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:
• The focus of the volleyball world this past weekend was Indianapolis, where the Mideast Qualifier took place for 18s, 17s and 16s.
This brought back memories of my first MEQ back in 2003, when PrepVolleyball.com was just a few months old. The tournament was run then by Danny Burns, the Circle City director known for his big personality and gravelly voice.
My co-owner, Kevin Laseau, and I roamed the Indiana Convention Center in downtown Indy for three days, hunting the best stories and the best prospects, while periodically running back to put results online after updates were posted on large white poster boards taped to the convention center wall.
The story of the weekend, I recall, was Cleveland Volleyball Company, with coach Troy Dixon, qualifying in 18 Open for the Junior Olympic National Championships later that year in Atlanta. It marked the first time that CVC had ever qualified in Open.
“We came out second the first two days of pool play,” Dixon recalled. “It was survive and advance.”
On Sunday, CVC was in a three-team pool and won, which put it into the semifinals versus vaunted Texas Tornados a bid. Cleveland Volleyball Company won, behind a 5-4 OH, Kris Brown, who was committed to Penn State for defense. She was fast, jumped high and knew how to score.
After the match, Penn State coach Russ Rose walked by Dixon, and said, in his way, “great game but there’s not one kid on your team I’d take over the players on that team.”
CVC, which also featured the likes of middle Jillian Quayle and defender Jess Pompei; wound up losing to pretty badly to Nebraska Juniors, starring future Olympian Jordan Larson (a sophomore at the time, I think); for the title, but history had been made.
“They seemed to find a way to win and kept doing so throughout their careers,” Dixon said about his team.
By the way, Kris Brown is now Krissy “Brown” Schmidt. After playing defense for the Nittany Lions, she got married, settled in Florida, and was a highly successful high school coach for five years. Schmidt now owns High Tide Volleyball Club in Stuart, Florida, and has two children.
• Exhibit A in learning perseverance? How about Elevation 18 Spinney from the Cincinnati area? After three major events, the Central Zone Invitational, Ohio Valley Qualifier and Triple Crown NIT, John Spinney’s squad found itself out of the national top 100. The team was 10-12 over those events.
Since then? Elevation has won 24 matches in a row and, this weekend, added the 18 Open title at MEQ to the 18 Open title at Bluegrass captured earlier in the month. Elevation went 10-0 and dropped just three sets. In my rankings, Elevation now sits tenth nationally. That’s incredible!
What’s even better? Elevation kept its winning streak alive by defeating Circle City 18 Purple in an intense final that went, 23-25, 31-29, 15-13!!!! Elevation saved six match points in the second set to avoid losing to Circle for the fourth time in as many tries!
Standouts for Elevation included libero Syd Breissinger, setter Lyndsey Green and MB Brooke Bultema.
• Adversity 18G Adidas and FC Elite 18 Elite also punched 18 Open tickets with top eight finishes in the stacked, 48-team field.
Adversity’s T-3 finish was its third top 10 finish at a national qualifier this season.
“It was only a matter of time before this group came together,” said club director Kyle Masterson.
There were only four players from last year’s 17 adidas team, but nine D-I commits, so this is a talented bunch.
“We had a very good serving and passing tournament,” Masterson said. “Catherine Burke (Penn State) was extremely dominant at the net all weekend long. Ava Schabes (Colgate) ran the offense all weekend, and always put her hitters in a position to score. She really showed why she is the top setter in the state of Illinois. Our team was coming off a great weekend, where we won the Great Lakes Regional Qualifier. Coach Marco [Quintana] did a great job scouting all weekend, and when the girls needed to show up, they were great teammates, and played as a team all weekend. It’s pretty remarkable seeing how quickly they have come together and how great their body language and mindset is, after only being together for a few short months.”
The team’s big win came on Day 2 over regional rival 1st Alliance 18 Gold, a team it hadn’t faced this year.
