adam Ellis said he expects nothing less than for this team to continue to do what it has all season.

“Expectations are to always go out and give a perfect effort on the court and be aggressive in every aspect of the game!” he said

“The team’s goal is to come back with a medal,” Ellis added. “To do so we will need to take top 3 in pool and win our crossover(s) and then from there anything can happen. The team is focused on one match at a time. Forefront is motivated and excited for Ohio and to continue to represent the Pacific Northwest.”

A5 18-Marc, whose core group won the 17s division at Triple Crown in 2022, may have a passing problem in Columbus. The team expects to play down two defensive specialists and may be without its libero as well. A top 10 finish or better is possible if one or more of them can find their way onto the court.

Oh, we are also hearing that WAVE 18 Juliana may be as healthy as it has been all season. If so, the No. 17 seed may be far too low for a team that could challenge for the podium.

• What will happen in 18 Open? I have peered through the crystal ball. This is what I see.

Top three finishers from each pool, in order:
Pool 1: Drive Nation, Academy Cleveland, Carolina Union
Pool 2: Coast, Elevation, Sting
Pool 3: WAVE, AZ Revolution, MN Select
Pool 4: MAVS, Dallas Skyline, Adversity
Pool 5: Sunshine, A5, OT Jacksonville
Pool 6: NPJ, Circle City, Legacy
Pool 7: Club V, 1st Alliance, Rage Westside
Pool 8: Mintonette, Premier Nebraska, Houston Skyline

Bronze Medal winners: Sunshine, A5
Silver: Club V
Gold: Drive Nation

In 18 National, give me KC Power 18 Black over Kairos Elite 18 Alpha.

In 18 USA, it will be Vegas Aces 18 Under Armour over Ozark Juniors 18 National

Top-seeded Legacy Girls 18 Elite will win 18 Liberty over Five:1 18 Black

Give me Vital 18 Gold over Club V 18 Ren Austin in 18 Freedom

Actyve 18 Black
 will successfully defend its top seed in 18 American over Missouri Juniors 18s

Finally, in 18 Patriot, two teams from Pool 1, Northern Nevada Juniors 18 Jason and Coast 18-Brittani, will meet again for the title with Coast winning in revenge.

Note: These predications are iron clad. I will be expecting praise next week …

• “Tutus and Tiaras” is the name of the party USA Volleyball has planned for girls who will miss their senior proms to play for national championships. Good for USAV to recognize the need and take steps to create memories beyond volleyball for the girls.

• Premier Nebraska 18 Gold, TAV 18 Black, Academy Volleyball Cleveland 18 Red and Houston Skyline 18 Royal will be among the 48 teams playing in 18 Open. Those teams belong to the only four clubs, to date, to qualify teams in Open in all four of the high school age divisions.

Both Premier Nebraska and TAV qualified teams in 13 Open and 14 Open as well.

“We are extremely proud of our coaching staff and athletes for the extra work being put in to achieve these Open qualifications,” noted Premier’s Shannon Smolinski. “We also attribute that success from the depth in all age groups, as iron sharpens iron and this is an all club effort!”

TAV’s Joe Jablonski said that the 13 and 14s are the best teams in the club, making the future bright in the Metroplex for TAV.

“It’s an expectation that’s been created here since the John Sample days that our tops teams will qualify in Open,” Jablonski explained. “We do not hang our hats on that or use it to promote our club. It’s just important for all our top teams to qualify in Open. It’s a big deal for our teams every year.”

“This is a huge area of pride for our club,” said Academy Cleveland’s Paul Schiffer. “Qualifying Open is always a challenge as the level of play gets tougher every year.   We are so proud of our club, the athletes, and the coaches for taking this risk and putting it all on the line and then nailing it!”

Schiffer said there’s an attitude among AVC teams, despite being in a mid-sized market, to play Open-level volleyball every year.

“We made a conscious decision to play ‘Open’ or bust with our first teams in the recruitable age groups,” he said.  “What that means is we did not enter these teams in the regional bid tournament.  It is a gamble, but we believe our coaches, athletes and parents appreciate the importance of that challenge.”

