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.
• When I first started covering club volleyball in 2001, there were two divisions: Open and Club. Teams tried to qualify for the Girls Junior Olympic National Championships in Open divisions by attending these qualifiers:
SCVA (Los Angeles)
Far Western (Sacramento)
Colorado Crossroads (Denver)
Lone Star (Austin)
Northern Lights (Minneapolis)
Open was limited to (I believe) 24 teams in an age division; Club had twice that number. JO’s had a cozy feel, with fewer than 400 teams total.
Qualifying meant you were part of an exclusive club.
It also meant that USA Volleyball’s revenue generation from JOs, it’s number one way to fund all of its programs, was limited.
USAV tried creating an “Invitational,” a second tournament running concurrently with JO’s but at a different location, for teams that did not qualify. It was not successful.
The National Governing Body then created more national qualifiers, including Show Me (Kansas City) and Disney (Orlando), which it would own and operate.
USA Volleyball split the Club division in two: National and American. It also expanded the Open fields, to 32 and eventually to 48. More teams meant more could experience being at the national championships. It also meant more revenue.
The USA division was instituted, where teams could only qualify through national qualifiers. It became yet another reason for teams to travel to the national qualifiers, which, with the addition of Windy City in Chicago and PNQ in Spokane evolving from a club qualifier only, grew to 12.
USA Volleyball added a Patriot Division. It was for any team that wanted to go to Junior Nationals (as it was now called) but could not qualify. Now any team could be part of the festivities, provided it paid the entry fee.
I write all of this because, this year, USA Volleyball is at it again. Starting in 2022, there will also be a Liberty division and a Freedom division. Where once there were only two divisions at the national championships, now there will be SEVEN!
According to the USAV website:
“The Regions will now have a new division to award bids from called the Freedom division which will be below the American division for ages 14-18s. This allows all regions to receive at least 1 more bid with a potential of 2 with reallocation.
The new Liberty division is a Qualifier-only division that will fall between USA & American for ages 13-18s and will give 2 bids if the required numbers are met. We will also add the 12 USA division to Qualifiers as well for 2022.
The new structure will look like this (ranking from top to lowest division):
• I recount the evolution of Junior Nationals without judgment. On the one hand, as USAV creates more and more divisions, the prestige associated with winning any national title other than Open gets diluted. On the other hand, more teams than ever seem committed to traveling for that convention center experience and to be seen by all those college coaches in one place. USA Volleyball is simply creating more opportunities for these teams (and generating more revenue for its other programs).
Take this weekend, for example. President’s Day is the first major weekend on the recruiting calendar for all colleges and universities and has for decades been considered the official start of the club season.
Look at how many teams are out and about!
There will be about 600 teams at Circle City’s tournament in St. Louis and about 800 teams at the SCVA’s 36th Annual Las Vegas Classic. The Capitol Hill Classic in D.C. is full, with about 750 teams. There’s an 18s qualifier in Dallas, a longstanding tournament in Omaha, events in Indy, Chicago, the Wisconsin Dells … and the tournament that has emerged as the Granddaddy of them all this weekend, the Triple Crown NIT in Kansas City.
In short, there seems to be more appetite for club volleyball and all of its trappings than ever before. So why not seven divisions at Junior Nationals?
• If you want to know where most of the college coaches will be this weekend, look no further than Kansas City, where the Triple Crown NIT is staging for the fourth year after starting out in Salt Lake City.
The tournament has done a terrific job of attracting the best of the best – Circle City will be in St. Louis and Metro will be at Capitol Hill — but ALL of the remaining top clubs will be there, save a team or two. That’s why the college coaches will be there, too. It’s the easiest way to see oodles of talent all in one place!
The tournament has a few extras that set it apart, including a dozen college-coach-led camps on Friday, college coach and parent hospitality rooms, and round trip shuttle service from the airport to the convention center downtown. There also are recruiting seminars hosted by the JRVA and an unsigned showcase for junior and seniors.
The main attraction, however, has always been the volleyball. The 18s tournament features defending AAU 18 Open champion Munciana Samurai and 2021 USAV 17 Open champion Sunshine, as well as other bullies like A5, Adversity, FC Elite and Madfrog. TAV, Drive Nation, Legacy and A5 headline the 17s. Dynasty, WAVE, NKYVC, 1st Alliance, TAV and the Frogs top the 16s and AZ Storm, MAVS, Surfside and Muncie are among the featured 15s …
“At 551 teams, the event is not as massive as other years, but we’ve intentionally done that to increase the competitive element while also opening up some space around the courts,” said event director Jared Rudiger. “From our rankings, 23 of the top 25 clubs will be represented in 2022, and we’re pleased that so many college coaches are back in the mix, either running camps on Friday or recruiting.
