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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, the 49th Annual AAU National Championships completed its run in Orlando, with the 16s featured prominently in the third and final session.

A5 16 Gabe won the 72-team 16 Open division, downing Tri-State 16 Elite Blue in straight sets to win the title. The victory capped a truly remarkable run for Gabe Aramian’s team, which finished 12-0, dropped just one set and gave up more than 20 points in winning sets just five times.

A5, the top overall seed, won despite dealing with injuries that have plagued it all season long. In Orlando, setter Isa Boyd played with a broken finger and MB Mia Hood’s sprained wrist confined her to blocking with just one hand for the championship, but they still played well and helped the team win.

Aramian said that the semifinal versus Puerto Rican side Capitanas, which pitted two USAV Open-qualified teams that had, to that point, dropped just one set between them, was “exhilarating.” 

“Eight deep on all sides of the mezzanines maybe 500 people there watching in the ESPN center…years of rivalry, anticipation of the match up of physicality (us) and volleyball IQ and skill (Capitanas)…” he said. “Overall, it was a spectacular display of the highest level volleyball and some of the best we’ve played all season.”

In addition to Boyd and Hood, others who shined for A5 included tournament MVP, Hannah Benjamin, libero Gaby Cornier and S/RS Grace Agolli, both of whom made the All-Tournament Team; MB Logan Wiley, setter Cooper Abney and RS MK Patten.

***

Tri-State went 12-1 to finish second. The Cincinnati-area team fell to A5 in the championship match, 25-17, 25-21.

“Going in seeded third, we had our sights set on making a run at the championship,” noted head coach Kevin Lucas.

Tri-State swept its way to a 6-0 start, with only one dropped set, but faced adversity on Day 3 with a 25-23 opening set loss to Rev 16-1, from the Indianapolis area, to open Saturday play.

Tri-State had to “grind it out,” Lucas said, adding that serving was the difference maker in the match in the third set.

Three players made the All-Tournament Team, setter Maria Drapp, OH Reese Wuebker and MB Faith Young. Drapp was unbelievable, Lucas said. She ran the offense with precision and served and defended her position very well.

Wuebker and Young were principal offensive threats and scored with great efficiency.

Libero Kelsey Niesen and DS Dakota Henry were unsung heroes for the squad, Lucas added. Niesen was a rock in the passing game, while Henry made a ton of big defensive plays in clutch moments.

***

OT 16 T Jason joined Capitanas in placing third overall. It was a familiar position for OT, which has played three national qualifiers, the Triple Crown NIT and AAUs in 2022 and placed third in ALL of them.

OT 16 Jason

OT head coach Jason Partington said that the goal for his team was to play consistently well over the four days. The team improved and played at a high level going into the tournament’s last day, playing well offensively, defensively and behind the service line while demonstrating strong team chemistry.

The team did not drop a set, and scored wins over the likes of OT 16 O Roberto, VCNebraska 16 Elite (the defending age group Open champion), Miami Hype 16U Emilio and CITY 15 Gold, heading into the semifinals, where Tri-State kept it from the finals with a straight-set win.

“They played a great match and feel like we played tight and had our only inconsistent match of the tournament,” Partington explained.

Standouts for OT included setter Taylor Parks, whose efficient distribution and location gave the team’s talented hitters great swing opportunities; libero Bella Lee, whose passing and defense kept the offense humming; and RS Bailey Higgins, who was strong at the net both hitting and blocking all tournament long.

• A5 Mizuno 16-2 Steve won the 120-team 16 Premier division in a truly remarkable performance. Steve Wilcosky’s squad dropped a set in its first match of the tournament, then swept 12 straight opponents, including tough Upward Stars 16 Amy in the championship match. Over A5’s final eight matches, the Georgia team yielded more than 19 points in any set just once!

***

California squad Legacy Girls 16 Elite overcame losses on each of the first two days to prevail in the 187-team 16 Club division.

Legacy Girls 16s

The championship, which came four days after the 17s team won 17 Premier, was unexpected, not just because of the team’s relatively low opening seed (15th overall), but also because of those losses, in which coach Walt Ker admitted that his team played poorly.

Legacy turned things around the last two days, with more consistent play from the left pin. The team closed with nine wins in arrow, including downing Gulfside 16U Prime in the semifinals and A5 Mizuno 163 Stephen in the championship match.

Tournament MVP Kennedy Osunsanmi dominated as a hitter from both the front and back row for Legacy, Ker said. Gabby Cascione was also very impactful, with her high level passing and digging everything in her zone.