“Day 3 came down to our last match against CUVC,” Masterson said. “We knew if we won in 2 sets we would win the tiebreaker. Jada James (UMBC) notched the final two kills, in extended scoring, to secure our bid. Ava Nepkin (Loyola University, Maryland) and Shannon O’Laughlin (Elon) had a great weekend as our primary passers. We are excited to see how they do at nationals in Columbus.
• The 17 Open field at MEQ also was maxed out at 48 teams and included both No. 1 NKYVC 17 Tsunami and No. 2 Dynasty 17 Black.
Colorado Juniors 17Kevin won the title with a 10-0 record and did Elevation one better by dropping just two sets along the way. The team, whose stars include S/OH Izzy Starck, pins Avah Armour and Paityn Chapman and libero Ella Vogel, was pushed by Elevation 17 Ulland in its second Gold pool match and by Triangle 17 Black in the semifinals. Both matches went to 15-13 in the third. A huge block from Marae Reilly sealed the win over Triangle. CJ won the championship match, 25-16, 25-23, over Dynasty
“Every player had an impact at one point in the tournament!!” said coach Kevin Marquis “I told the team after the championship match that I was most proud of the total team effort it took to earn the championship! We are excited for our next stop (Big South Qualifier).”
1st Alliance 17 Gold and Boiler Juniors 171E Gold also earned Open bids. The Boilers got by Pokahu 17-1 of Kansas for the third and final bid. The match went to 15-12 in third before determining a victor.
• KiVA 16 Red was the surprise winner in the 48-team 16 Open field. The surprise wasn’t that Melissa Starck Bean’s team prevailed. It proved it could compete at this level by winning Bluegrass two weeks earlier. The surprise was that the JVA team not only entered the event, but worked towards winning it when the club’s season-ending target remains AAU Nationals.
Libero Kristen Simon, the defensive captain, was a difference maker calling the defense and taking up three-fourths of the court. Athletic setter Bela Haggard was tenacious and blocked like a monster on the right. MB/RS Bailey Blair played with her usual fire and always brought the competitive energy. Bridget Egan, playing on both pins, was huge down the stretch. DS Trinity Ward scored points in droves with her great serving. She even came through with tough serves in pressure situations.
“I am so proud,” Starck-Bean said. “I literally said, when we won: ‘Our unselfishness is our super power.’ It’s been a bit of a learning curve trying to get them to buy into the idea (I’m taking from Brené Brown): ‘…just because someone else’s light is bright doesn’t mean your light isn’t.’ We’ve talked all year about celebrating and lifting the person who is playing well. I said, ‘We all know at some point the merry-go-round is going to stop for that person, and when it does, you’d better be ready to jump on! They all have! If you saw how many different line-ups we’ve played with you’d laugh, but at the end of the day that is what is setting us apart.”
KiVA patriarch Ron Kordes said that the plan currently is for the squad to play both AAU National (June 26-29) and Junior Nationals (July 3-6)
“That is what they want to do,” he said. “The concern is 8 out of 12 days pounding on concrete, then coming home to high school tryouts within a week to 10 days. I know whatever we do, we will be setting a new precedent.”
Circle City 16 Purple and Milwaukee Sting 16 Gold finished 2-3 to earn the other two bids. Circle lost only to KiVA (two deuce sets) and to Austin Skyline 16 Royal (15-13 in the third). Sting, whose lineup boasts OH Madison Quest, lost only to Circle City, 15-8 in the third.
