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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 Sunday in Phoenix, seven national champions were crowned at USA Volleyball’s 18s Junior National Championships. That’s five more national champions than when I started covering volleyball 22 years ago and two more since just last year.
On the one hand, because it’s difficult to win any tournament, congratulations are due to the victors. They all worked so hard and have such passion for the game that success, complete with trophy, medals and the chance to be on stage at the end, are appropriate rewards.
On the other hand, SEVEN national champions??? Seven separate divisions, six of which teams ostensibly qualify for? It does seem like a transparent ploy by USA Volleyball to bring more teams to one venue for volleyball. Almost a 30-percent increase in teams qualifying. Seventy-five more entry fees and hotel room kickbacks and parking fees and concessions and T-shirt sales ….
There seems to be a demand for it, but where does it stop?
You see the trend everywhere, from more NCAA men’s Division I basketball post-season tournaments than just the NCAA and NIT to NINE equity-based girls volleyball championships in the CIF-Southern Section. At what point will winning these events no longer be meaningful?
• No matter how many divisions are added, the Holy Grail will always be “Open.” That’s the level all teams aspire to; it signifies that you are good enough to be among the nation’s elite.
That’s why we celebrate qualifying in Open week after week. For most teams, it is the highlight of their season. For most teams, just getting to Junior Nationals in Open is enough.
Some teams, the best of the best, leave the Open competition at Junior Nationals having made even more highlights.
Sunshine 18 LA is one of those teams. Sunday in Phoenix, Sunshine, the 2021 17 Open national champions, swept Madfrog 18’s National Green to complete an undefeated run in 18 Open and go back-to-back, a rare feat indeed.
In 2021, the Southern California-based squad went 11-0 with just one dropped set. One year later, Sunshine went 9-0 with just one dropped set. That standard of excellence on the biggest stage must be applauded!
Not that Sunshine wasn’t challenged. The team defeated Rage Westside 18-Michelle and its star, Grayce Olsen, 25-23, 25-23, in the Challenge Match to get to the Gold Bracket. And, in the quarterfinals, against a Dallas Skyline 18 Royal team that had yet to drop a set, Sunshine prevailed, 25-21, 19-25, 15-13.
“Overall, we felt in control the whole time,” said OH Dani Thomas-Nathan.
“We had played both teams in previous tournaments so we knew what to expect,” she added. “Our mentality going into those games was that we were going to win. Losing wasn’t even a possibility. Our main goals were to keep those teams out of system and keep the pressure on them with our tough servers so they could never get in system swings. And our big block helped slow down the hits from their big attackers so we stayed in system most of the game.”
After the Skyline scare, Sunshine kicked into another gear and swept its final two matches, beating FC Elite 18 Elite in the semis before defeating the Frogs for the title. OH Elia Rubin was named MVP, and setter Kelly Belardi and RS Kerry Keefe were All-Tournament selections, but MB Kennedy Hill, who missed Triple Crown in February, when Sunshine finished second to Munciana Samurai; had a massive tournament as well. And the back row, anchored by Megan Verbiest and Ellie Geoghegan, played with the consistent excellence it has all season.
“The back row was extremely vital for the team’s success, because our all-out effort for balls kept the energy high and created a good flow for us,” Geoghegan said. “We did a great job of passing in serve-receive, which opened up several options for our setter.”
“I would say that predicting the competitors’ strategies and focusing on their weaknesses and strong points of them and making fast adjustments to our team tactics with such talented players were what prompted our strong showing,” said coach Ali Fathali Nejad. “While a back-to-back title isn’t easy, Sunshine 18 LA was highly motivated and persevered.”
Hill, who is bound for Northwestern in June, said that winning this year “means the world to us.”
“We pulled out every skill we had in the most challenging times, and, most importantly, stayed consistent the entire way through,” Hill added. “Words can’t explain how proud I am to be on this team. All it took was trust.”
“It’s honestly so surreal that we went back to back,” said Thomas-Nathan. “This team is so incredibly special and I am so grateful and lucky to have made history with my girls. Every single person contributed to our win this weekend and that makes the title so much sweeter. There was honestly nothing that could have stopped this team from winning another championship!”
