Daily Dots (March 1, 2021): Club or high school volleyball factoids, notions and ideas to impress your friends (or not)

Volleyball fans, like me, probably spent a fair amount of the weekend watching domestic professional volleyball, courtesy of Athletes Unlimited, operating out of a bubble for five weeks in Dallas.

Personally, I can’t stand the confusing scoring system, which exists only to crown an individual champion; or the fact that players switching teams every week means you don’t have time to develop a rooting interest in what is the ultimate team sport. So I just watched for the booming kills, acrobatic digs and massive blocks (hello Cori Crocker!). That was enough to capture and keep my attention.

• One thing I found myself doing, quite a lot while watching the matches, was reminiscing about the players while they were teenagers playing junior volleyball. By my count, I followed 34 of the 44 players. I have stories about most of them. One that comes immediately to mind involves Taylor Sandbothe, the former Ohio State standout.

Sandbothe was a sophomore playing club ball for Invasion at the Show Me National Qualifier in Kansas City in April, 2011. My first time watching her, Sandbothe was impressing with her lateral mobility at the net and her uncanny block timing. What a menace!

In Gold Pool play on Day 3 in 16 Open, Invasion and Tejas were tied at 24-24 in Game 2 when Sandbothe went up to block, came down on her teammate’s foot and badly rolled her ankle. It looked like a catastrophic injury and sounded like that, too, as half of Bartle Hall could hear her wail in agony. The medics came and she was wheel-chaired away sobbing, hand covering her face.

Everyone assumed Sandbothe would be out of action for a long time, but she returned to the court for Invasion’s next match, versus St. Louis CYC, almost none the worse for the wear; and tipped home the title clincher in a sweep of Ozark Juniors.

Sandbothe was a great competitor with a quirky sense of humor and a flair for the dramatic. When I think of this story it always makes me smile.

Julia Blyashov blocking

• Continuing the mock draft top 30 countdown we started on Wednesday — college coaches could pick ANY PLAYER in the HS Class of 2021 or younger to start a team with, based on how good the player was projected to be as a college freshman — here are picks numbered 15-11:

15. Katie Hurta, 6-1 S, ’22, Adversity — Indiana
14. Ella Swindle, 6-1 S, ’23, KC Power
13. Julia Blyashov, 6-3 OH, ’23, WAVE
12. Harper Murray, 6-1 OH, ’23, Legacy
11. Kami Miner, 6-1 S, ’21, no club this year – Stanford

With Athletes Unlimited, college volleyball, club volleyball and even high school volleyball in some states happening simultaneously, experienced referees are at a premium. Veteran club coaches are noticing.

“The inexperience of these new refs is evident,” said KiVA’s Melissa Starck-Bean.

“The qualifier I went to the officiating was great,” said Dynasty coach Brian Tate. “Where I’m seeing weaker officiating is at our local tournaments. There are a lack of qualified officials for ‘Open’ level volleyball and our region is asking them to do everything by themselves (scorekeeping, up ref, down ref, lines); they haven’t been able to keep up in some of the older age groups.”

Sunshine VBC director Cari Klein also is the longtime head coach at powerhouse Marymount HS in Los Angeles. California is one of a handful of states that was supposed to be attempting to play girls high school volleyball outside of its normal fall schedule, but it does not appear there will be volleyball in the Golden State this school year, at least in the massive Southern Section, the largest of the state’s 10 sections. The season was supposed to start in December with a drop dead last regular-season match of March 10. Klein said that schools have yet to allow in-person instruction, volleyball teams have not been in gyms and even outdoor instruction is limited to two players, one ball. Under those circumstances, it is difficult to envision a season unless something were to change soon or the calendar were adjusted.

“There seems to be more of a focus on saving boys volleyball, which is a spring sport, because they lost their season last year,” Klein said.

Metro 15 Travel

Metro VBC of Washington D.C. turned MAPL Raleigh over the weekend into its own personal “Metro Invitational.” In the Black Division, for 17s and 18s teams and elite younger teams, Metro had teams finish first, second and tied for third. Metro 18 Travel edged Metro 16 Travel, 25-23, 25-23, in the semis before outlasting Metro 17 Travel in a three-set championship match.

“The 17s honestly should have won,” said club director and 18 Travel head coach Silvia Johnson. “They won Game 1 and were winning 18-15 in Game 2 when I called a protest and they lost momentum . They are a very solid team with six weapons and two good setters. It was their first loss of the season.”

Metro 15 Travel also played in the Black Division and more than held its own, going 4-1 with wins over two 16s team, one 17s team and one 18s team despite playing without its top middle.

“This is probably our most talented team as they mature,” Johnson said. “They have some kids that are Power 5 type of kids.”

Metro 14 Travel played in the Blue Division for 15- and 16-year-old teams and finished tied for 13th. Metro 13 Travel finished T-3 in the 13s and 14s division, the only 13s team to make the top 12.

• Fourteen years ago, St. James Academy of Lenexa, Kansas, played its first varsity competition and made the Kansas 4A finals. The Thunder had been in every state championship match (4A or 5A) since, with nine state titles, until 2020. Because of COVID-19, the KSHSAA reduced the state tournament to one day and cut the number of participating teams in half. St. James, which was 28-3, had to play eventual state champion St. Thomas Aquinas in districts instead of state and lost, 3-1, kind of a crappy way to end an impressive streak. Thanks COVID!

• Speaking of Kansas, KC Power and Dynasty, both expected to be top 10 16s teams when the rankings come out tomorrow, battled in power league yesterday. Power played without OH Reagan Fox. Dynasty was missing setter Ashley Mullen. Power prevailed, 25-18, 25-23. Dynasty also lost earlier in the day to PVA.

Kate Phillips

• On Friday, I put out a call to club coaches to share players on their team — not stars — who have most impressed them early in the season. Sharon Vanis, who coaches Aspire 16 UA Premier, said that person is 6-1 MB Kate Phillips, playing her first season with this core group.

“Kate has an incredible work ethic and is always willing to ask questions to perfect her skills,” Vanis said. “She is  an incredibly committed young lady and great teammate.”

Vanis added that M1 Ella Lomigora has been key in making Phillips a better player.

“I am so excited to have these two great middles on our team,” Vanis concluded.

• To start the 2020 club season, I ranked Sports Performance 15 Elite No. 25 nationally. SPVB 16 Elite was expected to be nationally competitive in 2021 but the club reported yesterday that, because of injuries, the team is being folded into SPVB 17 Premier.

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