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.
• Less than one week ago, club volleyball lost one of its finest. Cary Cusumano, the Girls Director and Associate Club Director at HP St. Louis, died suddenly at age 44. A heart attack is suspected.
Cary was beloved by his club, by Lindenwood University, where he coached the men’s and women’s team for seven years; and by the greater volleyball community. He was a friend to me and always eager to help get his girls the publicity they so richly deserved.
The Facebook tributes were many, but this one, from the club itself, hit me hardest:
Cary was loved and cherished by anyone that got to meet and know him. His laughter was contagious, his wit and intelligence razor sharp, and his heart was huge and open to anyone that needed anything at any time.
Cary was also an incredible coach who impacted and influenced thousands of young men and women’s lives through his life’s passion of volleyball.
Cary leaves us too young and broken hearted, but despite that breaking our hearts are full of love at the legacy he leaves behind.
Through his years at HP he has been instrumental in who we are, how we got here, and where we are going.
Cary always said volleyball had the best people, and he was absolutely one of the best people. At many of our laughter filled meals he would toast, ‘There are good ships and there are wood ships, ships that sail the sea, but the best ships are friendships and may they always be!’
We miss you and love you Cary, our friend.
• Cary Cusumano lived volleyball. He would urge us to go on and go on we must. In these Dots, we focus mostly on the Show Me National Qualifier in Kansas City, which wrapped up yesterday; and the JVA World Challenge in Louisville, which finished Sunday.
• We will start in Kansas City, on the opposite side of the state where Cusumano lived; at Show Me, where HP STL 15 Royal honored their director by qualifying in 15 Open.
The team, coached by Ben O’Day, had struggled to get over the Day 2 hump at major tourneys this year. But the team did so on Sunday, going 3-0,including a win over previously qualified Circle City 15 Royal; to get to the Gold pools.
On Monday, the squad likely needed one win, with three qualified teams among the final eight, to earn a bid. HP lost its first two matches, both in three, to Nebraska ONE 15 Synergy and Nebraska Elite 15 Matrix and faced do or die versus Michigan Elite 15 Mizuno for the win. The team did, sweeping to the bid, 25-18, 25-17.
“This was a total team effort, including our two injured players,” O’Day said. Defenders Ally Fuchs and Harper Highfill did an excellent job controlling first contacts and keeping the ball off the floor defensively. On the attacking side, Hannah Taylor, Tara Greenberry and Lily Paul consistently found ways to terminate the ball and win points.
O’Day was asked how Cusumano’s death impacted his team.
“I’m not positive I can even find words to describe it,” he responded. “I think the loss of someone you’ve known for half your life, no matter how well you know them, will weigh heavily on your mind for a long period of time. All our teams wore orange ribbons this weekend to honor him, and there were discussions by coaches on the fact that this is where and what Cary would want us to do.”
“We’ve had a strong season so far and continue to improve daily,” O’Day added. “This group has had to go through a lot of adversity and emotional times as of late. Once we are back to full strength, I’m looking forward to what this group will do.”
Nebraska Elite and Northern Lights 15-1 took home the other two bids.
Lights tied with HP for fifth, which was good enough, with three qualified teams placing among the top six. The Minnesota squad, coached by Andy Guggisberg, survived a loss to Michigan Elite on Day 2 to get to the Gold pools; then overcame a thumping from Dynasty 15 Black in its first match on Monday to get the one win it needed: a 15-12 in the third victory over MAVS KC 15-1 to clinch no worse than third place in its pool and top six overall.
The win over MAVS was especially sweet, because as 14s a year ago, Lights lost the “win to bid” match at the Northern Lights qualifier against the same MAVS team!
DS/OH Emerson Dillon, Right Sides Mia Weaver and Mesaiya Bettis, setters Clara Hough and Olivia Wagner, middles Keira Schmidt and Natalie Ptacek and libero McKenna Garr all had moments of brilliance to aid in the qualifying effort.
Nebraska Elite went one better than Lights and HP. Seeded 23rd in a field of 34, 15 Matrix survived and advanced the first two days before getting big wins over HP and Michigan Elite on Monday to clinch a tie for third and a ticket to Indianapolis in June.
