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.
• On Friday, the USA Volleyball 18s Junior National Championships will convene in Phoenix at the Phoenix Convention Center for three days, with the intention of crowning national champions in seven divisions. A total of 352 teams will compete.
The top division, 18 Open, consists of 48 teams, and there are 3-4 clear favorites.
A5 18-Marc, first in two qualifiers and second in a third, will be in the mix. The team is healthy and rested and had difference makers in MB Mari Singletary, OH Cheridyn Leverette and RS Alexa Markley.
Sunshine 18-LA won the USAV 17 Open title a year ago and has to be the favorite after winning two qualifiers and placing second at the Triple Crown NIT. Sunshine also is healthy and has played who have played together for a long time. The Southern California squad has ridiculously good ball control and, in RS Kerry Keefe, possesses perhaps the most under recognized superstar in the game today.
Houston Skyline 18 Royal will be a factor. The Houston team has a terrific setter in Maddie Waak and a fantastic surrounding cast, including OH Brielle Warren and MB Morgan Perkins.
Dallas squad Madfrog 18’s National Green also should be in the mix. Matt Sipes’ team is mostly healthy, with RS Mia Moore just returning to action and DS Zoria Heard out ill. Defender Savannah Ivie is up from the 17s team and will help out.
Other teams to watch include Adversity G18 Adidas, Metro 18 Travel, FC Elite 18 Elite, OT 18 T Chad and Coast 18-1.
Who will win? I’m picking A5 over Houston Skyline in three for the title. Singletary will be named Most Outstanding Player.
I do not know enough about teams in the other divisions to venture intelligent guesses. But give me Muscle over Carolina Union in 18 National and NIVA to win 18 USA.
• Turning now to National Qualifiers…there were THREE this Easter weekend!!! Windy City, Lone Star and Big South all thought this would be a great time to don bunny ears and play some volleyball. And they were right, as teams came out in numbers to participate at all three venues.
Last week, between the Show Me Qualifier and JVA World Challenge, I received input from 24 of the 27 coaches I specifically asked. That was unprecedented and had me working late into the day!
This week, I made a whopping 33 requests, with 20 responses so far. Let’s see if any others come through as the day goes on…
We’ll start with 17 Open at Windy City, where 1st Alliance 17 Gold toppled Circle City 17 Purple for the title.
The Chicago squad pushed past Houston Juniors 17 Elite, 27-25, 23-25, 15-10, in its final Gold Pool match to reach the championship, then won an epic battle over Circle City, the nation’s No. 1 team in this age group, 25-22, 23-25, 17-15, to finish the tournament 10-0.
The final featured big swings, big blocks and scrappy plays and was even after two sets. 1st Alliance stormed to an 11-3 lead in the final set, only to see Circle rally in a big way to take the lead, 14-13. 1st Alliance fought off two match points to take the win.
“Our top overall performer of the weekend was Kennedy Wagner, who had 97 kills, 13 aces, 72 digs and 15 blocks,” noted head coach Danielle Mikos. “She was lethal attacking from the front row and the back row and gave us a spark in each big match when we really needed it. Other key players were Jordan Heatherly, who led the offense; Kamryn Chaney (hit .425 with seven kills in the championship match and led the team with 19 blocks on the weekend); and Kamryn Lee-Caracci (hit .509, 57 kills and 12 blocks for the weekend).”
“The WARRIOR of the weekend was Grace Egan, who played with the flu and NEVER left the floor (2nd on the team in kills (73), aces (10) and was our top passer),” Mikos continued. “Grace’s grit and mental toughness to play, despite how horrible she felt, ignited the rest of team to play hard for her. We would not have made it out of our Gold pool, let alone won the final match, without her ability to overcome this challenge!”
Circle City, which had a 24-26, 26-24, 17-15 battle with very athletic Sunshine 17-LA in Gold Pool play, is now 55-3 on the season, with all three losses coming in overtime in the third set. Chris Due’s team has a win at NEQ and two second-place qualifier finishes.