“To go back to back was a big deal for me and my teammates,” Geoghegan added. “Having won last year, doing anything else wouldn’t feel like we were successful. Through all the hard work, we were able to finish our last season in the best way possible.”
Madfrog, one of four pre-tourney favorites, was able to overcome pool play losses to FC Elite and Adversity G18 Adidas to reach the finals and take home the silver medals. The Frogs were part of a three-way tie for second at 3-2 and advanced in third place, edging out Gainesville Juniors 18/17. That put Matt Sipes team in a Challenge Match to get to the Gold Bracket versus A5 Mizuno 18-Marc, the top seeds, pre-tournament favorites and 5-0 finisher in its first pool.
Madfrog won, 25-23, 26-24.
“The A5 match was the hardest match I think I’ve ever coached or at least top 3,” Sipes said.
Madfrog, from Dallas, started the match serving tough and terminating. The team had a consistent lead throughout the first set, before A5 rallied late. Maya Duckworth had the final kill in the Frigs’ Game 1 win.
Indeed, Avery Calame, Harmony Sample, Taya Little and Zoria Heard were just “huge,” in the match. Calame passed a 2.6 in serve-receive. Sample and Little slowed A5’s vaunted hitters down and made them resort to tips and rolls. Heard had a couple of gigantic digs on slides and no-blocks that changed the momentum of the game.
None was better, however, than Duckworth, the undersized, six-rotation attacker. Duckworth finished with 13 kills (hitting .458) and eight digs, and she made the biggest play of the match late in the second set to enable the sweep.
Trailing 24-23 in the second, Duckworth’s 13th kill of the match sent the game to extra points and Duckworth back to serve. A5 was in system and banged the ball off the block.
“It was going out,” Sipes said. “Maya came from the middle back all the way to the bench and ‘super women’ extended under the ball and kept it up. We won the point. I thought it was one of the biggest moments I’ve ever witnessed. It’s hard to explain how far she dove. If that didn’t happen, I don’t think we win the second set. Maya literally willed this team to a win.”
Little then followed with a solo stuff in the middle for Madfrog, which rode its momentum to the sweep.
The Frogs went on to defeat Mizuno Long Beach 18 Rockstar J, which had upset then-undefeated OT 18 T Chad in the Challenge phase; and Rockwood Thunder 18 Elite to reach the finals.
Rockwood Thunder and FC Elite tied for third to win bronze medals.
Rockwood’s path included a 4-1 mark in Pool 6 – the team lost only to surprising Minnesota squad Vital 18-1 Gold, which won the pool; followed by wins over Absolute Black 18-1, Coast 18-1 and Adversity.
“It’s hard to put into words what this spectacular group of ladies put together this year, much less this weekend in particular,” said Rockwood coach Billy Rhodes. “They came into the season with a main goal in mind: walking out of the Phoenix Convention Center with a medal on their necks. A chip on their shoulder after being knocked out of the possibility last year in 17 Open by MN Select in the challenge match, created quite a bit of motivation for them and it showed all season long. The determination, the selflessness, the amount of patience they had buying into my coaching staff’s process…all came out and showed this weekend to the rest of the field and most importantly for themselves that we were not going to leave without a medal.
“We made our path a bit tougher with a loss in pool play to a very good Vital team, which forced us into a long Saturday night against Absolute and then eventually Coast. Once we were able to get past Coast in the challenge match, our mindset quickly shifted to an extremely tough Adversity squad that we had seen and managed to beat twice earlier this year. We knew they were not going to let us get past them easily and they definitely made us work for every single point. We served the ball extremely well versus Adversity, which allowed us to continue to be ‘Blockwood,’ a funny nickname that Dallas Skyline had given us earlier in the year at Triple Crown.
“I could not ask for a better ending to the club career of these 11 women; memories that will last them a lifetime.”
FC Elite returned four key players from the team that finished T-5 at last year’s 18s Junior Nationals. The Wisconsin team made another run this past weekend, going 4-1 to win Pool 3, by far the toughest opening pool. The squad then knocked off Circle City 18 Purple and Vital to get into medal position.
