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 48-team 18 Open field for the USA Volleyball 18s Girls Junior National Championships filled this past week. Four At-Large teams were selected to compete along with the 44 that qualified at 16 National Qualifiers across the country. The “fortunate four” were Circle City 18 Purple, VC United 181 Elite, Vital 18-1 Gold and Dynasty Academy 181.
Circle and Dynasty were both in the 17 Open field last year. Circle, with OH Chloe Chicoine, tied for 13th. Dynasty Academy, a Dynasty offshoot designed for multi-sport athletes, finished 33rd.
Circle was an obvious choice. Scott McQueen’s squad had nine wins against the field and a winning record against the field. Plus in the three qualifiers Circle City attended, every team that finished ahead of it all had bids.
“We would rather have done it on the court, but we felt like our resume was strong,” McQueen said.
McQueen said his team won’t just be content being in the field.
“We feel like we can do well,” he said. “We expect to win every match that we go into. Most teams do at that level, though, so I’m sure it will be great competition.”
Players to watch include setter Grace Reynolds, libero Cadee Notter, OH Courtney Jones and RS Kendall Meller.
“Really, what makes us tick is everyone contributes,” McQueen said.
While Circle City expected to receive the call, Vital, a Minnesota club seeking its first-ever Open invitation, wasn’t so confident.
“We weren’t sure to be honest,” said coach/director Ryan Stuntz. “We felt like our body of work was solid … the teams we had beaten and how we finished in big tournaments was good.”
Vital’s resume included 10 wins against Open-qualified teams and two top 10 qualifier finishes in three efforts, including a T-5 at Northern Lights, where the team missed qualifying by one spot. Vital also was in a power pool at Triple Crown, a good indicator of where it stands in this age group.
“We know we are ‘Open worthy,’” Stuntz said. “We know we can compete with the best teams in the country and now we have the opportunity to showcase that in Phoenix.”
Two weeks ago, at MEQ, Vital placed 14th without top OH Lilly Wachholz, an Iowa State signee. Wachholz was rehabbing an ankle sprain, which gave other players opportunities to step up in her absence. That should make the team that much stronger when Wachholz, who stands 6-3; returns for Junior Nationals, which is the plan.
Other players to watch for Vital include setter Cameron Berger (Michigan State), OH Ellie Sieling (Concordia St. Paul) and MB Kendall Minta (Bradley).
Stuntz said that qualifying in open is “huge” for the club.
“We started from scratch 10 years ago and now have open-level talent in our gym,” said Stuntz, who moved to the area from California with his wife, Kelly Bowman Stuntz, a former Minnesota setter (I know her!). “It really feels like we’re doing something right. We’re now being considered as an elite program not just here in Minnesota, but also nationally. And more importantly, we have established a club culture that proves that when you have a core group of kids/parents who have been with you for 5+ years who trust in our process and vision, great things can happen on and off the court.”
• When did the Sunshine Classic National Qualifier grow into the behemoth that it was this past weekend? Sunshine is a USAV-owned event that stepped into the Florida void after Big South, once known as the Tampa Bay Qualifier, moved to Atlanta in 2005. The tournament for years did not acquire a foothold in the space and struggled to attract numbers or teams from outside the region.
Consider that in the past, because this past weekend in Orlando, 1,238 teams descended on the Orange County Convention Center, a tournament so big that event organizers had to use both the North and South Concourses!
• In 17 Open at Sunshine, Dynasty 17 Black, which was reeling in February following an 0-7 showing at the Triple Crown NIT, toppled Triple Crown champion A5 Mizuno 17 Jing for the title. The championship capped a remarkable turnaround for Brian Tate’s team, which qualified at NEQ in Philly last month.
“I think the best way to describe how this group plays is that, ‘They just keep coming.’” Tate said. “Our team plays and relies on relentless defense and good ball control in order to have success. We also understand it takes everyone doing their job for us to win games. We did that as best we could this weekend.”
Dynasty had success thanks to middles Calissa Minatee and Cy Rae Campbell working hard to alter swings side to side. RS Brooklyn Young took on the challenge of slowing down some of the top outsides in the country time after time. Heidi Devers, Abby Christian, Kaylen Rush and Caitlin Cobb all dug a ton of balls to keep plays alive and to keep the team in system in serve-receive. Dynasty got great swings, point scoring and passing from OHs Rylee Unruh, Julia Kinney and Chapel Dobbs. Finally, Ashley Mullen had a great weekend distributing the ball to all of Dynasty’s hitters, especially in transition, and the offense didn’t miss a beat when Brynne McGhie ran it.