“I think this weekend was a grind for us,” Due said. “We had a lot of players missing practices since MEQ due to Spring Break and other conflicts, so we had two full team practices going into the event and it definitely showed by our chemistry on the court. We were able to step up in moments, but it seemed difficult to find our rhythm. We do have a big break before our next event so we will definitely take this time to continue to grow and improve in many areas. Our first ball contact and defense was a little off this weekend so we will definitely be looking to get those areas back on track.”
With 1st Alliance, Circle and T-3 Legacy 17-1 Adidas having qualified before, the three bids trickled to Houston Juniors, Sunshine and Oklahoma’s UPVBC 17 Open, a first for that club.
Cari Klein said that while Sunshine was so happy to receive its bid, the team did not execute at the level it expected. A Day 2 loss to HJV put Sunshine in the Gold Pool of Death with Circle, Legacy and Academy Volleyball Cleveland 17 Red. Sunshine started 0-2 before taking over AVC for the bid, 25-23, 25-21. Dior Charles’ blocking and the serving of Grace Thrower carried Sunshine past AVC in the mist-win match.
For the weekend, OH Torrey Stafford played at a high level and Olivia Babcock was very effective behind the service line.
HJV coach Jeff Ham said his team player some of its best volleyball of the year in securing the bid. The team lost only to champion 1st Alliance in that blockbuster Gold Pool match.
“It was a great ball control weekend by us and all players stepped up when they were called upon,” Ham said. “A really good TEAM first weekend.”
There’s a lot of joy in Oklahoma this week after what UP accomplished, a first for the Tulsa-based club.
“We had a great tournament at Windy City,” said coach Chip McCaw. “Every player on the team did their job on and off the court all weekend. They played their hardest no matter the score from the first point to the last and it paid off for them in the end. I’m so proud of what they have accomplished all year and the progress they’ve made.”
• Dynasty 16 Black ruled the 29-team 16 Open field. Cassie Rockers’ team added a third qualifier title to the Triple Crown NIT championship it captured in February. The team was coming off of a third-place showing at Show Me, where it suffered one of only two losses on the season.
“After last weekend at Show Me, the girls were motivated to end our qualifier season with a bang!” Rockers said. “We faced some tough competition, but we were able to prevail in the end.
“Our focus this weekend was to have fun playing volleyball. The girls did just that. They were connected, supportive, and all around great teammates to each other and that’s what ultimately drives our ship. The chemistry this team has is undeniable and I’m extremely proud of each and every one of them.”
1st Alliance 16 Gold, a qualifier previously at MEQ, went 9-1 to take second, its third Silver Medal in qualifiers this season.
“The most impressive piece of this team is the consistent contribution both physically and mentally from each player,” noted coach Trish Samolinski. “We have a sturdy foundation built on the stability Grace Nelson brings in every aspect of the game. I am proud of how well we have learned to stay focused and perform against the tough field of competition. We still have a lot to work on, which is the most exciting part, but what makes it better is having a group of girls so willing to learn, which makes all our goals even more within view!”
Nelson had 108 kills over 24 sets to lead the weekend. Ellery Rees and Gabby Williams took steps forward in the middle for the team, combining for 47 kills and 18 blocks. And Elizabeth Sessa was a real threat on the right side, with 35 kills. Finally, Ellie White led the team with 141 assists, and contributed 73 kills.
Third-place finishers Milwaukee Sting 16 Gold and Metro 16 Travel, as well as Puerto Rican side Capitanas 16-1, which knocked off Houston Juniors 16 Elite in the fifth-place match, left Chicago with bids in hand.
Sting was playing its third qualifier after not having their best showings at MEQ and Show Me.
“I couldn’t be more proud of this squad with how they responded, earning their 16 Open bid at the Windy City Qualifier,” said coach Dave Bayer.
Setter Lilly Wagner was terrific on Day 3 helping Sting take second place in a tough pool that included Dynasty, Houston Juniors and a Six Pack team it lost to previously. Defender Jae Fitting and middles Anna Bjork and Gabby Pitcel were rock solid all weekend, while OH Elle Schumacher came off the bench on Sunday to take some big time swings for crucial points.
“Overall it was a tremendous team effort that made the 16 Open bid possible for Sting 16 Gold,” Bayer said.
