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:
• We begin this week’s Dots, unfortunately, with awful news from St. Louis, site of the President’s Day Classic.
On Saturday evening, Janae Edmondson, a senior DS from Smyrna High School in Tennessee, was struck near the tournament facility by a vehicle whose driver ran through a yield sign at 20 mph above the posted limit. Janae was in St. Louis playing for MidTN Juniors after recently having committed to playing volleyball at University of Tennessee – Southern.
Janae was pinned beneath the car, which had flipped onto its roof, and she suffered critical injuries, which required both of her legs to be amputated below the waist. According to club director Rhonda Ross, Janae will need to be hospitalized in St. Louis for several weeks before returning home.
The club has set up a GoFund Me page at this link — https://www.gofundme.com/f/pray-for-janae — to help pay for the massive medical bills she will incur.
Club volleyball has seen its share of tragedies in the 25 years I’ve been covering it, but this one hits hard. A young girl, so much life ahead of her, in the wrong place at the wrong time, now facing a new reality that will be with her for the rest of her life.
Janae, our hearts, our souls, our collective humanity go out to you. We pray for the healing of your physical wounds and for the healing of your spirit as well.
• NPJ, OTVA Jacksonville, Momentous, AZ Sky, Surfside, Nebraska ONE, SCVC, Austin Skyline, Pohaku …These are just some of the teams that surprised this past weekend at the Triple Crown NIT in Kansas City, the most loaded tournament — there is no dispute — in the country.
All of the nine clubs listed above had one or more teams in the quarterfinals in the 15s to 18s age groups at TC. WAVE didn’t have any. Neither did Mintonette, or KiVA, or Alamo, or Premier Nebraska.
In short, it is very hard, even if you are an exceptional club with exceptional teams, like WAVE and the others listed above, to run the gauntlet to the quarterfinals. To see so many new, emerging and re-emerging clubs reach that level is refreshing and a testament to doing things in practice that are translating well to our sport’s biggest stage.
• Of the surprising clubs listed above, let’s put the spotlight on the only one to emerge victorious: Surfside PV 16 Legends. The club, which operates in the South Bay of Southern California, has been a good club for several years, but is now working towards elite status as it competes for talent with the likes of Mizuno Long Beach, Sunshine and SCVC.
Surfside went 8-1 for the weekend and scored wins over Houston Juniors 16 Elite, Milwaukee Sting 16 Gold and Dallas Skyline 16 Royal before the final day, where it dispatched Nebraska ONE 16 Synergy, A5 16-1 Gabe and Houston Skyline 16 Royal for the title.
This is no Cinderella team. Its anchor is 6-4 OH Kaci Demaria, one of the best sophomores in the nation. One local club director last month predicted that Surfside would win Junior Nationals. We now see what she saw.
“Some of these girls have been with us since they were 11,” noted PV director and 16s head coach Loriann Perkins. “We as a club have been growing into this position. We’ve been very intentional about how we’ve built the club. We are really excited about all of the work our girls put in and I think you will see us here more than once.”
Perkins said the secret sauce to sustained success in the upper echelon of club volleyball meant bringing in capable coaches who knew how to train girls.
“We care about our kids deeply and are showing them we’re family first,” she said.
Surfside was really good against Houston Skyline in the finals and overcame the relentless attack of OH Ella Lewis to win in two, capped by an ace from Isabella Jones.
In addition to Demaria, a feared attacker; Surfside got terrific work from long, athletic middle Kalyssa Blackshear, freshman OH Simone Roslon and DS Kiana Greer.
Perkins had particular praise for libero Olivia Foye.
“New in the position she carried us in a brilliant way,” Perkins said. “She reads, digs, her serve receive is like no other…We can depend on her.”
• Arizona Sky had two separate teams in the quarterfinals: 17 Gold and 15 Gold, Both made the semifinals before bowing out.
AZ Sky 17 Gold, led by strong middle Aubrey Goodere, led 13-12 in Game 3 of the semi versus eventual champion NKYVC 17 Tsunami before yielding three straight – two on kills from Sydney Barrett and a final, overpass destruction from Lilly Gillespie – to fall in a heartbreaking way.
