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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.
• Stop me if you’ve read this before.
This week, Munciana 18 Samurai and Sports Performance 18 Elite faced off for the 18 Open title at the AAU National Championships in Orlando.
I feel like I’ve written this a lot over the years, especially recently, as the two Midwest super clubs inevitably find their way to the championship match in this division at AAUs.
Last year, Samurai defeated SPVB, 18 and 21, for the title.
In 2018, Sports Performance upended Munciana, 15-11 in the third, to win it all. (In between, AAU moved the 18 Open division to Memorial Day Weekend (2019; Legacy won) and Wattle Daub 18 Adidas from Louisiana surprised with the title in the Covid year (2020)).
In 2017, Samurai defeated Sports Performance, 15-10 in the third, for the title.
In 2014, Sports Performance knocked off Samurai, 22 and 23, for the crown.
The teams have met 11 times since 2005 for national championships, eight times at AAU Nationals. Before this year, Sports Performance was 4-3 versus Munciana in AAU title tilts.
• On Saturday, AAU conducted its 18 Open championship match at the 49th AAU Girls National Championships. The two teams walking in to play for the title at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Disneyworld? Why, Munciana and Sports Performance, of course!
Neither team was undefeated. Both had nine wins and one loss.
Samurai had split epic matches with Coast 17-1, including a 15-13 Game 3 win in the semifinals. Munciana also won one other match at deuce in the third set, over Sports Performance 18 Elite in a Friday Challenge match.
Sports Performance won its first seven matches of the championship by sweep, but struggled to put teams away after the Munciana loss on Friday. 18 Elite needed three sets to get by USANY Fortitude (15-13) in the quarterfinals and another three to take down High Voltage 17/18 College Prep (15-12) in the semifinals.
• Coming into AAUs, Sports Performance had lost just once in 2022, to Team Indiana Elite 18.1 at Bluegrass in March, an event SPVB eventually won by sweeping Munciana, 25-20, 25-16.
Bluegrass was Munciana’s first tournament since winning the Triple Crown NIT over Sunshine 18-LA, the eventual USAV 18 Open national champions. Samurai lost once at Triple Crown, to Houston Skyline 18 Royal, and the Bluegrass final, but otherwise had not lost coming to Orlando. With Sunshine, Samurai and SPVB were truly two of the three best 18s teams in the nation.
• “I thought going in that we had as good a shot as anyone,” said Samurai’s Mike Lingenfelter, who has been coach of the 18s team at Munciana since 2004.
Lingenfelter also knew that the road to the title would go through SPVB.
The 18 Open final at Triple Crown saw Samurai playing at the peak of its capabilities. Lingenfelter said the team always played hard after that, but not at the same level until it took on SPVB in that Friday crossover.
“Beating SPRI in the crossover truly revitalized our squad,” he said.
The championship match saw Munciana defeat Sports Performance for the second time in as many days. This was of the straight-set variety and gave Lingenfelter his seventh AAU 18 Open title. OH Eva Hudson demonstrated why she’s one of the best ever to play for Munciana, while defender Ramsey Gary and OH Avery Ross also elevated their level of play.
• Sports Performance went into AAUs expecting to win its last match of the season, same as every year.
That expectation took a hit at the end of Day 2, when starting left side Alyssa Worden (Iowa) injured her knee at the end of the last match of the day. The injury knocked Worden out of the rest of the tournament.
SPVB adjusted by moving starting RS Gwen Wolkow to the left and putting junior Lilly King on the right.
“It is a credit to the toughness of this team to be able to lose a Big Ten commit and still be able to reach the championship match,” noted coach Troy Gilb.
Gilb said that the loss of Worden impacted the team’s blocking matchups, especially against Munciana in the final. Despite terrific play from OH Ella Wrobel, MB Kara Oxenknecht and libero Maya Sands, SPVB could not overcome a motivated Samurai team.
“This was a tough one for us to accept,” Gilb said. “This was an extremely hard-working group that put everything they could into winning it all. They were a close-knit group that won a lot of big matches on the season. The injury to Worden set us back but this team is tough and battled their way back to the championship match.
“Nationals did not go as expected but we are as proud of this group as any we have had over the last 40-plus years.”
• Coast 17-1 and High Voltage, a Florida squad with a junior and three sophomores, both went 8-2 to tie for third.
High Voltage lost twice to SPVB.
Coast lost to Samurai and High Voltage.
Coast head coach Ozhan Bahrambeygui, whose team will compete in the 17 Open division at USAV’s Junior National Championships in Indianapolis starting July 1, said that his team was fortunate to take on top teams like Munciana in a high-energy tournament that saw fans ringing the courts five deep.
“Our kids recalled people standing on chairs to watch and the ‘roar of cheer’ they issued at the end of great points,” he said.
Coast DS Brooke Yelland was great all week for the San Diego club. OH Milan Bayless was incredible in Coast’s pool play win over Samurai to complete Coast’s eight-team pool undefeated. Pin Cate Schnell was amazing in the Munciana rematch. And RS Noemie Glover and OH Claire Little distinguished themselves as among the best in the nation at their respective positions.
Bahrambeygui added this:
“Finally, a (Mother’s and) Father’s Day special mention: On Day 2 a scheduling conflict emerged. Our entire parent group navigated difficult logistical issues elegantly. It serves as a reminder that our team has a rare unselfish quality and, for this, we owe most of the credit to their moms and dads. They have been, and will forever be, their daughter’s first and greatest coaches. We have a lot to be grateful and thankful for.”
Kairos 18 Adidas was one of four teams to finish tied for fifth. The South Dakota squad went 6-3 for the tournament, losing only to Munciana in pool play and twice to Coast. The second loss, 18-16 in the third set in the quarterfinals, knocked Mitch Lunning’s team from medal contention.