Metro went 8-1 for the tournament, losing only to runner up 1st Alliance, 15-13 in the third, in its final Gold Pool match.
Two 6-4 pins, Emmi Sellman and Cari Spears, led the attack. Sellman is a sophomore and hit .370 for the tournament with 109 kills (more than five per set). She also passed a 2.0. Spears, a freshman and the daughter of ESPN NFL analyst Marcus Spears, hit nearly .300 with 86 kills.
[VolleyballMag.com reached out to Capitanas through Facebook and did not receive a response as of press time].
• Circle City 15 Purple went 9-0 to win the 15 Open title. Jenna Tadros’ team defeated a Dynasty 15 Black team in the final that it had previously lost to on Day 3 at both MEQ and Show Me.
“Circle City 15 Purple was on a mission to not only triple qualify but to win a golden ball,” Tadros said. “It was an entire group effort of 10.”
Tadros lauded middles Ellen Zapp, Reese Dunkle and Aubrey Runyon (still coming back from injury) for working hard to always be available. Avery Freeman led the back court with help from Logan Bell, Eva Hurrle and Bradee McDonald (“We didn’t let much drop and passed excellent all weekend,” Tadros said). Setter Isabelle Brown impressed with her speed and athleticism and kept all hitters involved. Bell, Keira Lucas and Taylor Woods scored big time on the pins, with Lucas leading the team in kills for the weekend.
“It was a sweet ending to our qualifier season!” Tadros exclaimed.
With only 19 teams in the field, only two Open bids were available. They went to Six Pack 15 and Houston Juniors 15 Elite.
Six Pack won five of eight matches to tie for third overall. The showing came one weekend after placing 10th at Show Me in its first time playing Open.
Coach Hannah Cowan said that, with just one practice between the two qualifiers, the focus was on consistently doing the little things.
“The entire team showed grit, determination, and discipline to clinch the 3rd place finish,” Cowan added. “Setter Ella Rogers led the team with great decision making, while pins Abbey Hayes and Gracie Furlong were particularly impactful on offense. Libero Dakota Mitchell anchored the team’s defense. This group has a lot of room to grow and we are excited to get back in the gym and prepare for Junior Nationals!”
HJV qualified despite losing its final four matches of the weekend. To be fair, three of the match losses were in three sets and the fourth came to Dynasty, 25-23, 29-27. This is a super tall, super talented team with the potential to do great things before their club run is up.
“We did what it took to get the job done,” coach Lauren Rhodes said. “Everyone on the team contributed in some way or another.”
The team got improved passing from Sydney Black and Sydney McKay and enough offense from its pin attack to find success utilizing its middles in system.
“We are satisfied with the outcome of getting the bid, and eager to get back in the gym to continue to get better,” Rhodes concluded.
• We turn now to Big South in Atlanta. Thirty teams vied for the 17 Open title, with San Diego’s WAVE 17 Juliana, which qualified at Red Rock, going 10-0 to take the title. WAVE dominated Triple Crown champion A5 Mizuno 17-Jing in the final.
“We had an amazing weekend of high level volleyball throughout the tournament,” said coach Juliana Evens, who had her five-month-old daughter in tow. “We really came together as a team and all the hard work these players have put in the gym was put on full display. I thought our energy and passion in the final match led to some of best volleyball we have played all year.”
Middles Eva Rohrbach, Cayla Payne and Ryleigh Patterson displayed their dynamic abilities at the net both attacking and blocking to lead the way. Pin hitters Julia Blyashov, Lily Dwinell and Auburn Tompkinson did a tremendous job attacking consistently high and hard. Ball control and defense were very consistent throughout the weekend, led by Koko Kirsch and Katarina Lutz in the back row. Finally, setters Shanelle Puetz and Nikki Quinn did a great job evenly distributing the ball and creating great opportunities for the team’s attackers to find success.
The three bids went to Carolina Union 17 Premier, Michigan Elite 17 Mizuno and Chapel Hill Area Volleyball 17 Black.
CUVC, coached by Bill Ferguson, qualified this team in Open for the first time ever.
