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 action this past weekend, plus one day, you could find it in Las Vegas, as the NCAA Men’s and Women’s Division I basketball brackets were disclosed, spurring fierce wagering.
If you were looking for meaningful girls volleyball action this past weekend, plus one day, you could find it ONLY in Las Vegas, as the 18s, 17 and 16s played in Session 2 of the Red Rock Classic national qualifier at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center Saturday through Monday.
Because Red Rock was the only big national event on the docket, it attracted more teams than just the usual crowd from the SCVA, making the divisions deep and deeply contested.
• The 18 Open division at Red Rock consisted of 34 teams, 11 of which had previously qualified in Open for the USAV 18s Junior National Championship at the end of next month in Columbus.
Why so many qualified teams? Red Rock is the 13th 18 Open national qualifier played this season, with only three 18 Open events remaining: MEQ in Indy and PNQ in Spokane this weekend and next, respectively; and the re-scheduled, re-located, weather-affected Sierra NQ in Sacramento. By the way, the weather is awful in Sac-town today — winds, atmospheric river … you name it — but should be much improved by Friday when the tourney commences.
When a national qualifier is contested near the end of the qualifier season, it is usually the case that the Open fields are either small, as teams with bids withdraw; or overflowing with qualified teams.
Red Rock went the overflow way.
• Of the 11 previously-qualified Open teams, all 11 finished among the top 14 at Red Rock. That left three bid-seeking teams in the top 14. One, TAV 18 Black, parlayed a 15-13 Game 3 win over Coast 18-1 on Day 1 into an eventual T-5 for an Open bid. After finishing in a tie for first on Day 1, TAV went 0-2 in its Sunday pool, only to remain in contention thanks to a crossover win over Idaho Crush 18 Bower. That landed the Dallas team in a 3-team Gold pool where none of the members had a bid. Imagine that. The other three, three-team pools had every team with bids, but this pool was bereft. TAV got its bid when it swept a Houston Juniors 18 Elite team that needed one win to punch its ticket but could not get it. HJV would end up in a tie for ninth, one spot from bid position.
• It may have been surprising that Coast went this late into the season without qualifying. This was the team, after all, that finished second at the Triple Crown NIT, a team with many members of the undefeated high school national championship team that was Cathedral Catholic. Coast had made one qualifying attempt previously, at Windy City in Chicago, but took one loss on Day 1 and two on Day 2 (to Sunshine 18 LA and Club V 18 Ren Reed) and finished out of the money in ninth.
This time around the team was not to be denied. After losing to TAV on Day1, the San Diego team did not lose again and defeated the likes of TAV, in revenge; Sunshine, in revenge from Windy City; WAVE 18 Juliana, Houston Juniors and Arizona Storm Elite 18 Thunder to win the bid and the championship.
Coast did not respond to our request for comment by press time.
• Drive Nation 17 Red, that team mentored by the famous Ping Cao, stormed through 17 Open with just one set dropped. Coast 17 Rodrigo and WAVE 17 Juliana finished 2-3 and also captured bids. WAVE lost in three to Drive Nation, but was otherwise unbeaten. Coast lost twice, to Drive Nation as well as to SCVC 17 Roxy.
• Unlike Coast and Drive Nation, which were pretty dominant in their run to Gold Balls at Red Rock, WAVE 16 Kevin took a much different route in the 40-team 16 Open division. After six matches over the first two days, the team stood 3-3. It advanced to the Gold pools because its one Sunday win was a sweep, giving it the set percentage edge in the three-way 1-2 tiebreaker.
“We struggled through Day 1 and 2 with a lot of ups and downs,” noted coach Kevin Hodge. “The vibe felt uneasy and our confidence was low. On days 1 and 2 we won the matches we needed and clearly got some help with those pools from other teams.”
WAVE’s Day 3 pool included national No. 1 Surfside 16 PV Legends and Coast 16-Luis, two familiar SCVA foes.
“We felt so fortunate to be top 12,” Hodge said. “The feeling within this group was light and fun.”
Playing familiar foes helped WAVE re-focus. Though both matches were back-and-forth affairs, WAVE found ways to prevail in each in three sets.
