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:
• If you were looking for meaningful volleyball action this past weekend, you did not have to go far.
Northeast? The Boston and Northeast Qualifiers sated you.
Midwest? How about the Bluegrass Tournament, one I wished I’d seen (see below; Hint: my luggage made it to Louisville).
South? The Sunshine Classic in Orlando had what you were looking for.
West? Red Rock in Vegas had the younger folks and a national No. 1 team from Texas. The Sierra National Qualifier was supposed to happen in Reno, too, but was postponed.
Rocky Mountains? Colorado Crossroads no longer is a national qualifier with elite teams and massive turnout, but 332 teams — 12 thru 18 – went to see the Big Blue Bear in Denver.
• If you were hoping to play an 18s national qualifier in Reno this past weekend, Mother Nature got you. The Sierra National Qualifier saw upwards of five FEET of snow in the Sierra Nevada range the Monday and Tuesday before. With travel to the region by car promising to be treacherous at best or likely nonexistent, especially with more white stuff expected on the weekend, the Northern California Volleyball Association told folks to stay away and rescheduled the event for March 17-19, not for Reno, but for the Cal Expo in Sacramento, home of the Volleyball Festival many years ago.
Note that Far Westerns, over two weekend late in April, remains on the books for the Reno area. Travelers might not have to worry about snow then, though I have seen flakes in Reno at that time.
• My plans called for a weekend at the Bluegrass Tournament in Louisville. The goal was to watch all the best teams and players from the Junior Volleyball Association, mixed in with many of the best USAV teams from that swath of the Midwest.
Ah, the best laid plans …
The Friday flight from my home along the Central Coast of California to Dallas-Fort Worth was uneventful. I wasn’t worried about my connection to Louisville, because the severe weather in Kentucky was supposed to clear up by my scheduled landing time. But that Louisville flight was canceled while I was still in the air, and the later flight had already been filled up from passengers whose other daytime flight to Louisville had already been canceled.
When I landed, American Airlines customer service told me I should go standby on the evening flight, rather than book the 8:47 flight the next morning. I asked if I could do both and was told “No,” but that being third on standby, I’d almost certainly get on.
By the time I got to the gate, I was no longer third for standby. Those with status on American had bumped me to 11th. Five eventually made it on.
Resolved that I would miss the morning wave, I went to book that morning flight, only to find out that it, too, was sold out, as was the noon flight. The earliest American could get me to the home of Ali and Louisville Sluggers was 8 p.m., when half of the two-day tournament would be complete.
What was the point?
So I booked a flight home on Saturday and “watched” Elevation 18 Spinney, NKYVC 17 Tsunami and NKYVC 15 Tsunami and Adidas KiVA 16 Red win the big divisions at the Expo Center.
My luggage, by the way, made that late-Friday flight to Louisville. It made its way back to me last night at 11 p.m., almost 75 hours later.
• At Bluegrass, Elevation 18 Spinney made the biggest news by winning the 18 Open division over a competitive field that went 15 deep and included highly-ranked teams like Circle City 18 Purple and Munciana 18 Samurai. Elevation lost its first match of Saturday’s power pool, in three to Circle City, then ran the table. John Spinney’s squad swept Asics KiVA 18 Red and Sports Performance 18 Elite, and got past FaR Out 18 Black in three and avenged the Circle City loss with a three-set win on the way to the championship match versus Samurai, which had dropped just one set in six previous matches and was coming off of a third-place finish at Triple Crown two weekends before.
Elevation prevailed, 25-23, 26-24. A couple of big blocks capped the action.
Middles Brooke Bultema and Amelia Nott were catalysts all weekend. Junior Ella Mazurek provided some key digs, while Sydney Breissinger and Lindsey Green continued their outstanding play.
“I texted the team hours after the win, and I said, ‘Idk about everyone else…but I’m still smiling …’” Spinney wrote. “I’m still smiling on Tuesday. It was a great tourney for us.”