Libero Saige Damrow and RS Kennedy Martin, two returners from last year’s team, were catalysts in FC Elite’s success.
Damrow’s range in serve receive allowed FC Elite to run a fast tempo offense that gave opponents. And Martin, who stands 6-6, has become more than an attacker with power. She has increased her range and tempo, making her that much more effective.
Coach Brett Damrow said that the team’s middles, Autumn Flynn and Berkeley Mischler, were the unsung heroes for creating splits in the block with the availability, speed and voices.
“It’s such an honor to compete and coach at this level with the top competitors and coaches in the country,” Damrow said.
• Front Range 18 Black, which made the Gold Bracket in 17 Open at Junior Nationals a year ago, went undefeated to win the 18 National division as the No. 12 seed. Nashville’s Alliance 18 Ren finished second. Milwaukee Sting 18 Gold and NORCO 18 Black tied for third.
Front Range was extended to three sets five times, including the semifinal win over Sting and in the championship match versus Alliance, which the Colorado club won at deuce.
“It was a challenging season with some injuries to players, but they stayed committed to improving and brining the best out of each other,” said coach Jim Miret. “It was awesome to watch them play their best volleyball at the most important time of the season. It was an inspiring performance.”
Front Range had a lot of heroes. OHs Quincey Coyle and Ashley West were outstanding, as was S/RS Katie Dalton. Middles Jordan Schwartz and Sophie Mason were consistently good, as was libero Gabi Maas. Reserve Bella Smith gave the team quite the boost in its quarterfinal win over Club Ignit 18 Blue. And the tandem of ninth grade setter Audrey Hollis and RS Sydney Stenson had their moments. Stenson was especially effective the final two days.
Alliance lost twice in three to Front Range but won five other three-set matches to finish second.
“Our team is a relatively new group with only five returning members from last season,” noted coach Abbey West. “With a well-rounded roster of 10, we’re a team that needs to utilize everyone’s strengths in order to play at the level we did this past weekend.”
Top performers throughout the event were Elizabeth Aylward, Dylan Sulcer, Jessica Perry, and Maygan Miller. Nya Browne and Sanaa Williams also contributed greatly with consistent play out of the middle. Avery LePore, Ki’i Rilveria and Maymie Guthrie did well in serve receive and on defense and Brooke Gilliland’s work on the left was notable.
“Together, we earned the right to play on championship court,” West said. “It’s incredible what a team can accomplish when selflessness takes precedence and they make an intentional choice to play for each other.”
Scott Blackmon, the longtime 18 Gold coach at Sting, was thrilled with his team’s showing.
“This was the smallest team I have ever had, but a huge heart and big effort compensates for a lot of it,” he said. “Our kids had their most complete weekend of play all season. We played seven matches and 21 sets and, of those sets, I would say only three of them were just plain bad, win or lose. Kids stepped up when needed. Grace Schneider came in off the bench in our challenge match versus USANY and did great. Halie Markovic and Madi Tolzman were fantastic all weekend. Halie is uncommitted and may be the kid who has grown the most from December until now out of any class of Sting 18 Gold kids I have ever had.”
NORCO competed well to tie for third. The Northern Colorado squad lost in three in the semifinals to Alliance and 25-23, 25-23 in pool play to NOVA Juniors 18s Navy, but otherwise did a lot of winning.
“After a season of tough Open level qualifiers, this team was prepared to perform well at JO’s,” noted coach Andy Levoe. “Strong offensive performances from Emma Winter, Emily Johnson, Abi Milby and Zoe Gibbs helped us navigate through pool play and each knockout match after. Great defense by Allison Waller, efficient setting from Sydney Henry, and every team member fulfilling their role led to a hard fought and well-earned third place finish.”
• Sunshine 18 LA wasn’t the only Sunshine team celebrating a natty. Sunshine 18 Westside, which won 17 American last year with an 11-0 record, upgraded its bid and went 9-0 to win 18 USA.