“Day 3 felt like it all came together,” Hodge said. “The body language of the girls was much different than the previous days. You could see a shift in their confidence. They supported each other incredibly. Their response to a lost point or bad play was ideal. We got hit, we hit back. From a coach’s perspective it was so enjoyable to watch the team play the game the way it should be played.”
After winning its pool, WAVE finished off its 4-0 Monday with wins over Texas sides TAV 16 Black and Drive Nation 16 Red to qualify for Junior Nationals in Chicago in July.
OH Quinn Loper put the team on her back for long stretches. Nia Thompson locked down on serve-receive and was great attacking out of system. Yuri Park and Sydney Raszewski were relentless in the back row. Key serves by Liv Durr helped WAVE earn some sneaky, yet crucial, points.
“Top to bottom, each girl on the team contributed,” Hodge said. “I’m so happy to see the belief in themselves that the coaching staff has always had in them. Huge growth and learning was done this weekend. Proud is an understatement for how I feel about these young ladies.”
Drive Nation and Arizona Storm Elite 16 Thunder each went 9-1 to finish 2-3 and capture the other two bids.
• Dallas Skyline had success in Vegas in the USA division. The 17 Black team, coached by Whitney Sample, did not lose a match on its way to Gold Medals in 17 USA.
The 18 Black team placed second in 18 USA. It showed great fight in coming from behind several times and thrived in high-pressure situations. OH Kenna Buchanan led the way as the “side out queen” and also was clutch defending and passing in the back row. Libero Jenna McMichael ruled the back court, setter Morgan Howard made her hitters look good and RS Leah Oyewole came up big on the blocking side and contribute timely kills.
• Infinity 16 Open won the power division at SVTs Bama Beast with a 7-0 finish. Sophomore setter Fisher Enis was named division MVP.
Colorado Juniors 15 Sherri won the Rocky Mountain Region National Bid Tournament. Morgan Holloman, a 6-1 middle, had a huge showing. She hit 44% and came up with a whopping 18 blocks. That’s two blocks per set!
• We are tracking the top teams in the nation in the 15s-18s age groups. After Red Rock this past weekend, here are the top five teams per age in our view:
1. Drive Nation 18 Red (TX)
2. Coast 18-1 (CA)
3. Munciana 18 Samurai (IN)
4. MAVS KC 18-1 (KS)
5. Club V 18 Ren Reed (UT)
1. NKYVC 17 Tsunami (KY)
2. Dynasty 17 Black (KS)
3. OT 17 T Aaron (FL)
4. Drive Nation 17 Red (TX)
5. A5 17-Jing (GA)
1. Surfside PV 16 Legends (CA)
2. AZ Storm Elite 16 Thunder (AZ)
3. Nebraska ONE 16 Synergy (NE)
4. 1st Alliance 16 Gold (IL)
5. HPSTL 16 Royal (MO)
1. Dallas Skyline 15 Royal (TX)
2. Austin Skyline 15 Royal (TX)
3. Legacy 15-1 Adidas (MI)
4. SCVC 15 Roxy (CA)
5. TAV 15 Black (TX)
• Finally, let’s put someone on the national radar. You may know Matt Peck. He’s, a former collegiate Division I and II head coach now impacting lives at Florida Gulfside Academy. This weekend, he posted on Facebook about 6-2 sophomore middle Sofia Locadia.
“Highest ceiling I’ve seen in a long time,” he exclaimed.
Locadia played JV this fall for Barron Collier HS, after playing for Gulfside 15-2 last spring, but has been coming into her own on Gulfside 16 Prime under former men’s National Team player Dexter Rogers. She can touch the rim without an approach and Peck estimates that her jump touch is currently in the 10-3 to 10-5 range.
“She’s very agile and long and lean,” Peck said. “She has good arm mechanics and really reaches. She easily closes when not faked out and needs blocking footwork reps. I feel she can play in the Top 25. A number of coaches commented to me that they can’t wait to see her in a few weeks and months.”
Check out Peck’s Facebook page for video of Locadia’s arm swing and jumping prowess.
Until next time …
Surprising to me that Coast 18 has many of the players from Cathedral Catholic high school. From a geography standpoint it seems like WAVE would make more sense.