***

1st Alliance 16 Onyx went 13-1 to capture the 187-team 16 Classic division.

Kairos Elite 16 Gamma took the 133-team 16 Aspire division with a perfect 13-0 record.

Sports Performance 16 White finished 11-0 in capturing the 59-team 16 Spirit division.

  • Four days earlier, Legacy 17-1 Adidascaptured the 75-team 17 Open title, adding to the 16 Open crown it won in 2021. The Michigan squad won in revenge, sweeping surprising Rev 17-1, which beat it in pool play, 17-15 in the third, one day before.“We were playing with a ton of pressure (as the defending champs and No. 1 seed),” noted coach Jen Cottill. “We lost to Rev on Day 3 and that was the turning point of the tournament for us. We were able to do a deep dive into how we were playing so tight and heavy and some strategies on how to deal with it. We were then able to win the last match in our pool easily and then enter the Challenge match versus [A5 Mizuno 17 Jing] with a completely different mindset.”

    OH Harper Murray was named tournament MVP for Legacy. She had 157 kills, was second on her team in serve-receive average and took over matches with her serve.

    Legacy also received All-Tournament efforts from 6-4 pin Nina Horning and 6-0 libero Sarah Vellucci. Horning stepped up for the tournament, hitting over .300 with some massive out-of-system swings. Velluci was just super steady in jump starting the offense with a good pass.

    Middles Laurece Abraham and Abby Reck and setter Erin Kline also were critical to team success. The middles were active on the offensive end and got lots of block touches. Kline ran the offense well and was imposing with her block.

***

Rev continued its late-season surge (2nd at Indy Cup; 2nd at Adidas Midwest Championships) with an astonishing showing at AAUs in a very strong field. The Indianapolis-area team not only defeated Legacy in pool play, it did the same to Triple Crown NIT champion A5 Mizuno 17 Jing! Rev also posted a win over Mizuno Long Beach 17 Rockstar M and won in revenge over High Tide 17 Elite.

“We couldn’t have predicted the incredible run these girls went on,” said head coach Javi Cruz.

“These girls exceeded every expectation put forth,” he added. “They came together as a team, took out the top two seeds in the tournament and made it to the championship where we met up with Legacy again, after beating them the day before. It’s always tough to beat the same team twice in the same tournament, but we scrapped every step of the way. These girls deserve all the credit in the world for battling for every ball, every point, and doing it together.”

On Day 2, after stunning A5, 15-13 in the third, Rev dropped its next match, in three, to Encore 17 Kalekonas.

“It actually gave us a big opportunity,” Cruz said. “It helped us refocus and understand that beating a top team isn’t enough, especially on Day 2. You don’t just get to win a match and call it a day. You have to win, celebrate, and refocus every time to give yourself the best chance to win it all. That loss helped us get into the right headspace to make a run.”

Setter Margo Hernandez, OH Elle Patterson and MB JaNyah Henderson made the All-Tournament Team, but they were hardly the only contributors. Libero Kendall Hickey and OH Gabby Gilbert were among others on Rev’s team to make a deep impact.

“The entire team stood out,” Cruz stressed. “None of this happens with a couple of individuals. The entire team came together when they needed to, battled together, scratched, clawed, worked…it was one of the greatest team efforts I’ve ever seen in this sport and one of the greatest efforts I’ve ever been a part of.”

***

Ku’Ikahi 17 Wahine RSB, from Hawaii; and OT 17 J John, from Jacksonville, combined to go 21-3 to share third-place honors. The field was very strong, with seven Open-qualified teams plus Adidas KiVA 17 Red, making any medal run notable.

Ku’Ikahi 17 Wahine RSB

Ku’Ikahi came together about one month ago, as the underclassmen playing 18s throughout the season meshed well with the 17s.

“We anticipated this group would compete at a high level, but the run we made throughout the tournament was a pleasant surprise,” said coach Kainoa Obrey. “We just didn’t know how well we could play together because this was the first big tournament for this group. We felt we had enough attacking and net play to make a run for it.”

Ku’Ikahi played and defeated the likes of OT J John, Northern Lights 17-1 and AVC 17 Red and took an undefeated record into its semifinal versus Rev, where it lost, 15-13 in the third.

“We absolutely exceeded our expectations,” Obrey said. “We always want to win and continued to give ourselves opportunities to compete for gold throughout the tournament. We like playing high-level teams because we don’t get to see that regularly back home. Our ball handling and net play helped to separate us from the teams we played. We embraced the high level competition and this group was tested throughout the tournament and we are happy we gave ourselves a chance to compete for Gold into Day 4.”