“Nationals was intense!” said coach Frankie Valdez, who chided me for not picking his squad to win (because I’m a fool, a fool!). “ Fierce competition for sure!”
Outsides Sophia Lindus (MVP) and Kylee Owens (All-Tournament) carried the team offensively.
“They just know how to do the ‘little things’ that take teams from good to great,” Valdez said.
The coach also lauded middles Sydney Luchs and Tirell Jackson and setter Ava Launsbach, among others, for their work in making the whole so successful.
Capital 18 Adidas lost to third-place finisher Kairos 18 Adidas in its first pool, but otherwise won out and almost came away with gold medals, losing 15-12 in the third in the championship match.
“We did an excellent job of putting pressure on our opponents from the service line while controlling the ball well both in serve receive and in transition,” said Capital coach Michael Lopez.
Libero Claudia Bobb was outstanding on the back row, while OH Natalie Ring, a Marquette signee, used her cannon and panoply of shots to be unstoppable from the left side. Setter Jordan Karlen also shined, using elite level location, tempo and decision making to confound opposing defense.
Kairos coach Mitch Lunning said that his team’s 7-2 mark and bronze medal were both well deserved.
“We played really well most of the tournament,” he said. “We just had a couple of matches where we were slightly off, whilst the other team happened to be playing really well. Our libero, Brynn Kirsch, was unbelievable all tournament. She does it all really well: serve receive, digging, covering hitters, and making crazy saves. Our setter, Bergen Reilly, did a great job moving the ball around and also being an offensive threat at the net. She is one of the best in the business and played like it all tournament. We also had great performances from both of our undersized OHs, Stella Winterfeld and Sadie Voss. All in all, the entire team played great; we just couldn’t quite take care of business at the end. Sunshine is a great team!”
Austin’s Roots 18UA Green, which went 7-0 before losing to Capital in three in the semifinals, also took home the bronze.
Sadie Swift contributed 52 kills and 13 blocks, Sam Wunch had 41 kills and 18 blocks, and Kasen Rosenthal added 42 kills and 78 assists, in total, on the weekend. Marina Crownover had 85 assists of her own, while Olivia Adair led defense with 61 digs, and Kennedi Bray added 39 kills and 17 aces.
“They worked seamlessly as a team to finish with a 7-1 weekend,” said coach Korinne Stinson.
“This team had so much fun together this season!” added director Lindsay Rosenthal. “It’s a great group of very understanding parents who have empowered their kids to fight for themselves and fight for each other. They train hard, laugh hard, and compete hard…”
• Golden West TZ 18 Asics, coached by my good buddy Craig Pazanti, won the inaugural 18 Liberty crown. The Orange County squad went 9-0 for the Gold Medal, besting Arsenal 18 Gold, which placed second; and Elite 18 Gold and Texas Legacy 18 Elite, which both tied for third.
The story of how this team came to have gold medals draped about their necks is an interesting one indeed. Pazanti helped found Golden West in Huntington Beach in 1999, but was coaching for Club H when it folded during Covid. Pazanti had a core group of kids from his 16s that year that wanted to continue, so he asked his friends, Tom Pestolesi and Rocky Ciarelli, whether he could resurrect the Tower Zero name and logo they used for their club back when their daughters were playing.
Subsequently, Golden West lost its home when ASC in Anaheim closed. GW needed a place and moved its headquarters back to Huntington and the teams combined at the 18s level only to become GW / TZ.
This team came to Phoenix as the No. 2 overall seed in 18 Liberty, the result of a nice season in the Premier Volleyball League, where it went back and forth between the first two divisions; and a second-place showing in 18 Liberty at Red Rock Rave.
Pazanti said he was surprised to be seeded so high, but new that his smallish but skilled team would compete.
“I knew that this team, when playing well, could play with Open teams,” he said. “We didn’t have the physicality to keep up with Open teams, but I knew we’d have a chance in Liberty.”
Fielding a team with all but one making her first-ever appearance at Junior Nationals, GW / TZ dropped its first set, then won all the rest.