• While Sports Performance 18 Elite sputtered to a 2-3 record in its first trip to a big event, Sports Performance 16 Elite showed that it was ready for prime time, checking in second in 16 Open behind host Adidas KiVA 16 Red, a talented squad coached by Melissa Starck-Bean that boasts a strong libero (Kristen Simon) and setter (Isabella Haggard), as well as 6-5 middle Addison Makun, who is quickly moving up the charts among the nation’s most coveted recruits in the ’25 class.
Sports Performance got strong performances from OHs Bella Bullington and Haley Burgdorf, libero Morgan Asleson and setter Audrey Asleson. Both outsides hit above .300 and were strong in six rotations, Morgan Asleson had 100 digs and delivered reliable first contact control and Audrey Asleson had 161 assists while demonstrating great tempo and location.
As for KiVA, the team was under the radar after an iffy Triple Crown while missing one of its emotional leaders.
“We needed the stress of Triple Crown to help them mesh as a team,” said Starck-Bean. “They have bought in to the idea everyone has a role to play. No big or small roles; just good or bad actors. This is a team sport and we are learning how to support one another, even if that means ‘my’ playing time is diminished at a given moment. It takes all 11 players for us to be successful and at any given time it might be someone else’s chance to shine.”
KiVA was much better at Bluegrass, as every player, save injured Trinity Ward, played in the championship match and excelled.
“Different times, different positions, front row, back row and they all were ready when they were called to come in and contribute to the team,” said Starck-Bean. “Couldn’t ask for anything more.”
NKYVC was proud to hoist championship trophies in the other two Open divisions we cover.
National No. 1 NKYVC 17 Tsunami dropped just one set on its way to winning its third tournament in as many weekends (Triple Crown, Pioneer Region Bid, Bluegrass). Said head coach Mike Bryant:
“This team has shown great resilience and persistence in performing at a high level for three consecutive weekends, including seven matches over 26 hours at Bluegrass. We have faced some of the country’s best teams during that stretch and have found a way to grind and battle back at times while also asserting our game plan with great efficiency in other moments. Going 7-0 and the tough three-set finals win over a terrific team at Bluegrass [The Academy 17E Tsunami] are due to this group’s commitment to serving, relentless defense, and the team staying focused on their tasks, improving and responding to feedback well, and competing to the finish. And one of the best parts about this is that it is a complete team effort with each opportunity.”
NKYVC 15 Tsunami, which was 7-2 in a strong showing at Triple Crown, continued its strong play by overcoming two power pool losses to win 15 Open. Coach Brooke Logan’s team swept through Sunday’s Gold Bracket, defeating AVC CLE 15 Red, Adidas KiVA 15 Red and Boiler Juniors 151E Gold.
“Day 2 was a true testimony to what this team is really capable of,” Logan said. “The grit and passion this team has is remarkable and these girls will do whatever it takes to beat the best of the best and overcome any shortcomings by listening and responding to feedback, adjusting well to the other side, and playing point for point until the whistle is blown. Our defense continues to be one of our biggest threats led by, if not the best, libero in the country [Emma Frietsch] which helps us run a smooth, fast offense. We continue to serve teams off the court and adjust to different blocking patterns for our hitters to be more effective, which really showed during our final match against Boiler Jrs. We knew what we needed to do to get the win and this team followed the game plan 100 percent.”
• Down Orlando way, the Sunshine Classic National Qualifier feted champions OT T 17 Aaron (17 Open) and HPSTL 16 Royal (16 Open). OT O 17 Felix and Triangle 17 Black qualified for Junior Nationals behind OT Aaron in 17 Open, while Tribe 16 Elite Cardinal and GP 16 Rox qualified behind HP in 16 Open. GP, a third-year club from Orlando, started by the folks who started Orlando Volleyball Academy, earned its first Open bid as a club.
OT Aaron, which was runner up at Triple Crown, went 10-0 at Sunshine behind the fearless play of setter Taylor Parks and pin hitters Maria Happ and Olivia Hart.
