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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.
• As we wait (and wait and wait and wait some more) for USA Volleyball to fill the one At-Large bid to the Junior National championships in both the 15 Open and 17 Open divisions, let’s looks at some of the top contenders in the National divisions, based on the team lists so far.
• As of this morning, there are 41 teams confirmed for 17 National with seven still to go. The field includes seven teams ranked among the top 50 nationally in the computerized list Advanced Event Systems produces: No. 29 Elevation 17 Goller, No. 34 Paramount VBC 17s, No. 38 Milwaukee Sting 17 Gold, No. 39 Premier Nebraska 17 Black, No. 43 Northern Lights 17-1, No. 46 Union 17-1 UA, No. 47 PVA 17 Elite and No. 48 Iowa Rockets 17 R.
Elevation, out of Cincinnati, looks good to be the favorite for Gold. The team, which is 33-13 on the season, does a good job of controlling first contacts and scores quickly in transition.
Coached by Adam Goller, Elevation finished second at the Ohio Valley Region bid tournament, behind Mintonette m. 71, which subsequently qualified in Open. The team went 7-2 at the Mideast Qualifier and won the Silver bracket, despite being shorthanded. The team went 5-3 and won the Silver bracket at Big South as well, despite, again, playing shorthanded. When healthy, this team, led by 6-3 MB Brook Bultema, libero Sydney Breissinger and setter Lindsey Green, can hang with anyone.
Paramount, led by setter Chloe Wilmot, is 48-11 on the year and finished top third in Open at both NEQ and the Sunshine Volleyball Classic. The team qualified by winning the Chesapeake Region bid tournament. A Virginia-based club, Paramount’s arc is similar to what Dynasty out of Kansas City did a few years ago. I would expect Paramount to be a consistent Open-level club at all ages within the next year or two.
Besides the top 50 teams, other teams to watch out for include AVA 17-1 Adidas, which won the Lone Star bid tournament two weekends ago in impressive fashion; and AZ Storm Elite 17 Thunder, the team that qualified in Open at Far Westerns but had to relinquish the bid due to using a middle who helped the 18s team qualify previously. That middle will still be on the team in Indy and an impact player.
Finally, Colorado Juniors 17Kevin recently qualified at the RMR Regional Bid Tournament. This is a team that is hard to defend because it relies on all six attackers to score. Setter Annika Sokol, pins Sydney Dunning and Gabi Placide and libero Caity Clancy are all impact players for head coach Kevin Marquis.
• There are 38 teams currently listed in the 16 National field, including six in the AES top 50.
Six Pack 16s, ranked No. 20, is the highest rated among them. This is the team that got edged out by AZ Storm Elite 16 Thunder for the lone 16 Open At-Large bid. Coached by Megan Timmins, Six Pack stands 47-12 on the season and placed seventh or better at three Open qualifiers. This is a group that played Open at Junior Nationals last year and knows what it takes to win at the highest levels.
The other top 50-ranked teams include No. 21 Upward Stars 16 Amy, No. 26 FC Elite 16 Navy, No. 29 DaKine Warriors 16 Surf, No. 35 MAVS KC 16-1 and No. 36 Maverick 16 Elite.
Team Pineapple 16 Black is a team to watch here. Based in Fort Wayne, Pineapple is 49-12 on the year. The team has a strong setter in Mya Ball, big blocking middle in Ella Boersma, terrific libero in Brenna Ginder and a 6-4, six-rotation outside in Morgan Gaerte.
Florida Gulfside Volleyball Academy 16 Prime is 30-15 on the season and qualified second at the Florida Region Qualifier. The team runs a 6-2 offense and is known for using a “men’s style” of play: employing swing-blocking, back row attacks in system, and setting tempo behind the setter. Aisha Keric, a 6-1 S/RS; Madison Hammermeister, a 6-0 MB/RS; and 5-8 S/OH Brooke Spurgeon are impact players.
16 Elite qualified in this division by placing second at Lone Star Regionals. This is a smaller team, but it plays with high energy, high effort and loads of joy, said coach Ho Phi Huynh. Setter Samantha Valdez, libero Carly Chavez and OH Taylor Kubacak are difference makers for this squad.
NKYVC 16-2 Tide is a big blocking team with some heavy arms. 27-17 on the season, NKYVC second teams have had success at the national tournament before and could do so again with this group, which finished second at the Pioneer Bid tournament to NKYVC 16 Tsunami, one of the best 16s teams in the nation.
Players to watch include pin Melana Bigelow, MB Peyton Walker, setter Audrey Leonard and libero Sadie Smith.
“This is a great team that works well together,” said club director Jill Hunt. “Many of them have had experience at both the Open and National level so they know how to win. They has a great offense supported by a sound defense and, when on, they can beat any team at the National level.”
