Tawa’s Daily Dots, Bluegrass Style: Kentucky state nickname, the tourney, the stunners, and the champions

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Tawa's Daily Dots 3/8/2021
NKYVC 15 Tsunami

Daily Dots (March 8, 2021): Club or high school volleyball factoids, notions and ideas to impress your friends (or not)

In today’s Dots, we focus on the Adidas Bluegrass Tournament, Week 1, which took place in Louisville this past weekend. A total of 562 teams in the 15s-18s age groups descended on the Kentucky Expo Center for the Saturday-Sunday event, 24 of whom carried VolleyballMag.com top 25 national rankings with them. Bluegrass, Week 1, was the largest tournament nationally since the COVID-19 pandemic began a year ago.

“I have to say that this weekend went very smooth,” said KiVA founder and club director Ron Kordes. “Plenty of distance. Easy in and out.”

• KiVA started the Bluegrass Tournament in the mid-1990s at the suggestion of Tom Pingel, who ran Circle City at the time and was starting the Mideast Qualifier. Back when KiVA attended national qualifiers within the USA Volleyball structure, the tournament was called the “Bluegrass Pre-Qualifier,” and attracted elite teams, largely from the Midwest, that wanted to tune up before trying to qualify for the Junior Olympics. The tournament started with 90-100 teams and grew into a convention center-sized event a little more than a decade ago.

• Kentucky is known as “The Bluegrass State” because of the Kentucky Bluegrass found in many of its thoroughbred horse pastures. Kentucky Bluegrass is the most popular grass in North America, but Kentucky Bluegrass is neither blue nor did it originate in the state. Instead, the lush lawns are bright green and the grass actually is native to Europe, Asia and Northern Africa. It’s called “Bluegrass” because, when allowed to grow to its natural height of 2-3 feet, you’ll notice clusters of small blue flowers that blossom at the tops of the stems.

Muncie Samurai

• Ten teams ranked in VolleyballMag.com’s Top 25 for 18s teams entered the 36-team 18 Open field at Bluegrass. The tournament produced some upsets – CVC knocked off No. 3 A5 and The Academy Rage got by No. 17 Milwaukee Sting – but in the end, the highest-ranked team, No. 2 Munciana Samurai, prevailed by going 7-0 and losing only one set. The dropped set came in the semifinals versus No. 12 Union, a match that went to 15-13 in the third. Samurai dominated a traditional foe, Sports Performance 18 Elite, in the championship match.

“I felt like we were steady throughout the event, but always under fire from some very talented teams/athletes,” said Samurai coach Mike Lingenfelter.

Lingenfelter said that the team’s pins, Mabry Shaffmaster, Eva Hudson and Camryn Haworth, were very good, as were the back court of Ellee Stinson, Jenna Morey and Carly Mills.

“Our performance was truly a team effort seeing that we finished with a different setter, right side and second middle than we started the event with,” said Lingenfelter, who noted that he tried a lot of different combinations over the two-day event.

“Depth may be our greatest resource,” he added.

CVC 18 Black sent shockwaves through the 18 Open field when it recovered from a 25-11 Game 1 loss to No. 3 A5 18-Scott to win, 25-21, 18-16, in a Sunday morning challenge match. CVC won despite enduring a grueling three-set match with K2 18 Adidas Jota just one hour earlier while A5 watched.

At Bluegrass, only the top 12 teams are power pooled, meaning they can play the first pool without fear of being eliminated from contention. For everybody else, it’s win or else, something CVC coach Troy Dixon well knew.

“Our goal for Bluegrass was to go and compete at a high level,” he explained. “With the Power Pool format, if you don’t land in then, you have an uphill battle to get into the Gold.  I honestly wasn’t sure where we would end up. I know we had the ability; I just didn’t know if we could sustain a high level for long enough to compete with the top level teams.”

Dixon said his team had a terrific first day and weathered K2 to start Sunday, but came out flat in the first set versus A5.

“Between games, the girls were relaxed and calm, understanding that playing each point was all that was important,” Dixon said. “We were able to pull out Set 2 and headed into Set 3, where anything can happen. It was back and forth all set. Tied at 16s, a net call on A5 took it to 17-16.  The final point was a huge solo block by Margo Huff for the match!”

Dixon said that his middles, Huff (UNC Wilmington) and Brooke Cirigliano (Miami of Ohio), carried the team all weekend with timely kills and clutch blocks. Setter Mandy Leigh (Buffalo) also was a standout, as she always is, both in the way she leads and how she directs the court.

Dixon added that the atmosphere during the A5 match is something he’ll long remember.

“I understand this was just another match during a tournament; however, this was like old times, with multiple teams around the court and a crowd (by Covid terms) gathered…this is why kids play club, to have moments like this, to be the team people are watching and to have the chance to perform in front of others who appreciate the moment.  It was very cool!”