“This weekend we played really clean volleyball and were able to compete with some really good teams,” said OT coach Aaron Harrison. “The last two tournaments (NIT and Sunshine) have been long tough weekends, and our ability to maintain discipline on Day 3 has really helped us compete against some of the country’s best.”
Parks, a Florida recruit, sets the tone for OT every match.
“Her volleyball IQ and athleticism keep us in system most of the time,” Harrison said.
Hart, a new addition to the team, has made a name for herself over the past three weeks.
“Her athleticism and personality bring the best out of us,” noted Harrison. “She is not committed yet, but she has a lot of schools reaching out since NIT.”
Harrison cited his back row — Lola Buck-Taylor, Taylor Bedinhaus, Michaela Clayton and Isabella Lee all have the ability to be collegiate liberos – for the team’s consistent play.
“What makes us tough to play is our ability to extend rallies,” he said. “Our front row is able to slow balls down to allow my backcourt to get after it and, with Parks’ ability to set any hitter in transition, it makes us tough to defend even though we aren’t the biggest team out there.”
HP’s 16 Open win was a bit of a surprise since Joe Uydess’ squad was just 5-4 (25th place) at Triple Crown.
“One of our core values we have as a club is ‘grit,” Uydess explained. “After surviving and advancing on Day 2, we reminded ourselves of that once we got back to the hotel. The team committed to leave it all on the table in the playoffs and ‘Why not us?’ was the theme for the day on Sunday as we faced one amazing team after the next. The next thing we knew, we were the last ones left standing. Serving and passing was the key to that success, which allowed us to maintain a balanced and steady offense all day long. It was quite a ride!
Libero Ally Fuchs was just one of many standouts for the St. Louis-area squad.
One final note about 16 Open at Sunshine: JJVA 16 Black, the club’s second team, got a taste of Open in the 40-team division and went 3-5 on its way to 33rd place. This was the first time this squad had ever competed at this level before.
“This team showed that the underdogs can be determined, intentional and best of all play for each other,” noted recruiting coordinator CJ Sherman.
The team was led in Orlando by 5-8 OH Bridget Spees (35 kills) and 5-10 MB Sally Cleland (33 kills; 11 aces), with help from setters Sophie Baldwin and Lindsay Hopkins as well as libero DD Banton.
• At the Northeast Qualifier in Philly, Gainesville Juniors 17/18, led by setter Jalyn Stout, continued to surprise by winning the 18 Open qualifier over the likes of Metro 18 Travel and AVC CLE 18 Red.
Metro 17 Travel dominated the 17 Open qualifier at NEQ, behind OHs Emerson Sellman and Mimi Mambu and libero Malihn Godschall.
National No. 1 Drive Nation 18 Red continued its dominating ways with a convincing win in 18 Open at the Boston Qualifier.
• At Red Rock in Vegas, another national No. 1, Dallas Skyline 15 Royal, was asserting itself over a very strong field to win the 15 Open division and qualify for Junior Nationals along with Madfrog 15s National Green and TAV 15 Black, a Texas sweep in Sin City!
Skyline won because of an all-out team effort, asserted head coach Sangyong Yun. The team’s pins, Laya Austin, Skylar Jackson, Taylor Clarke and Reese Poerner, all delivered crucial kills in key moments. Middles Keoni Williams and Vari Pinder scored well at the net and made momentum-changing blocks. Setters Megan Nguyen and Madison Victoriano found hot hitters and were not afraid to make difficult sets with out-of-system balls. Defender Kiley Brooks was phenomenal in the back row, passing nails and making some ridiculous digs. Gigi Whann also came up with key digs and hustle plays that ignited the entire team.
“In all, it took a team effort to be successful this tournament,” Yun said. “Everyone had their moments that couldn’t be overlooked.”
National No. 1 Drive Nation 18 Red continued its dominating ways with a convincing win in 18 Open at the Boston Qualifier. Jason Nicholson’s team is now 43-1 on the year, its lone loss to Austin Juniors 18 Adidas at the Lone Star Classic in January.