MB Sydney Murrey was named MVP. Jaedyn Gonzalez, a 5-4 setter in a 5-1 offense; and Sasha Luzina, a Russian foreign exchange student playing outside, both were All-Tournament selections.
Golden West had to rally from behind in both sets to sweep Arsenal. It was a final that matches the division’s only two undefeated teams.
“It was meaningful for them,” Pazanti said. “It’s kind of a big deal as 18s to finish like this.”
Arsenal, a relatively young club, was hoping to finish off its three-day run without a loss. It was not to be.
“We had an amazing weekend because of extremely strong serving and a very fast offense,” noted club founder Skip Freeman. “Hayden Hicks ran the show, setting the ball to Arri Fields and Sydney Huck. All three players were All-Tournament selections. The core of this team has been with the club since its inception in 2017.”
Elite’s bronze medal performance went through Missouri’s Club North 18-1. On Day 1, Club North throttled Elite, but the St. Louis area club turned the tables in the quarterfinals, winning in three to clinch a medal.
Former St. Louis University and Oklahoma head coach Santiago Restrepo was the titular head coach of this team. Head coach in name Dani Schlottman, who played for Restrepo at SLU from 1998-2001, said that it was a blessing to be coached by him and to coach alongside him.
“It was his expertise that squeezed EVERY OUNCE OF TALENT out of these girls,” she exclaimed. “I was more than happy to give up my whistle so my team could learn and play for the man who has helped me so much.”
Schlottman said that this “little team” really went a long way. Last July, she was approached to come out of coaching retirement to coach a group of girls who “just wanted to play together one more year.” That team put selfishness aside, always played with heart and made an unforgettable push to a medal in Phoenix.
The team was led by All-Tournament players Maya Esparza and Lindsie Miller. Esparza will swim for Nova University next fall, while Miller, a 5-7 setter, ran a 5-1 offense, giving everything she had.
When reached, Restrepo wanted to talk about Isabella Reynolds, a middle on Club North.
“I’ve been coaching for over 30 years and I’ve never experienced anything like this,” he said. “This team beat us badly on the first day in pool play. On the third day, we ended up beating them in three in the quarterfinals of Gold.
“While we were talking in our huddle after the match, this young lady came to our team heart broken and wishing us good luck and letting us know she was rooting for us to go win it all. I ended it up telling her that was the classiest thing I’ve witnessed in my whole career of coaching. I told coach to let her parents know. To me it took a lot of courage to do that and was an amazing lesson for our players to replicate kindness and accept defeat with courage, dignity and integrity. What a great example for our young ladies and what a great young lady she was.”
• San Antonio Juniors 18 Adidas went 10-0 to take the 18 American crown.
“I am so proud of how well my girls played all weekend,” noted coach Laura Suarez. “This season was the first time many of these players had ever played together and we knew we had to come together as a team be successful. All season we came up short in almost every qualifier of winning it all. This made them want this title even more. We had a goal to bring home the gold medal and we did just that. They stayed consistent all weekend. Jayln Gibson, Paige Crawford and Olivia Arredondo played a huge role in our team’s success. After so many ups and downs this season to end on this high note is priceless!”
Viper 18-1 Jolynn/Kurstan, from Temecula, California, finished second, while Boomers 18 Mizuno and Houston Skyline 18 Black tied for third.
“The girls had a great weekend,” said Viper coach Jolynn Fa’atulu.
Viper is that undersized team that focuses on serve/pass and defense/transition to make up for being at a physical deficit most matches.
“We really put a focus on growth mindset at the beginning of the year, knowing if we wanted to compete with the best we had to keep things in perspective and expose our strengths and not lose confidence when we weren’t playing our best,” Fa’atulu said. “We knew the only way we’d see wins was by grinding out matches and relying on our strength as a team.”
Bethany Bellfi, a 5-6 OH, led the team in kills and was strong as a passer. Twin Brianna Bellfi was the heart of the team’s ball control. RS Ellie Nichols, a junior, was a scoring machine from the opposite pin. All three were All-Tournament team picks.
