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:
• It’s qualifier season! It used to be that President’s Day Weekend marked the unofficial start to the club season, but ever since USA Volleyball pushed up the 18s Junior National championships by two months and created separate 18s qualifiers, Martin Luther King Jr. Weeks is now the unofficial start to club volleyball in 2023.
Qualifier season kicked off with two 18s events: Windy City in Chicago and MLK in Kansas City. Five of the 48 Open bids to 18s Junior Nationals, April 28-30 in Columbus, were awarded. The recipients are: Sunshine 18 LA, WAVE 18 Juliana, Mintonette m. 81, MAVS KC 18-1 and Premier Nebraska 18 Gold.
• The 30-team 18 Open division at Windy City was uncommonly competitive. No team finished the three-day event unbeaten. The top two qualifying teams combined to lose five matches. Only Mintonette lost just once. Only five teams won one or fewer matches.
Sunshine 18 LA overcame pool play losses on the first two days to win with a 9-2 record. The team, coached by Cari Klein, lost to North Pacific Juniors 18 Forefront, out of Oregon, on Day 1; then fell to Legacy Adidas 18-1 on Day 2 before winning its last five matches. NPJ finished 13th, Legacy 15th, a testament to how competitive the event was.
Klein said that depth of the field required a full team effort to win. She singled out pin hitters Torrey Stafford and Olivia Babcock for carrying the offensive load taking sets from Sydney Floyd and Kahealani Carvalho. Drew Wright was “crazy good” defensively and MB Dior Charles was very effective behind the service line.
Sunshine swept region rival WAVE in the championship match after being pushed to three in Gold pool action by both Mintonette and FC Elite 18 Elite.
WAVE reached the final by going 3-0 in its Gold pool, including a three-set win over Club V 18 Ren Reed and a sweep over Circle City 18 Purple.
Mintonette defeated Circle City for the second time in as many days to clinch the third and final bid.
Adversity 18 adidas tied for seventh despite playing without its libero, who was at a national beach qualifier. The team had to survive two one-set tiebreakers to make it to Gold on a Saturday in which the team spent 11 hours in the gym.
“We had to have multiple people playing out of position, and it was a great showing,” said director Kyle Masterson. “The girls learned a lot and showed improvement each match.”
• AVA of Texas 18 Adidas won 18 USA with a 7-2 record, Iowa Rockets 18R went undefeated to win 18 Liberty and VC United 182 Elite handed 1st Alliance 18 White its only defeat in the final of 18 American.
“I am very proud of these young athletes for their hard work and determination!” said 1st Alliance coach Dina Kyriakoulis. “We learn, we build, we grow!
Only two 18 Open bids were awarded at the Kansas City MLK Tournament, because the field had only 13 teams. MAVS KC 18-1 won the qualifier with a 6-2 record. The team, which features setterLogan Jonesand hitters Betsy Goodenow and Reagan Fox, won its first two matches of Sunday’s Gold pool, including a revenge win over Premier Nebraska 18 Gold; to clinch first in the four-team Gold pool.
The second bid came down to the final match in the Gold pool between Premier and MN Select 18-1, the pre-tournament No. 1 seed. Premier won that match in two close sets.
Premier head coach Shannon Smolinski took us through the bid match:
“We knew going in that they had good length and size at the net. So for us we wanted to try and get our hitters in tempo as often as we could and in different hitting patterns. We had served and passed well all weekend, but in that match specifically our servers, led by (Nebraska commit) Liv Mauch, did a nice job of getting them out of system. The match as a whole was back and forth. The first set we trailed by as much as three but worked back to take a 20-17 lead that prompted MN Select’s first timeout. Back and forth we went, and a service ace by (Creighton commit) Destiny Ndam-Simpson gave us set point (24-22). A final time out taken by MN Select and a 3 point run gave them set point. Alanna Bankston (Louisville commit) gave us three solid swings and kills to fight off set point and secure the set 1 win.
“Set 2 was a mirror image of set 1, with back and forth lead changes for both teams. We pulled ahead late in the set with a strong service performance from Bankston at 22-20 to force a MN Select timeout. Stella Adeyemi (Hawaii commit) and Grace Heaney (Purdue commit) took charge of the net to give us set point at 24-20, but a serve error and a MN Select kill forced us to take a timeout at 24-22. Our girls were focused to close the match out after that timeout and a perfect pass by Mauch set up Heaney for a first ball kill to end the match in 2 (25-22).”
HPSTL 18 Royal won the 18 USA division with an 8-1 record. Fight Club 18-1 overcame two losses to take 18 Liberty. And Missouri Juniors 18s went 10-0 to win 18 American.
• Windy City and MLK KC are but two key events on the docket in the month of January. The Lone Star 18s Qualifier is this weekend in Austin, followed by the Florida Fest in Fort Lauderdale, Salt Lake City and Northern Lights in Minneapolis from January 27-29. Lights also will host a 17 Open qualifier the same weekend.
Another big January event, the CZ Invitational, takes place January 28-29 in Indianapolis.
• The Tour of Texas, a perennially strong multi-stop event that showcases the best of Texas, held its first of just two stops this year last weekend in Austin.