“The joy, passion, and connection that this team has is really special and infectious,” Tate said. “When we’re having fun playing volleyball is when we are tough to play against.”
A5 qualified in second place. Jing Hou’s team lost three times, which, if you didn’t know more, would be shocking. First, did you see the scores in those three losses?
To PVA 17 Elite on Day 2, 16-25, 26-24, 15-13
To Top Select 17 Elite Blue on Day 3, 20-25, 26-24, 21-19
To Dynasty 17 Black in the final, 15-25, 25-22, 26-24
Tate described the final set as, “Stressful but fun.”
A5 battled back from down 13-7 to force extra points. Lots of them.
“Our kids did a great job of sticking with it and finding ways to score when we needed a point,” Tate said. “It seemed like every two points we were going from the confidence that we were about to win on set point to the stress of trying to keep the game going. The cool part of the set was that everything after point 15 was very good volleyball. There wasn’t a missed serve or an ace and we got into rallies because the defensive level on both sides was extremely high.”
The tournament marked the return of A5 OH Jurnee Robinson. Robinson was the best 17s player in Kansas City at Triple Crown, but suffered a lower leg injury on the tournament’s final kill. Robinson also suffered a horrific personal loss the day before the tournament, when her 12-year-old cousin was murdered by a classmate outside of his South Carolina school. Our thoughts are with Robinson and her family.
Despite everything, A5 had enough to sweep tough Alamo 17 Premier, 1st Alliance 17 Gold and OT 17 J John, teams that had already qualified.
Dallas Skyline 17 Royal and Metro 17 Travel also qualified. Skyline, seeded 15th overall, lost to Legacy 171 Adidas on Day 1 before winning five straight to clinch a bid and reach the semifinal.
“We finally played with consistency all weekend and had some big wins,” noted Skyline coach Kirk Perry. “Day 1 for us was survive and advance with two of our players getting in town around 3:30 a.m. due to flights being canceled or delayed from Dallas. Day 2, after rest, we started clicking and playing well, taking care of the ball and making our opponents earn their points. Day 3 was fun and we played a really good Dynasty team tough, losing 15-12.”
Setter Harley Kreck, a Baylor recruit, led the offense for Skyline. She spread the ball around and was a reason four of her hitters hit .340 or above. Kreck also added 42 digs. Becca Kelly led the team with 54 kills over 20 sets and hit .352. Middles Regan Engler and Hannah Gonzalez really stepped up and had 57 kills combined. Finally, Symone Sims and Tinley Merder (80 digs combined) led the back row.
Metro had to earn its bid the hard way. After losing to Dynasty in the Gold Pools, the Washington D.C. squad needed to sweep Houston Skyline 17 Royal I the fifth-place match to punch its ticket.
“Qualifying was a big accomplishment as a team,” coach Corey Hobson noted.
Pam McCune contributed offensively and defensively while Sydney Bryant played consistently all weekend.
“We look forward to continuing to play high level volleyball and seeing how we stack up against the field at Windy City,” Hobson said.
• A5 Mizuno 16-Gabe followed up a second-place performance at Northern Lights by going 10-0 to win the 32-team 16 Open division in Orlando. The team recovered from a Game 1 loss to previously-qualified 1st Alliance 16 Gold to win the next two. 1st Alliance, which was second at MEQ, now has been runner up in its last two qualifiers.
The bids went to Flyers 16APX-Dylan, Top Select 16 Elite Blue and Triangle 16 Black, which combined to go 19-8 to place among the top six.
“The team had contributions from every player in route to some really close wins and achieving our goal of qualifying,” noted Flyers coach Dylan Cheng. “The team was on a roll, going 3-0 without dropping a set on Day 2. We continued our strong play in three close matches in the Gold Pools. The character of this team is never giving up and always battling!”
Flyers, a Texas squad, received particularly strong performances from MB Jessica Jones, RS Paloma Gonzalez, OH Reagan Bedell and Libero Emilee Prochaska, “but every player showed how we play as a team,” Cheng stressed.
• Houston Skyline 15 Royal won its second national qualifier in as many starts, taking 15 Open at Sunshine with a 9-1 record. The team overcame a Day 2 loss, in three, to Houston Junior 15 Elite, by winning its final four matches to take the title. Among the wins was a 26-24, 26-24 nail biter versus OT 15 T Randy, a three-set revenge win (Triple Crown) over 1st Alliance 15 Gold and a three-set come-from-behind championship match victory over Legacy 15-1 Adidas.