• Who is better, man or computer? After MEQ, here are the top five 15s-18s teams nationally in my view, versus the top five in the Advanced Event Systems computerized rankings:
Me (Human (most of the time):
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. Houston Skyline 16 Royal
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)
1. Drive Nation 18 Red (TX)
2. 1st Alliance 18 Gold (IL)
3. Coast 18-1 (CA)
4. Munciana 18 Samurai (IN)
5. A5 18-Marc (GA)
1. Dynasty 17 Black (KS)
2. Colorado Juniors 17Kevin (CO)
3. KC Power 17-1 (KS)
4. Triangle 17 Black (NC)
5. Drive Nation 17 Red (TX)
1. AZ Storm Elite 16 Thunder (AZ)
2. Houston Skyline 16 Royal
3. Surfside PV 16 Legends (CA)
4. Circle City 16 Purple (IN)
5. Drive Nation 16 Red (TX)
1. Dallas Skyline 15 Royal (TX)2. Mintonette n. 51 (OH)
3. Austin Skyline 15 Royal (TX)
4. Boiler Juniors 151E Gold (IN)
5. OP2 15-1 (OK)
1st Alliance 18 Gold is No. 7 for me; A5 is in the teens but has top five talent for sure.
CJ 17s moved to sixth in our rankings.
OP2 15s? Could be top five but will need to “prove it” in a nationally competitive event after a 33-1 start.
• Althoff Catholic sophomore Gabby Orlet has been nominated for the National Federation of State High School Associations for the Spirit of Sport Award by the Illinois High School Association. Gabby is the daughter of Lisa Orlet, a close friend and decorated high school coach and AD in the St. Louis area.
Almost two years ago, when Gabby was in eighth grade, she was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor that disintegrated a vertebra and also had spread to her lungs. The 5-10 setter missed her freshman season after two back surgeries, chemotherapy and immunotherapy, but came back with a vengeance last fall, when she earned Illinois All-State honors while assisting more than 600 times, all the while continuing with the chemo and immunotherapy she will need for the rest of her life.
You are a true inspiration, Gabby.
Gabby plays club for HP Illinois 16 National, which went 9-1 and tied for fifth out of 96 teams this past weekend in the 16 USA division at MEQ..
• Here’s a little more on Dallas Skyline 17 Black, which won 17 USA at Red Rock two weekends ago without dropping a set. Because that qualifier finished on Monday, a little slack is being given for a report that missed last week’s deadline.
Caroline Tredwell, a 6-2 junior middle committed to UTSA, did a great job of blocking and scoring offensively. She .455 for the weekend with 15 blocks. OH Payton Tompkins played well in all six rotations, had a team-high 14 aces, passed a 2.3 and hit .307. OH Lauren Schneider, a Kansas State commit, swung aggressively, hit .340 for the weekend and passed a 2.2. And RS Katherine Holtman hit .250 with 11 blocks.
Oh, and a team dad danced Skyline back to the hotel after play both Saturday and Sunday. A step in the right direction? I think so!
• JJVA 15 Black went 7-0 (14-2 in sets) this past weekend in the First Coast Festival. This strong young team was poised all weekend and defeated A5 Gwinnett in the finals in three sets! Sayler Denholm, Isabella Jackson, Lauren McCarthy and Katie Cooksey shined for the victors.
JJVA 16 Black went 7-0 (14-0 in sets) this past weekend to win the First Coast Festival. This scrappy, athletic team beat A5 Gwinnett 16-2JT in the final, led by junior setter Sophie Baldwin, who made amazingly sound setting choices; and defenders Banton and Bailey Montgomery.
• After a two-year hiatus, PrepVolleyball.com has reinstituted the Andi Collins Award, which is given to the nation’s best senior high school setter. Ava Sarafa of Marian HS in Michigan won the award, which honors Andi Collins, a standout setter who lost her life in 2003 to invasive breast cancer at 16 years of age.
I started the Andi Collins Award after Andi’s death. The first winner, in 2003, was Bryn Kehoe of St. Ursula HS of Cincinnati. Kehoe would go on to set Stanford to a national title one year later.
In 2011, the award was bestowed on Mackenzie Dagostino and the trophy was presented the following spring at Big South, with Andi’s club and club coach, Orange County and Charlie Brande, in attendance.
Big South is next weekend.
Until next time …