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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.

Winning. American women are doing a lot of it recently.

On Sunday, the USA Women’s U21 National Team claimed the title at the Pan American Cup by downing Argentina, 3-1, in a match played in Brazil.

The Americans finished the competition, which started June 7, with a 5-0 record.

The title is only the second all-time for the USA, matching its victory in 2017.

• The win is notable because half of the 12-player roster consisted of players eligible to play club volleyball in 2022.

Chloe Chicoine, a Class of 2023 outside hitter from Indiana, started and was named “Best Spiker.” We’ve talked all club season about Chicoine, who played for Circle City 17 Purple, doing “Chloe things.” The Purdue recruit apparently can do those same things internationally!

Chicoine, who is from Lafayette, will be one hour to her south in Indianapolis starting July 1 trying to help her club team win a national championship in 17 Open at Junior Nationals.

Chicoine was Indiana’s Gatorade Player of the Year after leading McCutcheon High School to the Indiana 4A state title this past fall.

Alexis Stucky

• The other five National Team players all graduated high school this spring. Elia Rubin, Devin Kahahawai and Mckenna Wucherer all are outside hitters, like Chicoine. Nebraskan Bekka Allick is a middle blocker and Alexis Stucky, who hails from Wyoming, is a setter/hitter.

All played extensively in helping the USA win.

Notably, the five joined Chicoine in winning Gatorade Player of the Year honors in their respective states.

Rubin, who will attend Stanford, helped Marymount High School capture the California Open Division state title. The Sailors were undefeated and also won the mythical national title.

Rubin was part of the Sunshine 18-LA team that won 18 Open at 18s Junior Nationals in April. She was named MVP.

Kahahawai, who will play for Texas; helped Kamehameha of Honolulu win a Hawaii Division I state championship last fall.

Stucky, a Florida recruit, was a do-it-all player for Laramie High School, which repeated its Wyoming 4A state title. 

Wucherer, who won for Wisconsin and will play for Minnesota; and Allick, who won in Nebraska and will play for her home state ‘Huskers; led their teams to state semifinals.

• A couple of weeks ago, Five Starz 17 Debby played 17 Open at the JVA West Coast Cup, finishing 17th with a 3-5 record.

This got me excited, because the “Debby” means that Debby Colberg is still changing lives in Northern California.

Colberg is a coaching pioneer who was head coach at Sacramento State for 32 years before retiring in 2007 with a record of 828-292. She started coaching the Hornets in 1976 and, five years later, led Sac State to the AIAW Division IIII national championship, the first natty for the Hornets in any sport, men’s or women’s.

After retiring from the coaching sidelines, Colberg stayed active in coaching with Five Starz, highlighted by Open medals in 2012, 2013 and 2014.

I thought that Debby left club coaching to care for her husband of 42 years, Gary, who was the founder of the USA VB Junior National Tournament for boys and girls. Gary Colberg passed away in 2016 after a five-year battle with cancer.

I was mistaken.

“I have been coaching club since my retirement from Sacramento State,” Colberg said. “I think I dropped into obscurity because my most recent teams have been at the USA/American level.”

It turns out the only year that she did not coach was the first Covid year.

“We lost the use of our facilities (public school gyms), so we sent our kids elsewhere,” she explained.  “This really hurt us and we are still trying to recover.”

“I feel so fortunate to be able to do something since my retirement (and certainly after the loss of Gary) that I love,” Debby added.  “Next year, I am dropping down to 13s (a first for me), and I will stay with them as long as things go well.  I may end up be the oldest volleyball coach in the country!”

• Top Flight VBC’s 18 and 16 Elite teams captured titles this past weekend at the Asics National Championships help at Chicago’s Navy Pier. Ignite Elite won the 15s division. “Asics,” as it is known, was once one of 3-4 premier warm up events for Jos but hasn’t been a notable event for the past decade or so. Two  hundred thirty four (234) teams in five divisions participated in the event that ended June 12.

Premier 18 Onitsuka, a Toledo, Ohio club, won The Finale by Prep Dig 18/17 division in Wisconsin.

FAST Pre-Nationals in Houston brought several strong Texas clubs out to tune up for upcoming season-ending events.

HJV 17 Elite won the 17U division. HJV 15 Elite, a team I think could win a national championship one day if they stay together, won the 16U division. HJV 15 Premier won the 15U division.

SynergyForce 17 Jeff won the 17s division at the NorCal Invitational (Five Starz 17 Debby placed third). NorCal Blue 16-2 captured the 16s division.

KiVA dominated the Adidas Midwest Championship in Louisville. The club’s top teams on the 17 Open and 16 Open divisions and KiVA 15 White won 15 Open. USANY Fortitude, a New York team, won the seven-team 18 Girls division.