AZ Sky 15 Gold also went three sets in the semis before losing. Sky, which has standouts like OH Brooklyn Jenkins and MB Jordyn Joppru on its roster, rallied to tie SCVC 15 Roxy at 13-13 before SCVC OH Audrey Flanagan slammed home the final two kills to clinch its advance.
Still, for a club that five years ago had trouble being distinguished from fellow Arizona denizen Arizona Desert Sky; a club fighting for recognition in a saturated Phoenix market that includes Arizona Storm, Aspire, AZ Revolution and Club ONE AZ, AZ Sky’s ascension into the national scene, with TWO teams, came as a surprise.
“It’s always the plan to be as competitive as we can,” said club director Julia Larish, who bought AZ Sky three years ago. “I would say we might have gotten here sooner than expected but it was always my expectation.”
Larish said that Sky was always known for being strong on fundamentals at an early age but that the club was losing kids to other clubs once they entered high school because not a lot of time and attention was spent on recruiting. The club hired a great recruiting coordinator, Jen Lenhart, and expended their focus from just training volleyball to training the whole person.
“We put a ton of resources into that to help kids to get to the next level, but also training them to be their best when they go to the next level. We wanted to prioritize training kids at the highest level and putting them in situations where they have to perform at the highest level. We added great coaches and we added “neurofuel,” so we really are trying are trying to train the kids mentally, physically and emotionally, so they’re getting the whole package.”
• The score of Sunday’s bracket elimination match was 25-16, 25-20. But the victor was not A5 18-Marc, whose core group had won 16s in 2021 and 17s last year. Instead it was North Pacific Juniors 18 Forefront, from Salem, Oregon, the most accomplished team from the Pacific Northwest since the KJ team with Courtney Thompson and Christal Morrison from 20 years ago that we referenced last week.
NPJ made the final eight in the 18s division, adding to a year in which the team has already double qualified in 18 Open; despite being headquartered in a state not traditionally known for having high level volleyball.
NPJ director Adam Ellis said that his team has reached the level where it expects to compete with and defeat the nation’s elite teams.
“We talk a lot about staying in attacking mode,” he said. “We want to put as much pressure on teams as possible.”
This 18s team is built around a junior, setter Alexis Haury. The Washington commit, like Thompson, is not tall, at 5-9, but commands the court. She gets great production from outsides from out of state, Alex Acevedo from Idaho and Kyleene Filimaua from Washington, who play with high energy and efficiency. Both hit over .400 in the A5 sweep. NPJ also got strong work from junior Chloe LeLuge, both of its middles and were supported by a bench that matched the enthusiasm of its coach.
• NKYVC 17 Tsunami made the 16s finals a year ago despite playing deeply shorthanded. The Northern Kentucky club was down to seven players when it managed to get by OTVA Tampa in the semifinals but had nothing left in the finals versus Dynasty, which administered a world class beating on them.
OH Sydney Barrett watched that loss from the sidelines, as she’d hurt an ankle the first day and, by the third day, simply could not go on. Monday, Barrett played a starring role from the left side and behind the service line, in the semifinals and finals as NKYVC overcame OT 17 T Aaron, the same core group it defeated in the semis a year ago.
Barrett had two aces in Game 1 of the championship match to help reverse a 24-22 OT advantage. And her attacking and serving helped keep OT at arms length in a Game 2 win for the sweep.
“It feels good,” Barrett said. “We’ve been working hard all together at practice and it’s paying off on the court.”
MB Julia Hunt had the final kill for NKYVC to seal the championship. Her strong play in Kansas City is part of an amazing winter for Hunt, a Washington commit. She stars on the Holy Cross basketball team, which won the Kentucky unofficial small state championship a couple of weeks ago. Hunt, the small school state MVP, is averaging a near double-double for her team and, with a few games left this year in Kentucky’s single-class state tournament and all of next year, she has amassed more than 1,000 points, more than 1,000 rebounds and more than 500 blocked shots. Amazing.
Hats off, by the way, to OT, a team that doesn’t jump off the court at you with its impressive size, but which just fights. Setter Taylor Park and OHs Olivia Hart and Madison Loiselle led the way yesterday.
• Leading 24-23 in the first set of the 18s final versus Drive Nation 18 Red, Coast 18-1 tried to make two subs. The San Diego squad had built an 18-5 lead in the match, but had seen its advantage wither to a scant point because of shaky serve-receive passing. Hence, the need for subs at this most critical juncture. Cate Schnell, a 6-1 OH who was a primary passer for Cathedral Catholic in its national championship high school run last fall, made it in. But Bella Rittenberg could not enter for RS Alexis Glover because the team was out of subs.