“I was a little worried coming off the Triple Crown win that we might lose our focus, but boy was I wrong,” Nicholson said. “Boston was the last qualifier of their ’23 season and the last of their club careers. The girls arrived in Boston with a great energy and great attitude. Middles Leah Ford (USC) and Reese Robins (Louisville) dominated play at the net. Setters Lily Nicholson (TCU) and Callie Kiefer (Alabama) were slinging the ball all over the court. Right sides Sam Hoppes (Boston College) and Nicole Mauser (Cal Baptist) were huge blocking presences. Outside hitters Halle Schroder (Boston College), Sydney Breon (UCLA) and Alyssa Gonzalez (TCU) were solid in all phases of the game. Liberos Kea Whillock and Landry McEachern passed nails and wouldn’t let anything hit the floor. Somehow both are still uncommitted!
“This is a unique group. Yes they are a very skilled and physical team but the characteristic that sets them apart from the rest is that they have the will to win. They fight!”
• You may know that I started PrepVolleyball.com, alongside now-Yale Associate Head Coach Kevin Laseau, in January, 2003. Prep was always a subscription site, with subscriptions starting back then at $15 per year. There was no automatic renewal, as I did not want members of our community surprised by a recurring charge. I wanted subscribers who wanted to be a part of it.
Fast forward to 2023, eight years after I sold the company. When Advanced Event Systems took over, it immediately raised the annual subscription fee from $29.95 to $49.95 and instituted a recurring charge to your credit card unless you canceled before. Today, that same subscription at Prep is $99 annually AND NOW, in a policy change announced late in February, starting March 1, if your credit card is charged the annual subscription rate even though you did not want to renew, you will receive no refund for any payment already made.
This is not the PrepVolleyball.com I started 20 years ago.
• Finally, a warning to volleyball parents about Showcases.
We started an Unsigned Senior Showcase in 2007 in conjunction with the Las Vegas Classic on President’s Day Weekend. The Showcase was FREE for both participants and college coaches and was for unsigned seniors only. And there were plenty of them back then.
The Vegas Unsigned Senior Showcase grew rapidly and soon had more than 1,000 seniors being watched by 250 college coaches. We eventually charged to participate, so that we could pay court coaches, and eventually charged a little more to help with operating expenses for the website.
These days, it seems like every tournament has some kind of showcase attached to it. It’s not just for unsigned seniors anymore, but for anyone who is uncommitted and hoping to get seen.
Here are the things you need to know:
1. Showcases have become money makers for those who put them on. They don’t usually help many participants get recruited at the level they are hoping for. They can help you get recruited at the NAIA and JUCO levels if that interests you.
2. Showcases usually overpromise and under deliver. “We will video the courts!” Video is usually worthless to coaches watching off site because they cannot identify the kids with their bibs with the too-small numbers taking every 15th rep. “Be seen.” Get a list of college coaches that will physically be present before considering attending. Showcases will say that your info is being sent to college coaches, but unless they are there, this is largely a waste of time and money.
3. Do not attend a Showcase to be “discovered.” This happens only rarely and not to the player who looks like everyone else in the hitting lines.
As a prospective student athlete you must prepare to participate in a Showcase the same way as you prepare for a tournament: a) You have researched the schools you like and know that they will be in attendance at the Showcase/Tournament; b) You have been communicating with these schools and they have shown interest; c) You have told them you will be at the Showcase, communicated the courts you will be on when and have secured a promise from one or more schools to come watch you specifically at the Showcase; and d) you follow up after the Showcase to gauge the interest the schools have after having watched you.
4. Showcases are a waste of time for defensive players unless there will be a lot of 6 v. 6. Coaches go to watch hitting lines mostly, check out a setter’s hands and look at a middle’s later speed and how high she gets her elbows above the net. Liberos pass and dig, pass and dig, with almost no coaches watching, cheered on by other liberos doing the same thing. It hurt my heart at our Unsigned Senior Showcase to see so many defensive players essentially being ignored.
Until next time …