Side note: For years I have pronounced it “US any” in my head. Of course, it actually is USA New York, in the same way that USA South operates in Florida and USA Michigan operates in that state.

In Lawrence, Kansas, a bunch of top clubs, including Dynasty, Colorado Juniors, Nebraska Elite, KC Power, NORCO and Premier Nebraska, got together to play some warm up matches at what’s now dubbed the MidWest Pre-National Tournament. (This is the tournament where I first watched Stanford great Audriana Fitzmorris compete for PVA as an eighth grader when she made the USA Youth National Team).

Nebraska ONE 15 Synergy went 6-0 for the event and will be a medal contender in 15 Open in Indianapolis.

Dynasty 16 Black, the top 16s team in the country, went 5-1. Cassie Rockers’ team lost its final match to KC Power 17-1.

• As Junior Nationals approach, I am feeling nostalgic. Twenty (20) years ago this month, I persuaded my employer, Student Sports, to send me to my first big volleyball tournament, the Junior Olympics put on by USA Volleyball in Sandy, Utah, outside of Salt Lake City. Until then, I’d covered club only from afar, as I slowly built communication databases that would allow me, when I started PrepVolleyball.com, to communicate with all coaches about their team’s successes.

How different were club tournaments back then? Well, most were free for spectators to attend. Electronic media was still a work in progress. In the gym, results were tacked up to a convention center wall. Look for the crowd. That’s where the results were!

Online, results were posted on the tournament website after matches that day (or at the conclusion of the tournament) were complete. To learn a result before that, telephone calls had to be made, as there was no texting yet.

To see a match, you had to be there. You might see a camera or two courtside, but digital capability was just coming to pass and there was no streaming.

You could identify college coaches recruiting the event by their logoed polos or by the massive stack of papers they carried with them. There was no University Athlete back then.

As for me, in 2002, I didn’t even own a laptop computer. You could see me in the lobby of my hotel in Sandy, reporting on the day’s events from the PC in the lobby. I remember Cal assistant Ben Bodipo-Memba, a wonderful friend now, walking in and seeing me at work. His encouragement then of what I was doing meant the world to me!

• As it turns out, my first JOs (or Junior Nationals, as they are now officially called) 20 years ago turned out to be among my most memorable. At the time, only Open and Club were offered. The tournament was so much smaller than it is today.

I remember being overwhelmed when I first walked into the gym. Most people are their very first time at big national tournaments. I don’t remember much from the first few days, but the Open championship matches stood out in particular ways.

In 18 Open, USA Youth National Team coach Jim Miret won with his Front Range team. That team featured future Nebraska star middle Tracy Stalls and two junior twins, Ashley and Amber Nu’u, whom I would write a feature story on for Student Sports Magazine a few months later.

Ashley Nu’u was a perfect setter in my eyes. She moved so gracefully, set with precision and, though she was right handed, could wail with her left on the second contact. It was defenseless and something I wonder to this day why coaches don’t train right-handed setters to do.

Front Range defeated City Beach in the final. City Beach had a dynamic lefty, Colby Lyman, on the right side, and two sophomores we would write about quite a bit, Jessica Gysin and Diane Copenhagen. Gysin and Copenhagen were part of four California high school championship teams at Saint Francis of Mountain View, won a high school national championship, at least twice played for club national championships and went on to good careers at USC.

• The 17 Open final saw Munciana defeat Milwaukee Sting.

Two things to note about that match:

1) Munciana made JOs as an At-Large team and won it all!

2) Munciana had a fantastic setter, Kimi Freeburg, who could and did serve with either arm. Like Gysin and Copenhagen, she went on to star for USC.

• The 16 Open championship saw Team Z, from Cincinnati, win the first of two successive Junior National Championships. Setter Bryn Kehoe was the star. Our 2004 National Player of the Year at PrepVolleyball.com, Kehoe would go on to become the first freshman setter to win a national championship. She did that for Stanford, a feat Jenna Gray subsequently matched.

Bryn Kehoe

Z, which defeated Milwaukee Sting for the title, would win 17 Open the following year. The team fell short of the threepeat – no team at the time had ever won 18 Open after winning 17 Open (something Sunshine accomplished this year) – in 2004 when it lost to Vision (with Gysin and Copenhagen) in the semifinals. Vision then lost to Sports Performance in the finals, during a stretch where SPVB owned 18 Open at JOs, winning three in a row at that level.