“After working through a rash of key injuries during the beginning of the qualifying season, CUVC 17 Premier continued to improve throughout the year, and finally gelled in Atlanta,” Ferguson said. “A smaller, faster team in a tall 17 Open field, 17 Premier relied heavily on high-risk serving, game planning and fast transition attacking.”
OHs Julia Waugh and Maddie Smith stood out while carrying the load from the pin and the pipe, while All-Tournament MB Ava Leahy held things down in the middle, keeping the offense fast on the slide. Junior setter Cris Cline, an Oregon commit, also stood out as an attacking setter and with her fast paced tempo offense.
Michigan Elite qualified despite losing more sets – 11 – than it won – 10.
CHAVC’s Open bid made history for the club, which only started playing Open last year for the first time ever. The team qualified despite having only eight players available, only two of whom were taller than 6-0.
Head coach Tristy Bittikofer said that her philosophy has always been to serve and pass tough and outlast the opponent. That was on full display in Atlanta.
Jordyn Dailey, a Kentucky recruit back in the middle after giving it a go on the pin, shined all weekend long, as did 6-1 RS Cameron Lanier, who set a great block with her 9-10 touch and took quality swings on out of system sets.
Others who distinguished themselves were MB Akila Hardee, who showed off her 10-2 vertical touch; OH Cameron Lloyd, a great passer and crafty attacker; and Jordy Smart, a sophomore setter who ran a 5-1 offense and got her teammates open looks all weekend long.
Chapel Hill’s weekend included revenge wins over NC Academy 17 Diamond and Elevation 17 Goller.
“Can’t say enough about what a total team effort this weekend was,” Bittikofer said.
• Triangle 16 Black, a previous qualifier at the Sunshine Classic, put it all together to win the 32-team 16 Open division.
“The girls set a goal to medal in Atlanta, and showed up focused and ready to work for it,” coach Michael Frank said. “We were led by Ashlyn Philpot in the middle, Emily Bobbitt spreading the ball around, and strong play from pins Kiarrah Horne, Alayna Smith, and Asia Thigpen. Strong defense was anchored by libero Coley Shiflet and helped make sure we stayed tough on the back line.
“This is the first BSQ win for Triangle in 16 years, and the last team to do it included future Olympian Megan Hodge.”
WAVE 16 Brennan took second, with Jenna Hanes and Camden Balone impacting the team’s success with strong play in the middle.
“Our second place finish only was capable by the ball control and defense of Sophia Williams and Nikki Eagan (both OH) and Maya Evens (Lib),” noted coach Brennan Dean.
With six teams previously qualified in the field, the Open bids trickled. Gainesville Juniors 16 Black (T-5), Rockwood Thunder 16 Elite (T-7) and OT J 16 Will (T-7) all came away with Open bids.
The bid for Gainesville Juniors was its first Open bid ever in the 16s division and fourth overall for the club. The key moment was a three-set win over an A5 Mizuno 16 Steve team that was fast and relentless defensively.
Sophomore OH Brooklyn Tealer, she of the 10-4 jump touch; keyed Gainesville’s run. She averaged nearly four kills per set and hit .364. Others who shined included sophomore MBs Charlotte Gravlee and Joselynn Sanjuro and junior libero Miya Thomas. Thomas averaged 4.7 digs per set and passed a 2.0.
Rockwood and OT both managed bids despite 4-5 records. The field was that tough!
Rockwood coach Shane Weber said his team won the matches it needed to survive and advance all the way to bid position.
“Setters Alyssa Nelson and Morgan Dumm made great choices as setters this weekend, putting us into position score, while libero Olivia Hasbrook and DS Mia Moser made sure our setters received a consistent pass,” Weber explained. “MB Mia Scanlon, RS Jordan Smith and OH Allison Risley were solid at the net all weekend long as well. It was a good weekend for us to grow as a team and continue to improve while playing at a high level.”
- OT T 15 Randyoutdueled HPSTL 15 Royal in three – a matchup of previously-qualified teams — to capture the 15 Open title with an unblemished 9-0 mark.