PGH Elite 18 Elite, led by Ohio State-bound setter Sarah White (who was “White’s out” ™), captured the title in the 18 Premier division.

“This weekend’s success was a great team effort and has been an accumulation of effort in many facets of their game over time,” said PGH head coach Melissa Myers. “Great competition has the potential to bring out the best in athletes and this team has steadily used each weekend of this season to learn and get better. Each athlete contributed in different ways at different points in this tournament and it was rewarding to see them come together, overcome, and persevere through a long day of play.”

Empowered OVC 18 Onyx roared through 18 Club without dropping a single set.

TriState 17

Tri-State Elite 17 Blue’s 17 Open win underscored the importance not only of being in a power pool, but being in the right one. Seeded fifth overall, Tri-State, which was listed as a “Team to Watch” outside our national Top 25, went through its first pool 3-0 (6-0). This allowed it to lose a Sunday challenge match, 15-13 in the third, to the overall No. 1 seed, VC United 171 Elite, and still advance to the quarterfinals. From there, the Ohio squad swept Munciana Pandas and won a semifinal thriller versus 1st Alliance 17 Silver, 23-25, 25-23, 19-17, before sweeping No. 15 Academy Volleyball Cleveland 17 Red for the title.

Tri-State club director Kelly Crowley said that he was able to watch the semifinals and finals.

“It was a great team effort with contribution from all 11 athletes throughout the weekend grind,” he observed. “I saw some big points won by RS Maggie Butkovich and MBs Gracie Reisman and Kate Hafer.”

Crowley added that setter Sophia Hudepohl, OHs Lucy Trump, MB Tessa Jones and defenders Cammy Niesen, Courtney Fitzgerald, Mackenzie Johnson and Sara Bates all contributed greatly to the win.

South Carolina’s Axis Elite 17 Korrinn made headlines with two wins over power pooled teams on its way to a T-5. The team won despite being without a starting middle and its coach, Presbyterian College head coach Korrinn Burgess.

• Two Alabama clubs, BVC 17-1 Haven and NASA South 17 Mellissa, won the 17 Premier and 17 Club divisions, respectively, with undefeated runs. BVC is coached by Shawn McLaughlin, who was a cornerstone coach for SA Magic before moving on to coach college at UAB.

A5 16 Gabe

A5 16-Gabe, at No. 5 the top-ranked team in the 16 Open field, overcame a shellacking at the hands of Union 16-1 UA in its very first match to capture the tournament. Gabe Aramian’s team won six straight matches, including five sweeps, to close the event, capped by a sweep of Elevation 16 Butcher in the championship match.

The Union loss forced A5, which won its next three matches, into an earlier-than-expected meeting with national No. 6 Adidas KiVA 16 Red.

“Even though we won our last meeting, we still felt as the underdog against this beastly team,” Aramian said. “But this is when we thrive and we won in two sets. From there, we were bound to Gold and rolling with a two-set win against an athletic AVC team and then a very, very good Elevation team in the finals.  Ultimately, when this team is in the spotlight, they’re very tough to beat.”

Aramian lauded OH Ashley Sturzoiu, who was virtually unstoppable in the Gold bracket. Libero Arya Jue also was stellar, as was middle Milana Thornton and setters Taylor Pecht and Katie Boney.

Other winners in this age group included Milwaukee Sting 16 Black (16 Premier division), A5 16 Stephen (16 Club Blue), Metro VBC 161 Allford (16 Club Black) and NIVA 16 Spark (16 Classic).

NKYVC 15-1 Tsunami stunned national No. 1 A5 15-Bob in its first 15 Open tournament match and survived losses to No. 13 K2 15 Adidas Jason and No. 9 Milwaukee Sting 15 Gold to win the 15 Open division. The northern Kentucky team defeated local rival Elevation 15 Chicas, from across the river in Cincinnati, in the championship match, 15-12 in the third.

“This championship was a whole team effort as we stayed true to our system and executed very well,” said NKYVC coach Tyler Collins. “Every player stepped up to do their job and went above and beyond to achieve team success.  The offense, executed by Abby Yoder, was very hard to stop with the big arms and aggressive swings by Julia Hunt in the middle and Alivia Skidmore and Lilly Gillespie on the pins.  Elizabeth Tabeling anchored a solid defense.  Our newcomers, Lilly Hamburg (MH) and Kaleigh Frietch (DS), brought energy and aggressiveness to the core of this team.  In the final two matches, the sound defense in the back row and the great blocking at the net limited locations of swings for the other teams’ hitters, which really was a game changer.”

The four club-level champions, Memphis VB Academy 15 Red (15 Premier division), A5 15-Victor (15 Club Blue), FaR Out 15 Red (15 Club Black) and A5 Chattanooga 15-Hanna (15 Classic) all won their respective divisions with undefeated runs.

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