“We’re humbled by how the volleyball community has stuck with us despite the disruptions from the pandemic, and of course thrilled at all the high-end matchups this tournament will provide to help teams sharpen their skills for the season ahead.”
• A5 Mizuno 18-Mark is the top seed in the 18s division at Triple Crown. The team features not one but two current state Gatorade Players of the Year: OH Cheridyn Leverette, the Georgia Gatorade POY; and MB Mari Singletary, the South Carolina Gatorade POY.
A5’s Gabe Aramian wondered whether any club team had ever had more than one Gatorade winner on the same team before. I responded that with so many border areas with strong volleyball – Louisville/Southern Indiana; St. Louis/Southwest Illinois; Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky, for instance, as well as other clubs that kids drive to, it was probable that there had been two on a team in the past.
Sure enough, it happened in 2017-2018, when Ohio winner Jonni Parker and Indiana winner Mel Shaffmaster both set and hit for juggernaut Munciana Samurai.
• All of the 2021-2022 Gatorade Volleyball Players of the Year were announced in early January, 49 more in addition to Leverette and Singletary. Some of the winners, like Averi Carlson of Texas, Riley Buckley of North Carolina, Mckenna Wucherer of Wisconsin, Carter Booth of Colorado and Bekka Allick of Nebraska, have already enrolled in college.
You can find many others, like Elia Rubin of California (Sunshine), Jordan Middleton of Arizona (AZ Storm), Katie Hurta of Illinois (Adversity), Devin Kahahawai of Hawaii (SAS), Stella Swenson of Minnesota (MN Select) and Ava Brizard of Michigan (MI Elite), at Triple Crown.
Still others play for smaller clubs. Joanna Andrews, the New Jersey winner, plays for EVA (Eastern Volleyball Academy). New Mexico winner Tess Fuqua’s last known club was APAC. Hannah Howard of West Virginia plays for Paramount in Virginia.
You can find standouts in all kinds of places.
• Montana’s Gatorade POY plays for Mighty Mo VBC, a club in its first full year since changing its name from Zootown. The club, which plays mostly within state lines, is owned by Patrick Hiller, who happens to be the head coach at C.M. Russell HS in Great Falls and the father of Tennisen Hiller, the Gatorade POY.
Hiller, a 5-9 senior setter who has signed with the University of Montana, led the Rustlers to a 31-0 record and the Class AA state championship this past season. Hiller recorded nearly 1,000 assists, more than 200 digs and 130 kills while earning First Team All-State honors for the third consecutive season.
Patrick Hiller describes her daughter’s game this way: “Tennisen is a competitor through and through. Tenni has a knack of knowing exactly what her teams need her to do to ensure that they win. As the setter, she knows that she can control the tempo and the overall mindset of the team. Tennisen also has a fierce desire to pass along her love of volleyball to the younger kids in our program.”
This past fall, both father and daughter got to experience state titles, the first for Patrick, in his 15th year as head coach at CMR; the first for Tenni in her fourth year as a starter. Tenni scored the winning point in a five-set state championship final, then jumped into her dad’s arms.
It was storybook.
• Sienna Noordermeer isn’t just a great senior setter bound for Northwestern University in Chicago; she’s also a philanthropist!
The California native, who shined for state-ranked Village Christian HS in California and will be at Triple Crown setting San Gabriel Elite 18 RoShamBo, conceived of doing a fundraiser for Special Olympics and, in December, staged a serve-a-thon at her high school that raised almost $15,000, much more than her initial $10,000 goal.
Better yet, her underclass teammates will take over the project next year and in the years to come.
“It’s something we want to be known for, other than being a good volleyball program,” Village Christian head coach Brent Asuka told a local paper. “I think we just want to be known for the impact you make on the community. That’s the culture we want to build.”
• Chris Beerman, a former college head coach and one of the great personalities in volleyball, died from COVID-19 at age 53 a little more than a year ago. At the time of his passing, he not only ran Lexington United VBC in Lexington, Kentucky, he was LUV.
There were questions about how Lexington United would go on without “Beerman,” as those who knew him best called him. He would be happy to know that, with more than 600 athletes and a new facility, the club is thriving.
“We’re keeping it going and doing it in Lexington for him,” said Amy Barmore who, along with Jenni Morgan, took over the club. “I’d like to think he would be proud of us.”