“This weekend was very rewarding for H Skyline 15 Royal,” noted coach Amy Burk. “Sunshine Classic is always a stacked tournament with incredibly talented teams and this year was no different. We toughed it out in several physical and challenging matches and it was great to see the progress and determination our girls responded with.”
Burk said her girls were hungry and ready for some redemption at 8 a.m. on Day 3 versus 1st Alliance.
“They did a great job executing our game plan in that match and showed just how much they can grit it out when things get tough!” she added.
In the final versus Legacy, being in system a majority of the time helped Houston Skyline achieve victory. The team continually was aggressive on attack and benefited from an insane save from Taylor Porter, who dove into the crowd at 12-11 in the third set to keep a ball up.
“That gave us all the momentum we needed to capitalize and we ended up winning 15-11 in gutsy fashion!” Burk said
“It was a huge team effort this weekend from our group, as one of our regular contributors (Bayleigh Minor – 6-2 MB) was not able to attend the tournament due to being involved in competitive track,” said Burk. “We had players step up in big moments (including both middles – Jayla Buford & Beka Pfefferkorn) and experienced getting uncomfortable and being able to respond. Morgan Madison (L/DS) had a huge weekend, gritting out some crazy defensive plays that willed us back in matches when down. Kassidy O’Brien did a great job distributing the ball to her attackers and pins Bailey Warren, Ella Lewis, and Taylor Porter took that and ran with it.”
Legacy took home a bid for its second-place showing. The Michigan squad was undefeated until the championships match. Setter Campbell Flynn, OH Gabby DiVita (eighth grader) and MB Olivia Grenadier led the way.
“We are proud of the team for playing scrappy, taking care of the ball and grinding out some really tough wins!” exclaimed club director Jennifer Cottrill.
OT 15 T Randy won great matches with already-qualified 1st Alliance and Austin Skyline 15 Royal to qualify in third place. The win over 1st Alliance avenged a loss in the championship match at the Triple Crown NIT.
“We had to fight every match it seemed,” said coach Randy Thomas. “I’m proud of my team for coming together and winning. We went 9-1 and only lost to the team that won it all, Houston Skyline.”
Libero Lily Hayes was the catalyst in OT’s winning weekend.
“She played amazing all weekend,” Thomas said. “The amount of digs she gets saved us. She will do anything in her power to make sure the ball doesn’t hit the ground and that’s very frustrating for other teams.”
Others who shined included OH Maggie Dostic, a steady force in front row and back; Bella Pereira and Amaiyah Long, who both came up clutch when the team needed to side out; and distributors Izzy Mogridge and Josie Hensley.
Game Point 15 Rox snagged the final bid. Game Point, which is the club Yvonne Devlin and Sindee Snow started after the merger of their previous club, Orlando Volleyball Academy, to OT, qualified this same team in 14 Open a year ago.
• Clear across the country, in Las Vegas, the Red Rock Rave National Qualifier, hosted by the Southern California Volleyball Association, got set for a Monday finish. The mercury was in the mid to upper 80s, reflecting the level of play at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center.
In 17 Open, Coast 17-1 had a dominant three-day stretch to qualify and win the title. Ozhan Bahrambeygui’s team went 10-0 and dropped just two sets, including one in the final to previously-qualified Drive Nation 17 Red and its coach, Ping Cao.
For Coast, Red Rock Rave was the end of a grueling seven-week competition schedule, which, according to Bahrambeygui, “Forced our team to train on both the physical and psychological edge.
Setter Zoe Rachow came into the tournament injured but pushed through and played her best match in the final.
“The best part about this weekend is that different players came through for us on different days,” the coach said.
Middle Blocker Irelynd Lorenzen displayed “shimmers of brilliance,” especially on Day 1. The back court platoon of Sydney Bold, Cate Schnell and Brooklyn Yelland all played exceptionally. RS Noemie Glover also distinguished herself for using her athleticism to suffocate the offenses on the other side. Lastly, BYU-bound OH Claire Little, in her first year in the club, was sensational.
“We’ve had a lot of incredible players come through the program, but it is the rare talented kid that throws off attention and just grinds,” Ozhan said. “Claire’s grit is unreal.”
Tstreet 17-Naseri lost to Aspire 17 Premier on Day 1, then rattled off six wins in a row, including over Drive Nation and previously-qualified ID Crush 17 Bower; to make the semifinals as a qualified team. The team lost the rematch to Drive Nation, but coach Naseri Tumanuvao said that his squad battled.