“The girls won big south by fighting,” said coach Randy Thomas. “They never gave up once throughout the entire tournament. We went to three sets in five of the nine matches and, as stressful as that is, they continued to come together and fight till they won the match.”
Setters Izzy Mogridge and Josie Hensley did a great job of connecting with all of the team’s hitters.
Libero Lily Hayes, who is always good, had one of her best tournaments to date.
“She never struggled in serve receive and made an insane amount of digs,” Thomas said.” It’s incredible watching her read the game and keep the ball alive.”
OT’s middles came up big on the weekend. Connore Siler-Nixon and Kaylee Peper found moments of blocking and attacking rhythm that helped close out matches. On the pins, Maggie Dostic played steady all weekend, while Amiyah Long and Bella Pereira brought the spark with their aggressive attacks.
“It was, as always, an all-around team effort to win Big South,” Thomas concluded. “I’m very proud of this team for winning our last qualifier. This is the boost we need going forward to prepare for AAU and JOs.”
Michigan Elite 15 Mizuno, Top Select 15 Elite and AZ Sky 15 Gold, placed 3-4-5 to earn the three Open bids.
For Top Select, this is the first time for most of these girls to earn an Open bid. The team overcame a significant injury on Day 2 to reach the Gold Pools, then won two do-or-die tiebreakers sets to make the semifinals, showing great tenacity.
The passing from OH Ella Pringle, libero Andrea Bravo and libero Savvy Sotto got stronger throughout the day on Sunday. This allowed setter Sydney Marshall to run Top Select’s offense a lot more consistently and confidently. With the team’s middles playing within their tempo, the pressure on opposing blocks opened up area for both Pringle and OH Anika Groom to move their attacks around and score.
• In Dallas, the best of Texas and those bold enough to challenge the Lone Star Staters on their turf got together for the Lone Star hoedown. Texas teams, as expected, came away with titles in the 17 Open, 16 Open and 15 Open divisions.
In 17 Open, the “Pingdom” was in full effect as Drive Nation 17 Red, led by coach Ping Cao, went 10-0 to win.
Houston Skyline 17 Royal finished second to qualify. This is a team that had yet to qualify despite a resume that included just one loss at Triple Crown and making the Gold Pools at every qualifier previously.
“They deserved a bid and to do it the right way with a silver medal,” said coach Jamie Morrison, proud papa to a newborn. “We have accomplished what we have by plying selfless volleyball and staring down adversity all season through injuries by being good in the moment in big matches. This tournament was no exception with an injury the day before we left and tight matches like two 20-20 sets against a good Madfrog team. We put in a lot of work to remain ‘us’ in these moments and I’m proud of my team that it shows.”
KC Power 17-1 and Club V 17 Ren Matthew, Club V’s second team, also qualified. Power tied for fifth at 7-2. Club V Matthew tied for seventh, which was good enough with five qualified teams among the top eight.
“Our team chose a good weekend to come together and play well,” noted Power head coach Mike Dauernheim. “We are peaking at the right time and the girls did a great job of supporting each other through the adversity of the weekend.”
Seven of KC Power’s nine matches went to three sets, including every match on Day 2, when the team knocked off both TAV 17 Black and Dallas Skyline 17 Royal to advance to the Gold Pools.
Top performers included Alayna Pearson, who gave relentless defensive effort and supplied a consistent first touch; Aliano Olsen, a bully at the net offensively.
“She beat the ball through blockers that are often bigger than her,” Dauernheim said.
OH Avery Delong showed off her terminal attack with huge kills Day 2 versus Excel 17 National Red. Reese Bates served tough and had a crucial serving run against TAV on Day 2. Sawyer Thomsen showed off her offensive versatility and was a huge weapon in transition. Reagan Fox was a steadying force at the net with her block. Her ability to terminate out of system was critical to surviving the Day 2 pool. Ava Testrake was fantastic in serve receive all weekend and efficiently terminated from various spots on the court. Finally, setter Ella Swindle was aggressive with her setter dump offensively at opportune times to open things up for our hitters to find more success.
Club V 17 Matthew was without one of its head coaches, Matt Carlson, who stayed home for the birth of his first child, a daughter (CONGRATS!!!!!). The Utah team, which has played Open all year, also found itself down two setters.