Obrey said that a lot of the team’s players played really well.

“We feel you need that to make a run in a National Tournament in the Open level,” he explained.

Setters Rella Binney and Maya Imoto-Eakin did a great job running the team’s 6-2 offense and distributing the ball to all of its hitters.

“We are fortunate to be able to score from across the net,” Obrey said. “All six attackers did really well getting available and terminating!”

“OHs Senna Roberts-Navarro and Reese Diersbock were tested on serve receive and passed well enough to allow us to take good full swings,” Obrey continued. “Our middles, Koen Makaula and Mari Lawton, were quick on the block closing out left/right. Coupled with our right sides, Kamaluhia Garcia and Brooke Naniseni, we were able to make it difficult for opposing outsides to score. We must have been the best blocking team in the tournament, which also helped our digging, led by libero Melie Vaioleti and DS Tessa Onaga.

“As coaches your dream is for all your players to play well at the same time for an extended period of time and that’s exactly what this group did.”

OT J John 17

OT 17 J John went into AAUs with four, third-place finishes for the year and with hopes to do 1-2 better. John Goings’ team played well and built momentum for USAV Junior Nationals, but came away with third once more. The team defeated MN Select 17-1 on its way to the semifinals and pushed Legacy behind setter Jessica Shattles, libero Sydney Lewis, MB Zeta Washington and RS Allison Cavanaugh.

“They are in a really good head space going into Nationals to try to be the best in the country,” Goings said. “Our motto has been all year to be our own best!”

Legacy Girls 17 Pyramid, which qualified in Open but declined the bid because of its commitment to AAUs, had hoped to be in the Open field in Orlando.

The California team originally registered in Premier back in October, but thought it had moved to Open only to discover that it had not. A late request to move two weeks before the event began could not be accommodated, so Legacy set out to make the best of its situation by dominating the 157-team 17 Premier division, which it most certainly did. Walt Ker’s team went 13-0 without dropping a set and yielded more than 20 points only three times over 26 sets!

Legacy 17

“We had high hopes of winning a national championship as we were seeded No. 1 going in to the tourney,” Ker said. Legacy did not buckle to the pressure of defending its seed, instead thriving when teams tried to bring their A-games against it.

Ker said that the team’s steady play and consistent execution over the first two days turned into exceptionally high-level and efficient play on the last two days.

MB Victoria Davis, who dominated the net as an attacker and blocker; was named tournament MVP. Libero Laurel Barsochinni also stood out for her great all-around play in the back row. And Madi Maxwell was her usual strong self, as she set, attacked and passed in three rotations with great effectiveness.

***

Sports Performance 17 Marshall captured the 184-team 17 Club division by going 14-0. The team overcame a Game 1 loss to Minnesota team KEVC 17-1 in the finals to win it all.

The team, named for former coach Tracey Marshall, who passed away unexpectedly in 2020 at age 42; embodied the ‘Never say quit’ attitude that Marshall, lived her life by, said co-coach Luke Stapleton.

SPVB 17 Marshall

SPVB was the top seed going into the event and was clicking well on the court heading into AAUs.

“Each day of AAU, the girls seemed to be getting better than the day before, and that was needed as the competition increased each day,” noted co-coach Matt Slechta.

Three of the players were in the 16 Club final a year ago and a fourth, Annabelle Troy, won the Illinois 4A State Championship with her high school team last fall.

“I think that experience helped them stay composed in any situation as they have been there before,” Slechta explained.

The key to finishing strong was passing. On Day 4, SPVB put on a passing clinic, with Lauren Jansen, Peyton Turner and Troy all passing 2.13 or higher in the championship match. In the finals, Sports Performance was down 19-11 in the first before rallying to tie at 21-all. The team ended up losing htat set but the momentum of the rally carried through into the final two sets, which Sports Performance won, 25-14, 15-7.

“No matter what challenges the team faced all week, nothing seemed to rattle them,” Slechta said.

RS Gabija Staniskis was the tournament MVP. She hit .305 for the last two days with 12 blocks and scored from all areas of the court, both front row and back.

OH Jansen and libero Turner received All-Tournament nods. Both passed with aplomb. Jansen hit .293 over the tourney’s last two days and Turner served with precision. 

OH Troy hit .280 and passed 2.12.

Setter Keelyn Muell averaged more than 11 assists per set for the tournament.

***

Roots 16 UA Green, from Texas; and Capital City Juniors 17-1, from Alabama; won the 17 Classic and 17 Aspire divisions, respectively. They were held as part of Sessions 3, with the 16-year-old teams.