Amy Burk, director at Houston Skyline, which also qualified its 14 Open team, said that earning so many Open bids is a huge point of pride for her club.

“It is a testament to our players, the quality of our training, and our coaches/organization helping to take our kids to the next level,” she explained. “We have a really hungry fulltime staff and coaching staff who are always trying to give whatever we can to our players. At the end of the day it is the players who make it happen! I am proud of the level of talent in our gym and the competition between all of our teams (in every level) as well. They are constantly pushing each other to be better too!”

• While Junior Nationals is taking place in Columbus, a new event, also only for 18s, will be staging in Las Vegas. It’s called “The Emperor’s Cup” and it is billing itself as a national championship event. National No. 3 Munciana 18 Samurai and No. 22 FaR Out 18 Black will both compete in the 18 Open field, as will Bama Elite 18 Renegades, K2 18 Adidas Jota and Virginia Elite 18s.

“I believe with Under Armour’s commitment that this event will eventually grow into a tremendous option for all,” said Munciana’s Mike Lingenfelter. .

• For the 15s to 17s age groups that we cover, the LAST chance to qualify outright comes this weekend at the No Dinx Far Western National Qualifier in Reno, presented by the Northern California Volleyball Association.

As of 2 p.m. Pacific on Tuesday, neither the pools nor the teams scheduled to participate in the tournament have been made public or provided to us, despite our requests. Thus, we can only speculate about which teams will be trying one last time in Reno.

In 15 Open, three teams in our current top 25 are without bids. They are AZ Sky 15 GoldAlamo 15 Premier and Forza1 North 15 One. Others in the next 10 seeking entry to 15 Open in Chicago include HJV 15 Elite and SynergyForce 15 Lisa.

If the tournament reaches the minimum threshold, three bids will be awarded at Far Westerns. There also will be four At-Large bids handed out subsequently. Remember, Alamo won it all last year as an At-Large team…

In 16 Open, only two teams at the latter end of the top 25 – Michigan Elite 16 Mizuno and Legacy 16-1 Adidas – are without bids currently. There are two At-Large bids available, so both could be candidates there, as I’d be surprised if either travels to Reno. Looking at the next 10 without bids – Dynasty 16 Black, Madfrog 16s National Green, NKYVC 16 Tsunami and Rockwood Thunder 16 Elite, none is a reasonable bet to be flying west, meaning there might be opportunities for unheralded West Coast  teams to snag bids.

17 Open is like 16 Open, with two At-Large bids and only two squads, AZ Sky 17 Gold and Milwaukee Sting 17 Gold, without bids while being ranked at the tail end of the top 25. I’d expect Sky to be there as well as top 40 team AZ Storm Elite 17 Thunder. Otherwise, talented teams like Sting, Six Pack 17, Miami Hype 17N Emilio and Pohaku 17-1 might have to battle for At-Large consideration.

• The forensic analysis of our national top 25 rankings is complete. Last week, I mentioned that the 17s and 18s had yet to undergo a rigorous review. At the time, here were our top fives in each:

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)

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)

Upon review, the 17s remain unchanged. For the 18s, Sunshine 18 LA (CA) sneaks into the No. 5 spot, edging Club V.

• Because the margin is always interesting, here are the teams ranked 21-25 in each of the four age groups:

21. Forza1 North 15 One (CA)
22. Dynasty 15 Black (KS)
23. Tri-State Elite 15 Blue (OH)
24. FaR Out 15 Black (MI)
25. Club V 15 Ren Reed (UT)

21. WAVE 16-Kevin (CA)
22. GP 16 Rox (FL)
23. Michigan Elite 16 Mizuno (MI)
24. Munciana 16 Blaze (IN)
25. Legacy 16-1 Adidas (MI)

21. Houston Skyline 17 Royal (TX)
22. Metro 17 Travel (DC)
23. Dallas Skyline 17 Royal (TX)
24. AZ Sky 17 Gold (AZ)
25. Milwaukee Sting 17 Gold (WI)

21. HJV 18 Elite (TX)
22. FaR Out 18 Black
23. Legacy 18-1 Adidas (MI)
24. FC Elite 18 Elite (WI)
25. Paramount 18s (VA)

Until next time …


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