“That’s what I’m most proud of,” he explained. “We’ve got a special group of kids!”
OHs Eva Travis and Maia Niemen and libero Ella Scott all had special performances over the weekend. Middles Sidney Shaffer and Grace Jackson played with consistency. The setter tandem of Nicole Feliciano and Erynn Munoz kept Tstreet’s attackers in rhythm and created a lot of good situations offensively. RS Lois Hansen showed signs of turning into a force. DS/Libero Kiana Dand contributed at the service line and defensively.
Legacy Girls 17 Pyramid, a club based in the Santa Clarita Valley of Southern California, was seeded 21st in the field of 38, but managed to finish third, apparently snagging the final bid. Legacy beat Vision 17 Gold and battled to three with powerful Club V 17 Ren Reed on Day 1 to set the tone, then stunned Club V in the Gold Pools to secure its bid.
To many, Legacy’s strong finish came as a surprise, but not to one SCVA coach, who remarked: “They are extremely good and, in Walt Ker, they have the strongest coach in junior volleyball. If you get into a chess game with Walt Ker, you better have two more queens than he does to have a shot at winning.”
Legacy came into Red Rock on the heels of placing sixth in the last Premier Volleyball League event and showed well at Triple Crown, going undefeated on two of the tournament’s three days.
“We’ve shown a greater level of consistency over the past few weeks,” Ker said. “The team has been training hard and very focused on improving. It was great for them to be rewarded for their hard work!!”
MB Victoria Davis and S/RS Madi Maxwell were the team’s standouts all weekend long.
LATE BREAKING NEWS: Legacy reportedly declined the bid, even though the Pre-Tournament Manual states that bids may not be declined (this is in the 18s section; it is moot everywhere else and the club sanctions for turning down a bid no longer exist). Apparently, the club is set to attend AAU Nationals and did not want to foist an additional expense on their families. WAVE 17-Juliana, which tied for seventh and is a VERY strong team, was awarded the final bid in Legacy’s stead.
• In 16 Open, WAVE 16-Brennan was awfully impressive in dominating a strong field. Its 10-0 mark included a 25-15, 25-16 romp over previously-qualified Mizuno Long Beach 16 Rockstar T in the championship match.
When last I saw WAVE, the team was at Triple Crown trying to cope with a difficult injury to RS Ayva Moi. Brennan Dean’s team, which features Nikole Egan and Maya Evens, seems to have adjusted well enough and welcomed Moi back this weekend, her compound dislocation just one of several finger injuries for the team.
Middles Jenna Hanes and Camden Bolane were really impressive, despite being the focus of every team’s game plan. Setter Amanda Saeger did a fantastic job with location and tempo.
“We played polished and clean volleyball,” Dean noted.
Vision 16 Gold and Drive Nation 16 Red also qualified. Vision overcame a Day 1 loss to San Gabriel Elite 16RSB to punch its ticket. Drive Nation had to refocus after two Gold Pool losses yesterday to play Seal Beach 16 Black for the final bid and won, 28-26, 25-14.
“It wasn’t the perfect path and we had to have a little luck,” noted coach Jason Nicholson. “In the end they earned it with two big wins over Momentous and then Seal Beach to finish 5th.”
OH Suli Davis and MB Zoe Gillen-Malveaux, both freshman, were dominating offensively for the Dallas-area squad. Libero Kaleigh King wouldn’t let anything hit the floor.
“In the end the whole team came together playing with great energy and determination to take advantage of the opportunity,” Nicholson remarked.
• When AZ Storm Elite 15 Thunder won the Salt Lake City Showdown earlier in qualifier season, Jami Rolfes’ team went 10-0 with just one dropped set. History repeated itself at Red Rock: 10-0. One dropped set. After losing a set to its Phoenix-area rival, Aspire 15 Premier, Storm swept the final four matches, including Tstreet 15-Curtis in the final.
“I’m so proud of these girls,” said coach Jami Rolfes. “Our focus this tournament was to win the serve and pass game and pursue everything! I think we did a great job executing those three skills! I truly give credit to all 12 of these athletes. They constantly push each other every time we’re in the gym and we’ve gotten good results because of it.”
Tstreet, which took second; TAV 15 Black (third) and WAVE 15 Scott (fourth) snagged the three bids. Tstreet qualified with a 5-5 record, which included a 1-2 pool on Day 2.