The contributors didn’t stop there, however. Setters Lexi Duffy and Leila Cornejo moved the ball around well and created tempo in Viper’s offense. MB Allison Long played big despite her stature and hit .344 with 29 kills and 16 blocks for the tournament.
“I am super proud of our efforts and how we fought through the tournament this past weekend!” Fa’atulu said. “Thanks for the recognition… They earned it!!”
Boomers was three points away from knocking off Viper in the semifinals and making it all the way to the championship match. This BVA team has had just two newcomers over the past four years.
“This group has formed a very tight bond and been close to the podium every tournament,” said coach Brian Coughenour. “Culminating in this third place finish for their final ride, and the right to walk across the biggest stage of the year, was a very proud accomplishment.”
Dylan Andrews, Taylor Bates and Sofia Blair were standouts for Boomers.
Houston Skyline went 8-1 in 18 American. The top performers were setter Catalina Martínez and libero Briana Zamora, both receiving All-Tournament honors. Mecca Freeman and Chandler Lee led the offense.
“It was a great showing to wrap up an incredible season for these seniors,” said coach Jonathan Robles.
• Coast 18-Rachel completed an undefeated run through the first 18 Freedom tournament with a sweep of Paramount VBC 18’s in the championship match.
Janis Joplin once sang, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” Coast took that to heart by refusing to go down to defeat. The San Diego squad dropped just two sets over three days!
Paramount, a Virginia club, had quite the trip to the championship match. The team lost to Alamo 18 Premier in straight sets on Day 1, then survived three straight third sets at deuce leading up to the title tilt.
“Paramount 18’s overcame a season of injuries and challenges in time to put on their performance of the year,” noted coach Walter Collazo. “Setter Lainey Feighery (Navy commit), libero Madigan Faircloth (Liberty University commit) and MB Sadie Wright (Kent State commit) were the pillars of the team. A strong block defense, in addition to a consistent performance from OHs Amelia Kim (Dickinson commit) and Victoria Donovan, allowed the team to go on their run and play their best volleyball of the season. Lauren Sung (L/DS, Stetson commit) provided stability for our backrow with strong passing and defense. Maddie Schamaun (’23 setter) played great defense at right back, Simone Barry (MB, Juniata commit) provided an excellent blocking presence at the net, and RS Kaija Frassrand provided some clutch kills and blocks throughout the whole tournament. RS Gabi Walker (Marymount commit) stepped in and did whatever was asked of her to help the team.
“Simply put, they played for each other and in the process made history for our club by becoming the first Paramount VBC team to make it to the podium at USAV Nationals.”
MJVA 18 Fields and Webfoot Juniors 18-1 Brian took home medals for their third place finishes.
“This team was thrown together, and it looked like for a while we wouldn’t have a team, Kenzie Fields said about her Memphis Juniors squad. “They bonded together, and formed very strong relationships that showed on the court. Plus, they were led by two strong leaders, Kora Wilson and Zoe Smith, who played six rotations and could always be counted on.”
• While all the drama was happening in Phoenix, the 15s and 16s were rumbling in Philly at NEQ.
Metro 16 Travel followed up its qualifying effort at Windy City by winning the 41-team 16 Open division. The DC club went 10-0 over three days and was seriously challenged only by Northern Lights 16-1 in its first match and Rockwood Thunder 16 Elite in its Gold Pool.
The National Qualifier win was the first ever for a Metro 16 Travel team.
“While credit must go to monster outside hitters, Emmi Sellman (class of 24) and Cari Spears (class of 25) for doing much of the heavy lifting, there were two unsung heroes that were just as responsible for the team’s success,” noted head coach Sam Danai. “Lilah Stevens (class of 24 opposite/outside) stepped up on countless occasions when the team needed a big block and/or kill. Further, Coach Kelly McCaddin did a tremendous job leading the team in the absence of the head coach.”
Colorado Juniors 16 Sherri, that super tall team with great ball control, finished second. The team got some nice revenge wins on Day 3 before losing to Metro in straight sets in the championship match.