“Going into the event our main goal was to bring home our club’s first Open trophy,” Lunning explained. “We believed we could do it and fell just a couple points shy. Our team was quite undersized compared to the top four seeds in the bracket, and we knew our first contact and ball control would have to be on point to have a chance. It was on all four days.
“I thought our entire team played extremely well the entire tournament. Bergen Reilly (S) did an amazing job all week running our offense. The amount of times she was able to get our hitters 1-on-1 was a huge piece to our success. Brynn Kirsch (L) was a huge impact player, making great digs and unreal saves to keep rallies alive. She is certainly fun to watch. Stella Winterfeld (OH) was one of our best serve receivers all season and was steady for us all week here at Nationals. She took some clutch swings at the end of big matches including that third set versus Coast in the quarterfinals.
“We were all heartbroken to lose that quarterfinal, falling just short of our goal; but, overall, we are all very proud of this team and what they have accomplished for our club, showing our younger teams we can compete at the highest level.”
USANY Fortitude, from New York, also tied for fifth, also at 6-3.
“Going into the event we thought we had a chance to win a National Championship, so the run did not come as much of a surprise,” noted coach Robert Crispi. “We made a couple of rotation adjustments, mainly moving Sabrina Skyers to the M1 position, and inserting Sydney Houchens as the L2, but, most importantly, we were healthy for the first time in months.”
Crispi said that Houchens has been a revelation as a six rotation OH. She and the electrifying Samiyah Abdur-Rahim made for a potent combo on the left side. Setter Sloane Rooney made and extended plays for USANY, libero Annabelle He read the game brilliantly, which was made easier by the blocking support of Skyers, Samantha Jo Mikosky, Aerin Bowman and Erin McCabe.
“They were ready for the big stage, and their play proved it,” Crispi concluded.
• As good as Munciana, SPVB and Coast were in 18 Open, it’s impossible to ignore that changes are necessary to how AAU conducts its 18s championships going forward.
A total of just 16 teams played Open (and 31 in 18 Premier) this year. Compare that to 2013, where 46 teams played Open and another 157 played at the Club levels. And, of the 16 teams that played, only three were elite teams and just three more were ranked among the top 100 teams by AES.
“Obviously some serious evaluation will occur this summer,” said Lingenfelter. “There are options, but I’d sure like to see AAU make some aggressive and progressive adjustments. Regardless … we will seek the best event possible.”
Gilb said that SPVB will never go back to USAV, but added: “I do agree though that changes to the 18’s for AAU’s have to happen.”
• It’s safe to say that FaR Out 18 Black played its best volleyball at the end of the season. The Michigan squad captured the JVA Summerfest 18s title in early June and, on Saturday, added the 18 Premier title at AAU Nationals.
FaR Out overcame pool play losses on each of the first two days and finished on a seven-match winning streak, including a come-from-behind win over Sports Performance 18 Kahl in the championship match.
“On Day 3 and 4, we played some of the best volleyball that we played all year long,” noted coach Joe Steenhuysen.
OHs Maradith O’Gorman and Kennedy Louisell, MB Kennedy Arp and setter Renee Brines were key performers over the tournament. O’Gorman, a Michigan State signee, was especially dominant in winning time and excelled in all phases of the game.
“What I personally enjoyed the most was we had multiple players who have lost championships either in high school or in club who are now leaving their senior season with a championship,” Steenhuysen said. “I’m very proud of them and excited that they get to finish their high school career going into college with having that experience.”
• We rarely write about 14-year-old teams, but what Boiler Juniors 14 Gold did in 14 Open at AAU Nationals bears noting. The Indiana squad, coached by Purdue assistant John Shondell, went 11-0 to win the title. The team dropped just one set, to nemesis Tribe 14 Elite Sebastian; and swept a Game Point 14 Rox team in the championship match that previously beat it at the Triple Crown NIT.
The title was the second in as many years for the Shondell-led Boilers and third in four years. Back in 2019, this core group became the first non-Puerto Rican team to win the 11s division at AAUs.
By all accounts, this is a remarkable group. Over the 2022 season, with USA Volleyball Junior Nationals yet to come, Boiler Juniors has amassed an 83-12 record, with just five losses in its age group. The team played without OH Calista Foster (knee), arguably the best outside in the nation in this age group; until April and has gone 45-2 with her in the lineup. Boiler Juniors won Bluegrass, won Windy City and had two other top-three qualifier finishes. The team is ranked No. 1 by AES going to Junior Nationals.
“We played steady the whole time,” Shondell said of his team’s performance this year.
Indeed, only Tribe, the team Boiler Juniors played in the past two championship matches, was able to take a set off of them.
On the last day, Shondell described his team’s play as “flawless.” The team displayed outstanding ball control, led by libero Ellie Hepler; precision setting from Lexi Shondell and outstanding play in the middle led by Bre Morgan and MVP Reese Resmer. Resmer, who stands 5-10, had 14 kills and five blocks in the two-set championship match. The team finished with 20 kills out of the middle, which is unheard of for a 14U team.
OH Madi Miles and seventh grade RS Caroline Moore joined Resmer on the All-Tournament team. Hepler, Shondell and Foster earned All-Tournament nods in 2021. Each will get banners to hang in the club’s gym.
“Everyone played well,” Shondell said. “We’re really solid in every position.”
Other contributors included OH Raegan Miles, OH/DS Chase Lemming and defenders Mia Walpole and Bella Widmer.
• The 17s and 15s are playing Day 3 at AAUs today. There have been no surprises so far. The 17 Open field is highly competitive.…
USAV Junior Nationals starts play in the age groups we cover on Monday. Tournament director Kristy Cox said that the pools should be released “soon” to AES.
“We are still working on some last-minute changes,” she added.
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Until next time …