Coach/director Tony Carrow said that 15 Matrix has a lot of new faces, including two new middles. Another middle had to move to the outside after a hitter left the team two weeks in because “her heart was not in it.”
“It takes time to understand what it takes to win at Open and then how to not let the environment control you,” Carrow said. “We made big strides in this area.”
The team also did a great job at controlling the first contact.
Libero Izzie Junior was solid in every aspect of the game; and Ashlyn Paymal was a big point scorer and did a great job shutting down opposing outside hitters.
Nebraska ONE, which qualified at Northern Lights, won the championship match with Dynasty, another qualified team. ONE lost twice, one each on the first two days, but caught fire on Monday and swept its final three matches to take the title.
“This was an incredible weekend for our team,” said coach Christina Boesiger. “We were missing two front row starters, and these eight girls responded so well with grit, courage, and love for each other. Our defense was very scrappy and were able to side out on many transition balls. I am so proud of their relentless effort to win a gold ball.”
Top players included libero Keri Leimbach (104 digs; 13 aces), setter Malorie Boesiger (235 assists; 10 aces), OH Anna Jelinek (95 kills; 91 digs) and MB Natalie Wardlow (68 kills; 11 blocks).
In 16 Open, Circle City 16 Purple went 10-0 to claim the gold ball and the bid. Kristine Deem’s team went to three sets a whopping six times, but showed resilience by winning them all. Circle won its last two matches, over KC Power 16-1 to clinch first place in its Gold Pool; and over NKYVC 16 Tsunami to win the championship; at deuce in the third sets.
Deem, aka “Wheels,” said that 16 Purple’s plan for the weekend was not just to qualify but to bring home hardware.
“They found their stride holding on to a motto of ‘We Can Do Hard Things,’ given by assistant coach Jessica Fink who was unable to attend this weekend due to the loss of a loved one,” Deem said. “They motivated each other each day, giving positive input to every member from both the sidelines and on the court.”
Ava Utterback, Alexis Maesch, and Sophia Mayo led a dominating attack on the pins, while middles Scarlett Kimbrell and Dakota Elliott gave opposing attackers a sea of hands at the net that was tough to break through.
“We regularly talk about winning the serve and pass game above anything else,” Wheels explained. “In true fashion, Alleigh Dutton, Chloe Gilley, and Rachel Vorst showed up with incredible defense and serve receive in the back court. Emery Moore directed the offense with grit while still finding plenty of her own opportunities to score as well. Overall, a true team effort winning a qualifier with a great field and earning their right to play open at GJNC!”
NKYVC also claimed a bid. Tyler Collins’ team went 8-2 to finish second and avenged a thumping to Dynasty 16 Black in the finals at Triple Crown to beat Dynasty in Gold Pool play.
“Having both of my outsides back into the rotation did help,” he said.
“This weekend was a major showing of the team’s grit and ability to execute during high pressure time,” Collins added. “Everyone on this team deserves a major shout out, because without each one playing a key role we wouldn’t have this success.”
Setter Abby Yoder helming the offense, Elizabeth Tabeling anchoring the defense and the big arms of Julia Hunt and Alivia Skidmore were particularly impactful.
The final bid went to OT O 16 Roberto, which qualified T-5 despite a breakeven 4-4 record. The team previously had finish fourth at Northern Lights and outside of the top 10 at Sunshine.
“OTVA 16 Roberto qualified with a ‘survive and advance,’” said coach Roberto Santasofia.
Juleigh Urbina set an outstanding tournament by feeding the ball to hungry OHs Amina N’Daiye and Fallon Stewart. Abby Dickenson played stellar defense, making difficult plays look routine.
• Premier Nebraska 17 Gold, a previous qualifier at Northern Lights, was awfully impressive winning the 17 Open division. Joe Wessel’s squad played 10 matches and swept all 10! Only three sets were close all weekend long.
Minnesota Select 17-1, Rockwood Thunder 17 Elite and Mintonette m. 71 qualified in the division.