Roots 16 UA

The win for Roots represented its first national championship and occurred three years to the day that the club’s original founder, Greg Watts, passed away unexpectedly at age 59.

“The team had an angel watching over them as they only dropped two sets all tournament,” noted coach Lindsay Rosenthal.

Roots’ first national title triumph came over Sports Performance 17 C-Fed, which is part of a club that claims 99 national titles. The Austin club not only had to battle C-Fed, named in honor of Christine Federico, a Spri coach who passed away in 2011 at age 43; but also the club’s insane crowd, which was bolstered by SPVB’s boys’ teams.

Julia Hopkins was the overall team leader all tournament in digs, kills and aces and was the undisputed MVP.

Taylor Gaines, a freshman who played with 16 Green for this tournament, contributed 13 kills in the final match, which went to 15-10 in the third. Maddie Stuesser flawlessly ran a 5-1 all week, distributing the ball to all hitters and using Root’s fast attack from the pipe with great effectiveness. Mia Rojas put up a huge block on the right. Ashlynn Axtell and Lana Wright were quick and versatile in the middle. Ava Wind captained the defense as libero and found her voice as the defensive leader. All players contributed to the win with defense and serving also by Sarah Pettinato, Eleaner Thiel, and Katherine Shelton.

 Legacy won a second national championship on the same day, when Legacy 15-1 Adidas completed an undefeated 15 Open run with a three-set, come-from-behind win over OT 15 T Randy. Legacy also had to come from behind in its semifinal win over Munciana Lorax.

The win continued a strong late-season effort from Legacy, which also won JVA Summerfest earlier in the month.

Setter Campbell Flynn was named tournament MVP. MB Olivia Grenadier and OH Gabby DiVita, the team’s eighth-grade sensation, both made the All-Tournament team.

***

OT took second with a 10-1 record. OT also was second at the Triple Crown NIT earlier in the season. Setter Isabella Mogridge, OH Maggie Dostic and libero Lily Hayes were All-Tournament picks.

***

Lorax, led by outsides Charlotte Vinson and Spencer Etzler; and Michigan Elite 15 Mizuno, paced by setter Ella Craggs and OH Isabelle Busignani; tied for third.

Santa Barbara 15 Blue went 13-0 to win the 97-team 15 Premier division. Santa Barbara’s win was a surprise, as the team was seeded 45th going in.

Santa Barbara

Dillan Bennett, who became club director during a transition time for the club in April, discovered that he would be coaching this team only six weeks before, as scheduling conflicts prevented the coaches from completing the season.

Until that point, the team had been fine but largely unremarkable, highlighted by a win in 15 Club at Las Vegas and a 21st place showing out of 94 in 15 USA at Red Rock Rave.

“Heading into AAUs we really never discussed expectations,” Bennett said. “With only eight practices with the team, we really just focused on having fun in practice, cleaning up a few areas on offense, and making some defensive adjustments to their system. We were faced with a bit more diversity when we learned three of the ten players would not be attending AAUs with us, leaving us with seven players. Fortunately, we were able to find one more to fill the roster at a thin eight.”

Bennett said that with a small roster and no expectations, the focus was on fun and to “rekindle some joy” in playing the sport.

“For players in our community, Club Volleyball is a long grind,” he explained. “We have multi-sport athletes, beach players, and players who are involved in their community. Club Volleyball takes a lot of their time, and I’d say many of them felt a little burned out. At the 15s level, this was the first year they had a full high school season, so the grind was a new one for them over a ten-month season.”

Seeded second in Pool 5 to start, Santa Barbara’s win over the fifth overall seed, CVBC Ballers from Indiana, from Indiana infused the team with confidence. SBVC played its best volleyball on Day 3, going 4-0 (8-0) with almost no subs; and the final day was pure adrenaline. Santa Barbara knocked off the tournament’s top seed, Upward Stars 15 Bing, in the semifinals; and toppled the sixth overall seed, BRVA 15 Blue, for the title.

Upward Stars was 12-0 before losing and rallied with five straight to get within 24-22 in the second before losing.

BRVA led 14-12 in Game 3 of the championship match before Tessa De Albergaria hit two great serves in a row to tie things up.

“That was the moment, despite both teams having match points against them, that I felt we were going to win the match,” Bennett said.

The game continued for several more points. The last rally, with Santa Barbara ahead, 19-18, was back and forth, with both teams playing stellar defense.

“We were able to put up a good block, and won the match on a stuff block,” Bennett said.

OH Eliana Urzua was named MVP.