• In 15 Open, City Beach won the national championship over Erin Waller and Team St. Louis. Waller, one of my all-time favorites to watch, went on to play at Stanford. I remember taking my two eldest kids to Oregon State to watch her play. Tim, now a professional baseball player; and Casey, now a college wide receiver; had to do sprints on the court afterwards to demonstrate how fast they were (I think Tim was 6 at the time).

City Beach was coached by my good friend Steve Santonastaso, who would later become head coach at the University of Rhode Island. I didn’t remember much about his team or that match, so I asked him to share what he recalled. He told me that he had great assistants in Ashley Ivy and Chris Crader and a team that included MVP Caitlin Lawson on the outside, Haley and Darcy Carroll playing defense and setting and unsung middle Maddie Passion, among others.

City Beach came to Sandy as a triple qualifier but had a brutal seven-team pool and finished second. The team dropped the first set of both the quarterfinal with Munciana and semifinal with Sting before prevailing, then swept TSL for the title.

“This was a group of athletes that were amazing people above all,” Santonastaso said. “They supported each other and invested in each other’s success every time we were together as a group. I was fortunate enough to keep up with a few of them through college coaching and social media. I am continually in awe of the wonderful things they have accomplished in their lives.”

“They fought through the adversity of that tournament weekend and came through for each other in the biggest moments with a level of camaraderie I’m not sure I’ve experienced since,” he added. “That year and the couple of years that had followed solidified my love for coaching and the sport of volleyball.”

• While I am waxing nostalgic about Kehoe, Gysin, Copenhagen and others, did you know that they participated in one of the best-played club matches I have ever seen? The date was March 13, 2004 in Kansas City, back when Crossroads was in town while the convention center in Denver was being renovated. Here is my account of what happened in the 18 Open final (with some annotations). Enjoy.

Team Z beats Vision in a Crossroads final for the ages

It is a testament to Team Z 18 Orange and Vision 18 Gold that a crowd approaching 1,000 squeezed around Court 38 at Bartle Hall in Kansas City while two other epic contests, between KiVA and Texas Advantage, were going on in the finals of 17 Open and 16 Open with very little fanfare.

For the record, KiVA won both matches in three, capping a day in which the Louisville club also captured 15 Open in sweeping fashion over St. Louis CYC.

The 18 Open division, however, has always been “the big daddy,” and with teams like Z and Vision squaring off in the final, it’s no wonder that the focus was on this match.

Examine the resumes of these teams and you’ll easily know why they have captivated fans since they were freshmen.

Vision senior stars Jessica Gysin (two-time All-Pac 10 player at USC during injury-ravaged six-year career) and Diane Copenhagen (sixth all-time on USC points list) were members of the City Beach team that won the 15 Open national title as freshmen and then watched from the comfort of the 18 Open finals a year later (they lost to Front Range) as Team Z won it all as 16 year olds.

While Team Z repeated in 2003, in the 17s division, Gysin, Copenhagen, Caroline Walters (assistant coach Cal Poly, West Coast Conference All-time digs leader while with Santa Clara) and Kelly Crow (San Jose State kills leader 2008), now playing as juniors for Vision, were destroying the 18 Open competition in Atlanta before squandering several match points in a Challenge match versus gutty nemesis KiVA and falling in a marathon heartbreaker.

High school glory has also followed several of the teams’ individual members.

For Vision, Erin Downey (Loyola-Marymount) and Brittany Leonard (Arizona, top 10 in career digs) have been on two state title teams with Archbishop Mitty, while Kate and Alex Fisher (Georgetown and Stanford) have twice been state runner up at the Menlo School. And Gysin and Copenhagen won four consecutive California state titles with St. Francis and a national high school title in 2002.

Last year, the national title went to undefeated Ohio Div. I champion St. Ursula Academy of Cincinnati, where Bryn Kehoe (Stanford career assists leader and three-time All-America), Beth Shelton (Virginia), Beth Gillming (Maryland) and Erin Schroeder (Dayton All-America setter) played. Need more? Gysin was national Junior of the Year in 2002, while Kehoe succeeded her as the nation’s top senior player this year.

Enough said. A lot WAS on the line in this match. Usually, the pressure or fatigue after a long day takes its toll on one or both teams, producing volleyball that’s less than what you’d hope for. NOT THIS MATCH. This was one for the ages, a parry and thrust that started when Danielle Meyer (two-time All-America at Ohio State) took a Vision overpass and directed it with two hands into the open court and ended 90 minutes and several unrealized Vision match points later with Shelton’s bragging-rights-clinching blast.