Alamo 18 Premier won the 18 National division without dropping a set (6-0 (12-0)), got better as the tournament progressed and defeated a team from Mexico for the title. Alamo has four standouts from high school power Cornerstone Christian on its roster, including setter Taylor Anderson.
“This is Alamo 18 Premier’s second Gold medal in back to back weekends,” said coach Jen Montoya. “Last weekend we took first place at the Countdown City Classic, defeating Austin Juniors 18 Adidas in three sets in the semifinals; then defeated TAV Houston 18 Adidas in the final, 25-20, 25-19. Alamo 18 Premier went 6-0 that weekend as well.”
Houston Juniors 16 Elite went 7-0 to win the 16 Invitational Division. Tara Cross-Battle’s team started the tournament seeded fifth overall but dropped just two sets all weekend, capped by a sweep of A5 16-1 Gabe in the final. .
“It was a great team win,” Cross-Battle said. “OH/RS Sydney Bryant led the way with 9 kills, 2 blocks and 4 digs. OH/RS Aaliyah Smith added 5 kills, 2 aces and 4 digs, Libero Sydney Black contributed with three aces and four digs and MB Jordan Taylor had three kills and four key blocks to help pull the victory over a strong A5 team.
“I am so proud of all of the members of HJV 16 Elite. All of them contributed to the seven matches won over the weekend. I can’t wait to see how this team matures and develops as the season continues.”
A5 17-Jing and Madfrog 15s National Green each won their respective Invitational divisions.
A5, from Atlanta, made the trek to Austin with their top 15s, 16s and 17s teams to gauge their early-season strength. A5 came away with first and second-place showings and the 15s team won the Silver bracket, all in all a strong tournament.
“It was a great showing, with very high level competition, and the Texas teams all bent over backwards and were very gracious in having us,” noted A5 director Gabe Aramian.
• Week 2 of the JVA Rock ‘N Rumble in Cleveland occurred this past weekend. A Canadian team won 18 Open, RockCity 17-1 took 17 Open and Pittsburgh Elite 16 Elite prevailed in 16 Open, in a tournament that was not as strong as in years’ past. That because JVA stalwarts like Munciana, KiVA, FaR Out and K2, among others, were in Ft. Lauderdale for a new event sponsored by 3Step Sports and Under Armour. Perennial 18s bully Munciana Samurai won 18 Open, FaR Out 15 Black won 15 Open and OT teams, one from Orlando and one from Tampa, won 17 Open and 16 Open, respectively.
If you take a look at the 18s qualifier schedule, you may notice that the Music City Invitational, which had spent five years in Nashville, will be in New Orleans this year and for the foreseeable future. The event is scheduled for February 24-26.
Tournament Director Lauri Dagostino said that the tournament loved being in Nashville but the cost and the inability to schedule out years in advance precipitated the move from the home of country music to the jazz mecca.
“The main reason for leaving is that an event like this needs a ‘home;’ a place you can count on year to year and hopefully grow,” Dagostino said. “We were turning away teams as it was, so we faced a decision of becoming an 18s only event or moving. A poll of some clubs told us they really liked being able to bring more age teams than just their 18s. So that started the ball rolling for looking for a new home.”
• Michigander Harper Murray was announced as the Gatorade National Player of the Year. Long regarded as one of the premier talents in the Class of 2023, Murray elevated Ann Arbor Skyline to new heights during her four years there. The Nebraska signee amassed more than 700 kills and 400 digs in her senior year alone.
The Gatorade folks, in their 38th year doing this, asked me to write a little about Harper for their press release. With a little help, this is what I sent them:
“Murray has been a star since delivering 700 kills to open her high school career. She is just so fast and vertically explosive that it’s hard to get in front of her. Even when a defense is set, her arm swing is explosive and eats up defenses. She also has every shot in the book. Give her a set and she will score, no matter where she is on the floor. Despite her loud offensive skill set, Murray is a complete player. She makes passing effortless and her feet allow her to pursue with abandon. She is a natural leader who not only wants the pressure; she thrives on it.”
To learn more about Harper and her amazing, athletic family, read the article I wrote about the Murrays for VolleyballMag.com last year at this link: https://volleyballmag.com/murray-sisters-27-022821/
• ECJVC 17 National finished third at the City of Oaks Challenge, going 8-1 over the three-day weekend.
“For a first event, this team connected very well and had very strong defensive play against very good teams on Saturday and Monday,” noted director Kelley Kraniak. “I was impressed with our setter serving, defense, and setting decisions during crunch time.”
ECJVC 15 National finished second at the City of Oaks, also finishing 8-1. The team lost to Triangle 15 Black in a three-set final match.
“We brought back some heavy hitters (Britni Silver, Brook Evans, and Lainy Evans) and improved significantly on back row play throughout the weekend,” Kraniak said
• The SPVB 16 Elite team went undefeated in the 17 Open division of the 815 Elite Invitational in Rockford, Illinois this past weekend. OH Bella Bullington, libero Morgan Asleson, MB Sidney Hamaker and setter Audrey Aselson led the way.
Until next time …