Select made it to the finals with a strong Gold Pool showing, where it defeated m.71 and two already-qualified teams, MAVS KC 17-1 and Dynasty 17 Black.
Coached by George Padjen, Select is a young group, with three sophomores and a fourth, MB Kate Simington, who should be a sophomore but skipped a grade when younger. This team has improved steadily all season long and this weekend was no different.
Setter Stella Swenson led the team, as usual.
“She made great decisions and showed the leadership it takes to bring her team to the top through thoughtful communication and Individual effort,” Padjen said.
Pins Avery Bolles and Sydney Schnichels also were instrumental to team success, but the play of middles Simington, Annika Veurink and Kaia Caffee is what took this team to a new level. The trio were terminal attackers and did a great job on the defensive side forcing hitters to be uncomfortable. They were able to create so much
space for Bolles and Schnichels to terminate.
Rockwood qualified despite a 5-4 overall record. The team went 1-2 on the final day but a sweep of NKYVC 17 Tsunami and going to three sets against Iowa Rockets 17 R was enough to see them through in a three-way tie for second, where only second place would guarantee a bid.
“The girls played well together this weekend and things were firing on all cylinders at times,” said coach Gretchen Moser. “We are still working on being 100% healthy as we move into playing at Big South this upcoming weekend. Our goal is to continue to improve our play into post season to prepare for the extremely tough field at Nationals.”
Ava Roth was solid in the backrow all weekend, making some key defensive plays at key moments for Rockwood. Claire Morrissey and Caitlyn Little came up big on the pins down the stretch.
The third bid came down to Mintonette and Iowa Rockets in the fifth-place match. M.71 won a nail biter when the teams played on Day 2, but the Ohio squad was more dominant one day later and swept its way to Indianapolis.
• At the JVA World Challenge, Sports Performance 18 Elite went 9-0 over three days to win the 18 Open title.
“We were battling a couple of ankle injuries, a broken finger to our starting setter (Darby Harris) and some players getting sick just before the tournament,” noted coach Troy Gilb. “Through all of that adversity I am very proud of the toughness and grit the 18 Elite team showed this past weekend.”
Top performers included libero Maya Sands, who led the team in passing and had a team-high 87 dogs on the weekend.
“She made some crucial plays on serve reception during the most critical moments in the semifinals,” Gilb noted.
Clemson-bound Kitty Sandt also shined in place of Harris. She led the team to a .322 hitting percentage.
And, of course, there was OH Ella Wrobel. Wrobel, who is impacting her team arguably greater than any other 18s player in the country this season, led the offense with 96 kills, attacking at a .385 clip. She also played stellar defense and averaged 3.16 digs per set.
Rockwood Thunder 18 Elite finished second.
“It was a great learning experience this weekend for 18 Elite,” said coach Billy Rhodes.
The team went into the weekend without a starting Pepperdine-bound middle, who had a school commitment. Her absence sent 5-7 OH Ella Brinkmann to the middle and she did an unbelievable job keeping Rockwood in matches.
“We had to grind out some situations in unusual rotations for us, but our setters both did a great job of mixing up our offense and ball controllers allowed us to do that along the way to the finals. I think the run we made says a lot about us as a team, and that everyone played a big role this weekend, especially Maddie Hoffman and Ally Williams in the backrow keeping rallies alive. We did a great job getting back to/finding our identity after a rough finish to MEQ, which is always promising to find a week and a half before we head off to Phoenix.”
Rhodes said that the MVP of the weekend for his team was RS Madison Scheer. Best supporting cast honors to Brinkmann, OH Carly Glendinning and MB Madilyn Sell.
South Dakota’s Kairos 18 Adidas tied for third and played Sports Performance tougher than anyone before falling, 24-26, 25-23, 17-15.
The two biggest stars for the weekend for Kairos were setter Bergen Reilly and libero Brynn Kirsch. Reilly did an amazing job moving the ball around and getting her hitters 1-on-1 a lot. Kirsch was unreal on defense.