The best player on the court early in Game 1 was Downey, a 6-2 middle who
dominated the net with her blocking and hitting as the two teams played nip and tuck through the first 33 points, neither team building more than a two-point advantage. Copenhagen slammed a kill inside the 10-foot line and Crow crushed two balls for Vision, while Team Z countered with diving digs from defensive specialist Lizaiah Garcia (standout libero for Buffalo), Meyer’s big block and a resounding roof, with extreme prejudice, by Kehoe on Gysin that brought Z to within 17-16. Gysin, as she does routinely when challenged, responded with two kills, one a common variety bazooka cross-court, the other a fingertip push down the line and into the corner.

The three-point lead appeared huge at the time, but Z coach Rich Zeciski will tell you time and again that his team does not quit. Ever. After a time out, Z scored three quick points, one on a Brandie Molnar ace, another on a Meyer block, which knotted the match at 19-19.

Vision was the first to 20, but the next five points belonged to Z. Gillming tick tacked one off the block to give Z a 21-20 lead and then Z hunkered down and played tremendous defense, getting a sweet dig from Schroeder during a long rally that ended with Meyer and Gillming clamping Gysin. Up 22-20, Kehoe rattled off successive aces, one on a Vision communication error, to put Z on the verge of taking the first game. Crow came up with a block on Gillming to get one point back, but Gillming did not miss when given another chance, capping the 25-21 Team Z win.

Vision stormed to a huge lead to open Game 2. Downey again was the catalyst early, with two kills and two blocks as part of an opening 13-5 run that had Z frustrated at its inability to hit around, or over, Vision’s huge block. Despite strong back row play from Leonard and Walters, Team Z crawled back into the game and trailed only 16-12 after Gillming cranked one from the right. Z kept the pressure on both at the net and on defense, where Garcia and Kehoe were making one spectacular save after another. When Kehoe’s serve found the back line, the game was on, with Team Z down only 16-15.

The Fisher sisters collaborated on a Vision point they hoped would stem the tide, but the Z train was running hot. Nicole Britenriker’s block (Kentucky all-conference) tied the match and Meyer’s following ace gave Z its first lead of the game, 18-17.

This time, however, the end game belonged to Vision. Copenhagen’s tip to the middle again got Vision first to 20. Rather than quickly yielding the lead, as it did in Game 1, Vision built on it, scoring four of the next five points, with Copenhagen and Gysin coming up big, to take a 24-20 lead.

Playing every point like it matters, Team Z again fought back and tied the game,
24-24, on two Meyer kills and a block. But Z could never get on top in this game and when Z was called for a net violation on Vision’s seventh game point, Vision had squared the match with the 28-26 win.

Playing one game to 15 to decide it, both teams came out fired up. Copenhagen, the 6-3 middle going to USC, got her mitts on two Z attacks to counter Virginia-bound Shelton’s two big kills. Down 7-6, Vision’s other USC recruit, Gysin, showed her stuff, winning a joust at the net and then slammed two kills of her own, as Vision took an 8-7 lead at the switch. Another Gysin kill extended the Vision lead to 10-7 before a Britenriker kill and block and Molnar’s missile made it a game again at 10-10.

Gysin’s kill and three Z errors gave Vision triple match point at 14-11, but you know Z wasn’t going to fold. Molnar contributed a kill and Meyer a block, as Z brought the match to all square at 14-14.

Back and forth it went, the drama elevating with every swing. Alex Fisher’s kill gave Vision another match point, but Meyer said “No soup for you!” responding with a vicious kill of her own. A foot fault on Team Z gave Vision match point No. 5, but it was quickly negated by a serve into the net. Match point No. 6 came after

Copenhagen made a scintillating save by running into the bleachers and Gysin got high for a tremendous block, but Gillming answered with an equalizing kill of her own.

Team Z had only one match point all afternoon. One was all it needed. Britenriker, part of a trio of Z front line players headed to Ohio State, blocked Gysin to give Z an 18-17 lead. Seconds later, when Shelton’s heavy ball smacked hard off of Alex Fisher’s hands and two feet beyond the Z sideline, the match, and bragging rights, for now, belonged to Team Z.

“I knew going into it that it was going to be a good match,” Meyer said. “Vision was on fire this weekend and looked unstoppable at times. We just wanted it really badly.”

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Until next time …

2 COMMENTS

  1. Hi John!
    A quick note on your comments about NorCal Invitational. The division layout on AES was on the strange side. SynergyForce 17 Jeff did win the 17’s Nationals Prep Division. However, The 16 Nationals Prep, 15 Nationals Prep, and 16 Open Divisions were all nested together under the 16’s heading. The winner of 16 Nationals Prep Division was Rage 16 Garren. The winner of 15 Nationals Prep was NorCal Black 15-1 (Open Qualified). NorCal Blue 16-2 one the 16 Open Division.

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