The new, nine-court facility, which opened just before tryouts, allows the club to practice almost all of its teams under one roof, something that wasn’t possible with the old five-court space. It also allows club members to stay connected to Beerman, through the tribute wall and other things the staff has been doing, like showing up in his signature short sleeve shirt and vest on the anniversary of his death.
“We definitely feel his presence here,” Barmore said. “We did a tribute wall, where we hung up his favorite quotes. It keeps the girls paying tribute to him for sure.”
• At the Mideast Power League last weekend, Adidas KiVA 17 Red battled point-for-point before falling to Munciana 18 Samurai in the championship match, 21-25, 25-20, 15-13.
KiVA coach Anne Kordes said she loved watching her team battle one of the nation’s elite 18-year-old teams.
“Nothing that comes out of that tournament except the enjoyment of playing high-level teams,” she said.
This KiVA team is a bit of an outlier because it has unusual height, with 6-5 Sydney Helmers on the outside, 6-4 MB Nya Bunton and 6-5 MB Gabrielle Gerry.
“The size makes them special,” Kordes said.
That size did a nice job of slowing down Samurai’s fast-paced attack. In the end, however, Muncie OH Eva Hudson and the other pins had just enough.
“The outsides they have are competitors,” Kordes said. “They are fabulous. What we have to do is have ball control to the end. Our ball control broke down and, after 20, they go into a different gear.”
Last weekend was the first for 6-2 OH Olivia Fish, who swims for her high school team. And it was the first time this season that Helmers, who has been suffering from concussions that limit her to front row only, has been able to play every match.
Kordes said that Helmers “was legit” all weekend long.
“I haven’t seen her play like that in a long time,” Kordes continued. “When she does that we can compete with anybody in the country.”
KiVA is the tenth seed in the 17s Division at Triple Crown this weekend. Kordes thinks her team will do better.
“I’m always saying I’m expecting to win it,” she explained. “It’s the best of the best. Everybody’s big and good. It comes down to how you keep it together over three days.
“I have competitors, that’s for sure. It comes down to how good are we going to be in the moment. If this past weekend was any indicator, I’m excited to see how we do because we rose to the moment.”
• Far Out 16 Black had an impressive weekend at MEPL, dropping just one set as part of a 5-0 championship run in the 15/16 division. The team improved to 13-1 on the year, its lone loss at the Central Zone Invitational to Circle City 16 Purple.
Far Out coach Val Lurye said the team thrived in a 6-2 attack, with Avery Palmateer feeding Izzy Swiercz and Caroline Baker connecting with Ellie Fles on the opposite pin. Defensive specialist Hayley Carr and outside hitter Elana Erickson were very effective behind the service line, scoring points in bunches for the Michigan squad. Lurye said that the team didn’t pass to its capability but OH Avery Weslow did a great job of terminating out of system swings. She hit .359 for the weekend, with 35 kills over 11 sets.
Lurye said that the players on this team are starting to attract next-level interest. In addition to those mentioned above, libero Carly Piercefield is a two-time All-State performer and Kendall Hopewell is a 6-1 middle blocker.
CSVC 17Elite went 6-0 to capture the 17s division at the Carolina Challenge in Rock Hill, South Carolina.
Coach/director Kyler Abernathy described his athletic squad as “small town, big talent.”
“The team is comprised of 10 girls from six different high schools, but you would think they had been playing together for years,” he added.
17 Elite is 29-2 on the year and has made the podium in each tournament it has played so far.
Seeking its third straight tournament win at the Carolina Challenge, 17 Elite faced off with local rival I.C. Stars 17-Mark for the title. The team leaned on the outside hitter duo of Addison Gallyon and Laney Craig to deliver some set-changing kills through the second and third sets. On the net, Averie Dale and Lainey Poteet showed grit against some big middles and both registered more than five blocks each. Poteet delivered a momentum-changing block in the third set that had everyone on their feet. Ellie Eichman and Amelia May also helped close blocks and were able to register some smart kills throughout the match.
After dropping the first set to Stars, 17Elite led almost the entire second and third sets. Defensively the team was led by libero, Natigan Crutchfield, and defensive specialist, Maya Baetty. The duo controlled the opposing team’s attack in the last two sets by reading and anticipating well.
“This helped us set up an offense that kept the other team out of system throughout the match,” Abernathy said. 17 Elite offense was quarterbacked by setters Cassi Edwards and Keely West, who are just winners. West’s crucial setter dump in the second set helped take the team to a third set.
Gallyon led the team with kills and delivered the crucial match-ending point with a deep court shot that had multiple players on the opposing team diving.
Until next time …
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