“We knew we just had to play for one another,” said co-coach Matthew Moea’i. “Kaieva Johnson’s defense and passing were near perfect and really gave Sophie Wendt the opportunity to run a well distributed offense. Ioana Asiata was our biggest offensive threat and our consistent blocking presence was led by Eve Wilson. I couldn’t be happier with how we really buckled down, focused on what we could control and really just played for the team!”
• With three qualified teams among the final six, the other three, TAV 16 Black, Dallas Skyline 16 Royal and Alamo 16 Premier, all qualified on Saturday. TAV went one better by overcoming a Day 2 loss to Alamo to win the whole dang thing.
“We played great competition this weekend,” said TAV coach Joe Jablonski. “Each match had its own spin and we were able to compete at high levels all three days.”
Favor Anywanwu, Jadyn Livings, Ayden Ames, Gillian Pitts and Mikayla Young all were catalysts in what Jablonski said was a team endeavor.
“This team is very well put together and all players played a role this weekend to help earn the bid and tournament championship,” Jablonski said.
Alamo qualified in its third qualifying effort.
“It was our first tournament of the season where we had a full capable roster able to play,” said coach Phil Jackson. “The previous two Qualifiers (Orlando & Salt Lake), our initial seed had reflected our rough and bumpy season and results.”
“Our main focus going into our last qualifier was just trying to keep our players believing in the process,” the coach explained.
Finishing second on the first day helped the team’s confidence skyrocket.
A two-person serve receive anchored by libero Lola Davila and OH Alysa Walker helped steady the team. Jackson also said that the amazing energy from the team bench helped a ton.
“I know it’s cliché but it was such a collective effort by our team,” he said.
• Dallas Skyline 15 Royal, Austin Skyline 15 Royal and Houston Skyline 15 Royal finished 1-2-3 in 15 Open. The Dallas squad, which had not previously qualified, took home one bid, as did Excel 15 National Red and Austin Juniors 15 Adidas.
Parker Duncan had 77 kills on the weekend to lead AJV, which qualified Open for the second straight year. Anna Claire Brown chipped in with 47 kills. The team, coached by 2019 AVCA Boys Club Coach of the Year, John Corbelli, also got strong setting from Takyla Brown and Alexa Ankerstar and strong serving from Duncan, Ankerstar and Mary Schirpik, who combined for 29 aces for the weekend.
• We are adding an 11th Dot to this report in acknowledgement of all there was to report from last weekend’s play.
JJVA 15 Teal qualified in the 15 USA division this weekend at Big South. Coach Ashley Monfort said the team played with guts and fire!
The team was led by the strong play of middles Paola Aviles-Morales and Olivia Ryno, with great ball control, digging and serves from libero Avery Miede and DS Penelope Kavalieros, both of whom posted above a 2.0 for passing and had some blistering aces.
Seal Beach 17-Black went 9-0 to win 17 USA at Windy City.
The team won the tournament last year as well in the 16 USA, when it also was undefeated.
For the second straight qualifier, NorCal 16 Black found itself undefeated heading to the 16 USA final.
“The first two days of competition were just what we came to Chicago for- finding competitive matches and situations for our entire team,” noted coach Emerson Salonga.
The team was tested but undefeated and stayed that way up to the championship match versus Rocky Elite 16 National. The team had proved to itself that playing in a championship match was no fluke. The team deserved to be there.
Salonga called the final “one of the most exciting matches I have coached.”
“There were highs and lows on both sides of the net, as well as great plays and even better scramble-rallies,” he added. “The third set was a battle. We managed to fight of three match points before we came up short, 19-17.”
OH Paige Bennett was consistently consistent in the passing lanes and got better with each set, attacking at both pins. Middle Brooke Johnson was dynamic with her quick attacks, middle Alana Vilella showcased her devastating slide, setter Katie Salonga was tactical dishing the pill and her jump floaters behind the line scored often. Finally, back row standouts Katie O’Sullivan, Nyaah Cacao, Makenzie Mapes and Zoe Allison kept the team alive in the amazing scramble plays the made the referees swallow their whistles.
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