Schnell made the perfect pass and setter Zoe Rachow, who’d come up huge in the set with a couple of stunning blocks, set the back row attack to…Glover, who was not supposed to be in there. The Oregon signee unleashed a vicious left-handed attack that ate up Drive Nation’s back row for the game winner.
“Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.” — Garth Brooks
By the way, Drive Nation rallied to win the final two sets to take the title. Both middles, Reese Robins and Leah Ford, played prominent roles in the final two sets, with Robins smashing home the final point after a gift free ball pass straight to her.
Robins also was responsible for the block that eliminated defending 18s champion Munciana Samurai in a three-set semifinal. Samurai, once again, overachieved – shouldn’t we stop calling that now? – led by junior OH London Wijay, who comes from Southern California to play the big tournaments for the Indiana club.
• A5 is a monster club, rated best in the nation by Triple Crown Sports, but the group that this year comprised the 16s team had not been its best. It finished ninth out of 32 teams at the Central Zone Invitational, a field that was not especially strong with the Northern Lights Qualifier the same weekend.
“The team has not had a culture of winning in the past,” coach Gabe Aramian explained. “It has had to be re-done a few times. My biggest goal this year is to catch up on our lack of experience.”
It was admittedly quite surprising to see A5 16 Gabe, which was not in the top power pool, in the semifinals after it came from behind to oust last year’s 15s champion, 1st Alliance 16 Gold, in the semifinals. OH Abby Vander Wal had been dominant most of the match for 1st Alliance but A5 found just enough rally late in Game 3 to win, on successive blocks from Gigi Smith and Camryn Jeffery.
“This tournament they’ve gone far beyond what I expected,” Aramian said before the semifinal match with Surfside. “I know their athletic ability is there but their experience is not. They’ve really just stepped up. To be successful we have to have 3-4 players every match play their very best and they have done that since bracket play yesterday.”
Jeffery, a 6-1 RS, improved her stock with a great weekend, but no one on A5 16 Gabe rose more than 6-1 OH Asia Harvey. She was everywhere athletically, got virtually every set and destroyed most, evoking images of Baylor star Yossiana Pressley with her athletic ability.
• Dallas Skyline 15 Royal edged SCVC 15 Roxy for the 15s title, 16-14 in the third, on a combo block from 6-4 freshman middle Keoni Williams and RS Layla Austin. The match, between evenly-matched teams, came down to who had the good luck charm on their side.
Turns out it was this guy, the father of energetic libero Kiley Brooks. Dad’s been “bluer than blue” apparently since getting into club volleyball. Being a superfan sometimes means sharing your blueness after big wins like this with Austin.
Oh by the way, there was a shoe throwing incident after the final point involving Skyline head coach Yun Sangyong. OK it was really a thrown shoe. We have the video! Gotta lace ‘em up tighter, coach!
• AZ Storm Elite 16 Thunder might be the best 16s team in the country. Led by outsides Teraya Sigler and Devyn Wiest, Storm made it to the semifinals before dropping two deuce sets to Houston Skyline 16 Royal. Storm had late leads in both sets before falling. There is hope, however, as Storm made the semifinal round while playing without its starting setter, who was on a scooter protecting her injured ankle.
• TCU head coach Jason Williams spent part of his Sunday at Triple Crown in Kansas City watching an 18s court. He was taking a slight break from recruiting to watch Dallas Skyline 18 Royal setter Harley Kreck dish to her teammates. Harley is his niece and she has signed with Baylor. Therein lies the story.
Williams, who was an assistant coach at Baylor before hiring on to TCU in December of 2021, and Kreck are part of an amazing Baylor connection. Williams is married to the former Corey Sivertson, a Hall of Fame setter at Baylor from 1991-94. Her sister, Sarah (Harley’s mom), played at Baylor from 1994-98.
Williams also has a daughter, Callie, who is also a setter. She broke tradition by signing with Tennessee before transferring to, you guessed it, Baylor, where she played for her dad for three years.
It’s so much Baylor I can Bearl-y stand it.
Click here to read more about this amazing connection to one program.
Until next time …