“The team was disappointed with the finish, but overall happy with our results,” said coach Sherri Hawkins. “We knew going into this tournament that it was a tough field with eight of us already having secured open bids. For our team to double qualify was a huge accomplishment. I am so very proud of the whole team. I have said it before, but this team is unique in that we have multiple people who can score from a variety of places around the court. Our backrow is held steady by our libero, Ella Vogel, and new to our team this year, DS Eve McLaury, who came to us from Virginia Juniors. She was looking forward to coming out to this tournament, as it was so close to her previous home and friends, and I am happy we were able to support her with positive results. She played phenomenally, making digs, running balls down, and serving aggressively all weekend long. In the end though, it was a total team effort and we are excited to get back into the gym and prepare for Indy!!
With six qualified teams finishing among the final eight, only two bids were conferred. They went to Seal Beach 16 Black and NORCO 16 Black, both of whom tied for fifth. Each needed third sets to wrap up bids, Seal Beach over Academy Volleyball Cleveland Rox 16 Red and NORCO over Rockwood.
Seal Beach had been together for five years. This is its first time winning an Open bid.
“For Seal Beach 16-Black, we have stressed the importance of ball control all season — serve receive passing very well and playing tremendous defense,” said coach Michael Ma. “Although we may lack superior height, we utilize our speed and athleticism for attacking and blocking. For this tournament in particular, we focused on volleyball IQ and took the extra time with scouting teams in order to figure out different strategies against every team.”
The team’s top performers included OH Ashley Repetti, who passed smoothly and was an efficient attacker; Dani Sparks, a setter who spread the offense well and showed off her insane digging ability; and Addison Collum, a front court standout who shut down the top opposing outside hitters all weekend and hit near perfection on the last day.
• Previously-qualified TAV 15 Black survived six of its 10 matches going the distance to prevail in the 31-team 15 Open division.
Sydnee Peterson played very well on both pins, and Taryn Morris played well offensively and defensively in the middle.
“We were much more aggressive offensively than we have been this year but we still don’t put enough serving pressure on the other side, which makes going on longer runs more difficult,” noted assistant coach LJ Sariego.
Surfside 15 PV Legends, a California squad that placed second; NKYVC 15-1 Tsunami, which tied for third; and MAVS KC 15-1, which won a do=or-die match for fifth, took home the three Open bids.
NKYVC’s qualifying effort included a Day 3 win – its first one ever – over Boilers Juniors 151E Gold.
“This team worked extremely hard and fought point by point,” said coach Jill Hunt. “The theme of the weekend was just ‘Do your job.’ We discussed that if everyone just did their job, whatever role that might be, we would be successful.”
The team was very good when it counted most. NKYVC lost in three on Sunday to the same TAV team that destroyed it on Day 1 and then beat that Boilers team in a three-set match that included a 38-36 set!
Emsley Venard ran a great offense to fuel the heavy arms of Riley McCluskey and Ava Tilden. Lucy Perkins, Corrine Blackburn and Brooke Jackson had some HUGE blocks in key moments and Julia Grace and Lacey Hostetler came through with some unbelievable defense.
“All 10 players played a key role in the success of the team!” Hunt exclaimed.
MAVS won a three-set match over Tribe 15 Elite Dean to finish third in its Gold pool, then swept Boiler Juniors for the final bid.
“I’m extremely proud of how we flowed as a team and that we were able to bounce back from some tough setbacks,” said coach Henry Lee. “Our defenders and our middles really came in clutch when we needed them to. I’m looking forward to getting back in the gym and am confident that we’re going into GJNCs battle-tested.”
• Florida Gulfside Academy can boast that all of its “prime” (first) teams have now received bids to Junior Nationals after the 16s did so this weekend at the Florida Region Qualifier. Gulfside went 9-1 to take home a National bid. Aisha Keric, a 6-1 lefty S/RS, led the team in kills (2.8 per; .354 efficiency) while 6-0 MB/RS Madi Hammermeister (2.2, .327) and 5-8 setter/pin Brooke Spurgeon (2.6, .277) were right behind. The team has wins over Top Select 16 Elite Blue (Open Bid) and Miami Hype 16 Emilio (USA Bid).
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Until next time …