“There wasn’t another player in the tournament who had as strong of an all-around performance as she did,” Bennett noted. “Nobody questions her ability to attack the ball. Where she was most impressive was in the back court. Her serving caused a LOT of problems for teams, and her passing was the best I’ve ever seen out of her. On the last day, against the toughest competition, she did not give up a reception error… that’s impressive at the libero spot, let alone an outside hitter who had no breaks all four days.”

MB Nicole Schuetz made the All-Tournament team.

“Nicole was outstanding from every offensive position along the net,” said Bennett. “As a middle, she showed her versatility the last few weeks, and definitely helped us take blockers off Eliana. Her blocking also came a long way this tournament, and she made things very hard for opposing attackers.”

De Albergaria, the team’s libero, also was an All-Tournament pick.

“Tessa started the tournament out a little slow as our libero,” Bennett said. “She was quiet, wasn’t hitting her serve that well, and her defense was a little out of character. Once she made a few good plays, hit a few good serves, and dug a few good balls, she transformed. Prior to the championship day, she had maybe three digs per match. In the championship, she had twelve digs and six aces. She really put on a display in the last match, and I’m so proud of how she’s developed as a player in the last few months.”

***

Midwest squad MVP United 15 Red went 14-0 (28-1) to win the 181-team 15 Club division. The team started the event as the No. 2 overall seed.

“We had high expectations going into the event,” said coach Rick Pruett. “We’d had a great season and felt that if we played our best we could win a national championship. It’s a long haul and a tough four days, so being focused was important. We wanted to focus and bring energy and we did these things. The girls played with high energy and focused in all 14 matches, which exceeded our expectations.”

From left, Maliyah Hacker, Bailey Boeve, Ava Lloyd

On a team with great balance, MB Bailey Boeve was named tourney MVP. Outsides Milayah Hacker and Ava Lloyd also made the All-Tournament team, but others could easily have been so recognized.

“Everyone played their role to perfection,” Pruett said.

***

FaR Out 15 Red won its second title at this season’s AAUs, winning the 186-team 15 Classic division.

Sports Performance 15 Red prevailed in the 132-team 15 Aspire division.

A5 Mizuno 15-5 Erika won the 105-team 15 Spirit division.

• Concluding our coverage from AAUs, I am sad to report once more about unruly parents in Orlando. This was reported by a 16s coach at Virginia Elite (I am omitting the offending club’s name) about a match for 67th place:

“Crazy finish to my 12th day at Nationals. Filling in on the last day for 16s as head coach and down reffing for our work assignment. During the match parents from _____________ repeatedly yelled at our 16 year old girls, yelled at the up-ref and yelled at me. One parent even marched up to our work table, grabbed the scoreboard and flipped it around (touching our kids in the process). After they lost, five of their dads literally surrounded me and got in my face, to the point where an off-duty officer had to intervene.

When our Executive Director went to report them we were not surprised to hear that other parents from this club’s 15s team were escorted out of the tournament for threatening a 15 year old line judge (parents exclaimed “shoot her”).”

Do better people.

• The seven 15s divisions at USAV’s Junior National Championships in Indianapolis began yesterday. The 16s and 17s start on July 1.

In 15 Open, the age group’s signature division; three of the top six seeds were upended in their first match. Dynasty 15 Black, the second overall seed, lost to Coast 15-1, which finished 3-0. Dynasty ended Day 1 with a 1-2 mark.

1st Alliance 15 Gold, the No. 5 overall seed; and Houston Skyline 15 Royal, the No. 6; also lost their first matches but finished 2-1 on the day to remain in the thick of things in the six-team pools that span two days.

A total of six teams remained unbeaten after the first day, as AZ Storm Elite 15 Thunder, the favorite; Mizuno Long Beach 15 Rockstar C, Legacy (the AAUs champs), Alamo 15 Premier (the At-Large entry), Circle City 15 Purple and OT Randy (the AAU runner up) joined Coast at 3-0.

• Since reporting on AAU Nationals 14 Open champs Boiler Juniors 14 Gold in last week’s Dots, I’ve been keeping an eye on them at Junior Nationals. John Shondell’s squad is 4-0 (8-0) with one match left in its opening pool, against another undefeated team, Forza1 North 14 UA.

• Finally, USA Volleyball announced recently that Junior Nationals next year will be held in three different cities. The 18s event will occur in Columbus April 28-30. The 11s through 13s will convene in Minneapolis from June 14-17. And Chicago will host for the first time ever, welcoming the 14s through 17s from June 28 through July 6.

First thought: Chicago ain’t cheap.

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:
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Until next time …

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