• There are 35 teams so far in the 15 National division. Among them are five top 50 teams: No. 20 Upward Stars 15 Bing, No. 30 VolleyFx 15 Chant, No. 37 MAVS 1816 15-1, No. 43 OT 15 O Meg and Milwaukee Sting 15 Gold.
Upward Stars is 54-9 on the year and has finished first or second in six events this season. The South Carolina club also placed fifth in Open at the JVA World Challenge.
Colorado Juniors 15Shannon will be a contender. Shannon Krug’s team is 33-13 on the season despite playing with injury after injury this season. The team is getting healthy and ready to rock in Indy behind setter Chloe Elarton, MB Erika Sayer and pin Mia Hansen.
OT Meg was 10-6 on the court in two Open qualifiers and went 4-3 at Triple Crown. This is the kind of team that medals in National divisions.
Another team to watch is Premier Nebraska 15 Gold. This team has a good and experienced coach and the expectation of doing well in this division.
• I asked clubs, if they wanted to, to tell me their proudest moments in the 2022 season to date.
East Carolina Junior VBC wanted to. I understand why. One of the best club-level clubs in the nation, EVJVC saw all of its National teams finish in the top 10 of their respective age groups at Big South. 13 National, 14 National, and 16 National finished 5th overall and 15 National, 17 National and 18 National all finished 9th overall in their age groups.
• Metro of D.C. wanted to as well. Club director Silvia Johnson said that Metro 18 Travel qualifying three times and medaling three times at National Qualifiers was a highlight. Metro 16 Travel double qualifying, including winning an Open qualifier was another highlight, as was Metro 17 Travel earning an Open bid.
• FaR Out 16 Black had a great weekend to wrap up the 16s Mideast Power League.
The Michigan club opened play on Saturday against top-ranked Tri-State Elite 16 Blue and lost, but the three-set affair helped the team going forward. RS
Isabelle Swiercz had 10 kills in the match and was on top of her game all weekend. She finished with 34 kills, hitting .237; and added three aces and three blocks.
FaR Out finished second in its pool to make Sunday’s Gold bracket and ended up finishing third overall in the Power League. Middle blocker Kendall Hopewell had a breakthrough weekend with 20 kills (hitting .304)and 14 blocks. Libero Carley Piercefield had one of her best weekends as well. She finished with 49 digs and a 2.21 passing rating, primarily passing and playing defense with only one other person. Setters Caroline Baker and Avery Palmateer also saw their hard work pay off. They have taken the responsibility to make sure this team is playing at its best and both had their best weekend yet.
“As a coach I am proud of the way we trusted the process and continuously worked to ensure that we are playing our very best volleyball toward the end of the season,” noted coach Valerie Lurye.
• ECJVC 16 National played in the 16 Open Division of the South Carolina Grand Prix in Spartanburg, South Carolina, this past weekend and finished 2nd overall. Staring as the seventh seed, ECJVC beat top teams from Upward Stars, ClVB, Matrix, and SC Midlands. The team had a great semifinal match, beating CUVC 16 Premier in 2 sets and lost in the finals to a very strong Upward Stars 16 Amy team.
“This team offers a lot of depth and versatility and has shown a lot of growth,” noted Kelly Kraniak. “They are preparing for AAU Nationals in June and will compete at a very high level!”
• As you ponder teams that might contend in 15 Open, you’d be advised not to sleep on Drive Nation 15 Red. The team is 50-17 on the season and qualified second at Northern Lights. The team plays fast, balanced, controlled and a defensive style that makes it very hard to score against. Equally important, the group is coached by Jacob Hanan, who knows how to get the most out of his teams at Junior Nationals.
Top players include pins Lauren Mack and Lucy Cisneros, setter Hannah Beauford, libero Sara Mendoza and 6-1 middle Kierstyn Carlton.
“I believe we can medal,” Hanan said. “I know people say that all the time, but our serve and pass game are very solid and we defend also very well. If we don’t shoot ourselves in the foot offensively, we will be tough to beat and I believe we are done with the self-inflicted nonsense. We have had some adversity hit us in the end of qualifier season which we have overcome and made us better from it.”
• Finally, thanks to our friends at Volleyball Coaches and Trainers, a Facebook closed group with 24,000 members, here are some coaching sayings to take to heart:
“Skills before Drills”
“Without development, you aren’t coaching… you’re babysitting”
“Better the ball to better the team”
“Don’t believe everything you think”
“There is no team without trust”
“Don’t do tactically what you can’t do technically”
“FAIL = First Attempt in Learning”
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:
Club coaches — http://eepurl.com/hn9qgr
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Until next time …