“She got a lot of spectators’ attention and we were given a lot of compliments on her toughness and gritty play,” said director Mitch Lunning. “In my opinion we did not play against a better libero than Brynn all weekend.”
Kairos’ two undersized outsides, Sadie Voss and Stella Winterfield, also shined.
This was a huge weekend as a whole for Kairos, which sent 14 teams to Louisville..
“We’ve been working hard to get our young club (in an area of the country where volleyball was very underdeveloped 10 years ago) to the point where all of our age groups can compete competitively in Open,” Lunning explained. “I feel like we finally proved we’ve arrived this past weekend in Louisville. Our top teams competed in 14 Open, 15 Open, 16 Open, 17 Open, and 18 Open. 14 Adidas won 14 Open, going 9-0 with significant wins over Munciana and KiVA in the gold bracket. 15 Adidas made the gold bracket and lost a close match in three to Sports Performance in the first round, placing ninth. 16 Adidas got knocked out of gold contention on Day 2 but finished strong, winning the silver bracket, avenging an earlier loss to Rev 16-1. 17 Adidas was playing without a couple of players this weekend, but still did well placing 13th overall.”
Other teams that medaled in gold bracket for Kairos included:
16 Beta got 1st in 16 Club
16 Gamma got 1st in 17 Classic
13 Adidas got 2nd in 13 Premier
14 Gamma got 2nd in 14 Classic
15 Beta got 3rd in 15 Club
Tri-State Elite 18 Blue tied for third along with Kairos. OH Maggie Butkovich moved to the left side and played very well for this team, which will conclude their careers in two weeks in Phoenix. Libero Cammy Niesen will not be with the team at 18s Junior Nationals.
“She has an academic opportunity oversees that conflicts with the event,” club director Kelly Crowley explained. “Her career and impact on TSE and this group cannot be quantified. She’s a once in a lifetime teammate and positive influence.”
It should be noted that Triple Crown champion Munciana 18 Samurai was absent from the World Challenge field.
“Spring breaks and proms gunned us down,” said coach Mike Lingenfelter. “We made the call at the start of the year…was never on our radar.”
• KiVA 17 Red put all that promise to good use with a 9-0 run through 17 Open.
“It was fun weekend for our team, with the top performances coming from different players at different times,” noted coach Anne Kordes. “I thought our setter, Whitney Woodrow, did an excellent job of distributing the ball to Sydney Helmers, Nya Bunton and Olivia Fish, who all three turned in incredible offensive performances. Our libero, Julie McNeely, along with the three DS’s in Lydia Stephens, Ava Norris and Elle Jackson, allowed our team passing to stay above a 2.0 for most of the weekend, which attributed to our ability to stay calm under pressure. We also had Gabby Gerry and Alexis Strong come up with some important blocks that kept teams from coming all the way back against us. Again, it was a great team effort.”
Athena VB 17-1 Gold, from Portland, Oregon, was a surprise second-place finisher.
“I am very proud of Athena VB making it to the finals as the only Pacific Northwestern Club in the division,” said coach Chris Osborn. “Lauren Patterson showed she was one of the top liberos in the 2023 class as well as Makenna Wiepert in the setter position. Ceanna O’Loughlin and Olivia Maulding had an amazing tournament at the right side and middle blocker positions, which gave us high energy plays to fuel our championship run.”
Capital 17 Adidas and Tri-State Elite 17 Blue tied for third.
The weekend for 17 Blue was highlighted by two exciting three-set wins over Sky High Adidas 17 Elite and Michio Chicago 17 National.
Luca Fickell, a 6-1 setter, has started to develop into an amazing setter and this weekend highlighted her progress. She was continuously providing 1-on-1 opportunities for OHs Maia Long, Ally Cordes, and Kate White. MBs Ivey Stocks and Kate Wilking took advantage of their opportunities as well.
Defensively, the team’s trademark intensity showed up and showed out. Kamden Schrand, Jess Drapp, Courtney Fitzgerald, and Jada Kramer go all out, all the time.
• Tri-State Elite dominant weekend continued in 16 Open play, as Tri-State Elite 16 Blue went 8-0 and dropped just one set in winning the 36-team division.
