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 through Junior Nationals this summer.
• Gifts have been opened, toasts to the new year made and holiday lights stowed. It’s time to get to work on a new and always-exciting season of club volleyball.
For the 24th year, I will be covering the sport in some capacity. I invite you along as I give you the news, my perspective, share some past history and provide a fans-eye glimpse into the sport that has us on the edge of our seats week in and week out.
• Let’s start our look forward with a brief look back at the “teams of summer,” those squads that claimed national championships in 2022.
At AAU Nationals, champions at the highest levels included Munciana Samurai in 18 Open, Legacy 17-1 Adidas in 17 Open, A5 16 Gabe in 16 Open, Legacy 15-1 Adidas in 15 Open and Boiler Juniors 14 Gold in 14 Open.
• Munciana Samurai, coached by the legendary Mike Lingenfelter, usually has a smattering of prominent underclassmen on it, helping to smooth the transition from one year to the next. Last year’s team, which also won the Triple Crown NIT over the USAV 18 Open champions, Sunshine 18 LA, was more of a veteran team, however. Samurai returns only two players, senior MB Ava Vickers and senior defender Ramsey Gary. Look for sophomore OH Charlotte Vinson to assume the role of terminator 1, which Eva Hudson championed last year before going on to be Big Ten Freshman of the Year for Purdue this past fall.
One interesting note about this year’s Samurai squad: while Lingenfelter usually has a player or two from out of state, this year’s roster shows one, 6-2 senior OH Cate Shanahan, from Massachusetts; and another, 5-10 junior OH London Wijay, from California.
Shanahan is an Ontario native. Wijay will play club most of the time for Supernova in the Golden State but will play with Samurai at the major events on its schedule.
• Legacy 18-1 Adidas will look a little different than the Legacy squad that won AAUs at 17 Open last summer. Three players, OH Harper Murray, 6-4 MB Nina Horning and libero Sarah Velluci, are off early to college. All will be missed, especially Murray, who arguably is the best player in the Class of 2023 and the most talented player in the history of the club.
The team, coached by Bryan Lindstrom, still has many standouts, including Abbey Reck, who will move to OH; MB Laurece Abraham and setter Erin Kline. Among newcomers, OH Kennedy Louisell and RS Ella Schomer figure to be most impactful. This may not be last year’s Legacy team, but it should still be very formidable.
• A5 17-Jing, on paper, looks absolutely ridiculous this year. A Who’s Who of the top juniors in the state, it has the potential not only to repeat at AAUs but to add the USAV title as well. First off, the team has spectacular height, including 6-7 middle Mia Hood, committed to Michigan State; 6-3 middle Logan Wiley, committed to Georgia Tech; and 6-6 ½ middle MK Patten, a Georgia recruit. The team has strong outsides led by 6-2 Hannah Benjamin (Kentucky), a 6-2 setter Grace Agolli (Cal) and a standout senior libero in Gaby Cornier (Florida).
• Legacy 16-1 Adidas returns almost intact and seems like a sure bet to repeat its top 10 finishes at both year-end national championship events. Elite setter Campbell Flynn and terminal middles Olivia Grenadier and Addison Williams are key returnees, as is OH Marie Laurio. Look for 5-11 Keely Culler to be an impact newcomer. No one hits the ball harder.
• At USAV Junior Nationals, champions at the highest levels included Sunshine 18 LA in 18 Open, 1st Alliance 17 Gold in 17 Open, Madfrog 16’s National Green in 16 Open, Alamo 15 Premier in 15 Open and Mintonette m.41 in 14 Open.
That Sunshine team graduated all but one to the collegiate ranks, led by Stanford OH Elia Rubin, who was Pac-12 Freshman of the Week four times this fall. Still, this year’s Sunshine 18 LA team will be formidable, with pins Torrey Stafford, Olivia Babcock, Grace Thrower and Ava-Marie Lange leading the way.
• 1st Alliance and the Frogs also should be good as they seek to defend their age group championships. “1Al,” as I call them, returns all of its key players for their 18s year. Setter Jordan Heatherly, outsides Kennedy Wagner and Kam Chaney, middles Kamryn Lee-Caracci and Annie Eschenbach and libero Gigi Navarette all are key returnees for head coach Meghan Keck.
Madfrog will look a little different, as several players from last year’s team have left, with a few joining Ping Cao at Drive Nation. (Ping gets who he wants).
• Remember, last year Alamo 15 Premier on Junior Nationals as an At-Large team! Ten are back for 2023 and learning what it’s like to be the hunted. The team has started 5-0 as new coach Phil Jackson stresses the need to qualify outright this season. Megan Fitch, last year’s MVP, is the key returnee. She will score in droves on the pin. OH Aniyah Hall, libero Brooklyn Vigil and two newcomers, RS Macey Hughes and MB Ada Awagu – both 6-2 – are others to watch.
• Mintonette m.51 returns mostly intact from last year’s 14 Open championship team. Coached this year by Max Miller, the squad added a defender and two swing players to a core group that includes six-rotation outsides Sara Snowbarger and Layla Hoying, middle Alia Schoonover and libero Emma Cugino.
• Mintonette usually starts its season at the JVA Rock ‘n Rumble in Cleveland but did not go this year, as the tournament split into two weekends. The younger teams played last week, with Legacy 15 Adidas outlasting AVC 15 Red in an epic 15 Open championship match.
“We were excited to play AVC in the finals as we know they are a well-coached, disciplined team which competes at the Open level,” noted Legacy director Jen Cottrill. “We passed really well in the first set, so were able to run our middles really well. In the second set, our passing broke down so we relied heavily on our pins, which AVC was able to defend. We got out to a hot start in the third set and we were up 13-4. AVC rallied to tie it up at 13-13. Yikes! After a timeout, our players were able to re-group mentally and made some great defensive plays to win 17-15.”
Gabby DiVita, a 6-2 freshman OH who played up a year ago, got the final two kills in the win off sets from Eva Long, who is setting a 5-1 offense for the first time this year. The team got really strong offensive play out of the middle from 6-2 Kayla Nwabueze and 6-3 Ella Andrews. Libero Meredith Martin also was spectacular for the Michigan squad.
To all those who contributed on short notice that I did not get to this time, thank you and I won’t forget to include you in my next column.
Until next time …