In that pool, after three matches, Storm was 2-0, Aspire was 1-0, Rage-Westside 15-Jen was 0-1 and Tstreet was 0-2, not exactly in position to advance. But Rage beat Aspire, Tstreet beat Rage and Storm snuck past Aspire, all things that HAD to happen, and Tstreet won the tiebreaking analysis to move on. Curtis Yoder’s team also won a Day 3 tiebreaker – this time, a three-way at 2-1 – to advance first out of its pool and clinch a bid.
WAVE 15 Scott is the team that Rachel Morris coached before departing in February to be an assistant coach at Indiana. The team now is being helmed by Scott Hartley and Dave Johnson and they are doing a terrific job.
The bid did not come without some high drama. WAVE was 1-1 going into its final Gold Pool match with two other teams already 2-1. In order to come out second in the pool, and clinch a bid, it had to win its last match in two sets. The team won the first set handily but found itself down 24-21 in Game 2 to Club V 15 Ren Adam. A loss there and the team would have to face Coast 15-1 in the fifth place match for a bid regardless of the third set outcome. WAVE figured out a way to rally to the 31-29 win and wound up in fourth place overall.
Libero Uri Park, OHs Mae Kordas and Nia Thompson and setter Ava Zamora were standouts for WAVE, which qualified this team in Open for the first time ever.
• Let’s take a Dot to identify some “Best Players You’ve Never Heard of.” It’s a thing I started one afternoon wave at Northern Lights about 15 years ago and I bring it out periodically to give some deserving kids a little recognition.
In this edition, players had to be nominated on short notice. Let’s get to know these previously “unknown” athletes, shall we?
Ana Egge, 6-0 Soph. OH, Rapid City Christian (Rapid City, South Dakota), Black Hills Juniors – A middle two years ago, Egge transitioned to the outside and has flourished. Her work ethic within the club is legendary. She does strength and conditioning three times a week at 6 a.m., is always there for late-night club practices and, quite simply, takes care of her business. “She is extremely coachable, and is always willing to try an unfamiliar skill to learn something,” noted director Annika Stephens. College coaches wanting a peak at this talent can check her out here: https://youtu.be/1aGnaQwU738
Morgan Stephens, 5-8 Jr. OH, Atlantic Coast (Jacksonville, Florida), JJVA 16 Teal – Stephens leads 16 Teal in kills and kills per set and is a tremendous back row player, passing a 2.1 on average with three digs per set. “Morgan stands out on her team – BIG TIME!” said coach CJ Sherman. “Not just for her outstanding play but for the way she includes everyone. She is the touchstone, always making sure all are included in the huddle! She touches everyone literally during the end of the play. She has a smile so big that it is contagious.” Stephens moved to Florida from the West Coast last year, is young for a junior and plays with the 2024 class. “Morgan is a leader on the court and she proves it each time she steps on the court,” Sherman said. “She has proven to be a clutch player and is the glue to this team!”
Klea Tarja, 6-0 Fr. OH, Great Oak (Temecula, California), Forza1 15UA — Tarja is developing into an elite six-rotation OH, noted former UCI assistant coach Aaron Flores. Her parents were both professional volleyball player. Her father, Roland, once was Albania National Team coach. “Klea has a very high IQ and feel for the game and is able to impact the game in every skill,” Flores said. “Her attacking range, length and platform skills will make her a player that has a long future in this sport!”
Ryleigh Roberts, 5-7 Fr. Setter, Lugoff-Elgin (Lugoff, South Carolina), Lake Murray Volleyball Club — “Her setting ability is unmatched for her age and keeps improving because of how much she works on her skill and works out in general,” noted Sue Dillon of the club. “Her parents tell me all the time that they have to pull her away from a workout to go to practice. She is also a VERY well rounded all-around player and enjoys the outdoor game as well. She has played libero and also hits when on the front row for her school team. I think the reason she is an up and coming athlete and not a household name yet is because she plays at both a very small school and a very small club. She is a joy to coach and to watch play and she will do great things in our sport!”
• Florida Gulfside 15 Prime finished runner-up in USA at the Sunshine Qualifier to earn a bid to Nationals in Indianapolis. Veteran Fort Myers High School coach Steph Martin celebrated her birthday in grand fashion over the weekend as the team went 9-1 (19-3 in sets). Sami Soderlund, a 6-2, six-rotation outside, led the team in kills. Libero Lexi Haley led the defense and kept the team in system throughout the entire weekend.
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Until next time …
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