“Our depth was a key to success as many players stepped up in different matches,” said coach Kevin Lucas.
Setter Maria Drapp led a balanced offense with the team hitting .395 on the weekend. RS Kiana Dinn had a monster performance in the third set versus Sports Performance 16 Elite on Sunday morning. She accounted for eight of the team’s 15 points on blocks and kills.
MB Faith Young was among several other standouts for TSE, which improved to 38-6 on the year. She hit.516 on 93 swings throughout the tournament.
Munciana 16 Moana was undefeated until the championship match.
“This group did a nice job winning the serve/serve receive battle for most of the weekend and their ability in that part of the game gives them an opportunity to win a lot of matches,” said coach Tucker Bitting. “The offense was as balanced as it’s been all season, and that is a good sign going into the last few months of the season.”
MB Taylor Lewis and OH Delaney Lawson were particularly strong on the offensive end for Muncie.
Athena VB 16-1 Gold and FC Elite 16 Navy tied for third.
Team cohesiveness was key for Athena in its third-place showing, said director Lena Chan.
“I had numerous parents on opposing teams come up and comment how they enjoyed watching our team play because our players enjoy each other and love the game,” Chan explained.
Libero Maile Chan led Athena’s defense, while Elizabeth Andrew and Alondra Paz keyed the offense. Andrew, who stands 6-4, is one of the top middles in her class anywhere.
FC Elite 16 had a tremendous weekend. The team diced up Team Pineapple 16 Black to get to the semifinals, by the play of OHs Peyton Carlson (Class of ’26) and Annalise Patchett.
The semifinals versus Muncie was blow for blow. Though FC Elite came up short, Emma Nilson and Mattea Kiepert were critical in big moments from the MB position.
• The two best 14s teams from the JVA side, Adidas KiVA 15 Red and Munciana 15 Lorax, battled for the 15 Open title, with KiVA prevailing in straight sets. The win for KiVA was its first in four tries versus Muncie this year.
Addison Makun and Bailey Blair were the highlights from a very balanced offensive attack, while Kristin Simon led a stingy defense from the libero position, coach Rick Nold said.
Tri-State Elite 15 Blue and FC Elite 15 Navy tied for third, combining to go 13-3.
TSE’s only loss came versus KiVA in the semifinals and it took three sets.
OHs Luci Heid and Molly Creech combined for 128 kills and hit above .300 for the weekend. The ball control and defense of Sakura Codling, Sydney Crowley, and Daisy Cluxton were essential, as the trip took charge of the back court. RS Caroline Moore had 34 kills and hit .400. MBs Ashley Sess and Nia Jones combined for 39 kills and countless blocks. Setter Ally Hughes orchestrated the offense and created nice opportunities for her hitters.
FC Elite’s only two losses were to the finalists.
Coach Taylor Bubolz described his group as, “A small, but scrappy team that finds ways to score points in big moments.”
Top performers included setter Madi Tripp, libero Jumana Martin, OH Annika Kowalski and MB/RS Campbell Onell.
• Revolution Pittsburgh 18 White went 8-1 to capture the 18 Premier division at the World Challenge. The team defeated SPVB 18 Red, 25-23, 27-25, in the championship match.
The entire team played well all weekend. Korrin Burns was a standout terminator. Mia Schubert was incredibly steady defensively and offensively.
NPJ 18 Forefront held off OJVA 17 Gold to win the CEVA/PS Platinum League #3 event held in Southwest Washington. Alexis Haury, Ashli Edmiston, Bella Snyder and Hailey Heider were standouts for NPJ, which claimed the status of best team in the Pacific Northwest with the win.
Note: If you are a coach or director and wanting to contribute, I seek input every Monday for these Dots and tomorrow’s Dream Team via bulk email. You can get on the email lists by subscribing (for free) at these links:
Until next time …
PLEASE JOIN THE TEAM!
Keep free volleyball journalism free by becoming a VolleyballMag.com Sustaining Member: https://volleyballmag.com/sustaining-membership/
Or make a contribution through Venmo @VolleyballMag