Tawa’s Daily Dots: Tour of Texas in Round Rock, Roots plants the 17 Open field, birthday wishes to Spann

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Tawa's Daily Dots 3/9/2021-Roots 17 UA Green
Roots 17 UA Green

Daily Dots (March 9, 2021): Club or high school volleyball factoids, notions and ideas to impress your friends (or not)

Round Rock was the site of Texas volleyball over the weekend, which is weird because volleyball is usually played on flat surfaces. (Rim shot!) “These are the jokes, kid!”

It was the Tour of Texas: Stop #2 for the 18s and called the “Pre-Qualifying Stop” for the other age groups we cover. TAV 18 Black, Roots 17 UA Green, TAV 16 Black and Dallas Skyline 15 Royal came out on top in their respective age divisions. All were very competitive, with only 18 Black emerging without a loss.

• The Tour of Texas is described on its website as “an elite competition where the most elite teams from Texas compete in three cities around our great state in an effort to be crowned the best in Texas.”

The Tour started in 1990 and was driven in the early days by directors from Austin Juniors, Mid-Cities and Houston Juniors. It started, with only 16s and 18s age divisions, as a way to assure a higher level of competition in the Lone Star State. Soon, all of the best teams across Texas were competing.

The Tour started as a true tour, with 5-7 stops including a final. Now it’s just three stops, a qualifier, stop #2 and the finals. Only 24 teams in each age division compete in the final two events, including a dozen teams that are “pre-qualified” because of their placement in the year prior.

• In recent years, a few of the state’s prominent clubs have stopped competing in the Tour, which typically starts in January and ends in late February or early March. Some clubs have said that the NCAA’s move a few years ago to delay the start of college recruiting until President’s Day Weekend makes sacrificing the early competition that the Tour provides worth it to add another recruiting tournament or national qualifier later in the season for roughly the same cost.

• For the 13s-17s age groups, Tour of Texas Round Rock may be called a “Pre-Qualifying Stop,” but that’s just nomenclature. Round Rock had only 24 teams per age division and the final stop is the finals May 15-16. Confused? So am I.

TAV 15 Black coach LJ Sariego called 15 Open in Round Rock “a mess,” because everyone beat one another. The top six teams in the Tour faced off to determine seeding for the Tour final, no one escaped unscathed and three teams finished 3-2 overall.

TAV, ranked No. 6 nationally by VolleyballMag.com, was one of those teams and it didn’t sit well with Sariego.

“We were awful all weekend,” he said. “Passing and defense were about as poor as I’ve seen.”

Houston Juniors 15 Elite also finished 3-2. HJV coach Felipe Coronel thought that the 15s played several high-level matches.

“The pace of play was pretty exciting to be around this early in the year with teams heading on their flyaway tournaments,” he said. “I want to say there was a dominant team but I can’t. Everyone battled hard for their wins and there was no sure winner in any match, which is a great thing at 15s. Each team had several players who competed, were explosive, dynamic and played the game at an intense level. Sometimes you have to watch out for one player – not the case this weekend.”

National No. 18 Alamo 15 Premier checked in 3-2 as well. Coach Debbie Gonzales came away confident that several of the teams in the pool will represent well the state of Texas in national qualifiers and at Junior Nationals.

“I would have loved for my team to have come out 5-0, but on any given day we all can beat each other, just like what happened,” she said.

Alamo’s pins, Bella Rodriguez, Alyssa Walker, Grace Carroll and Kalina Calvillo, were really consistent in their productivity for Alamo, which got strong defense from Lola Davila and capable setting from Gabby Reeves. 

Dallas Skyline 15 Royal emerged from 15 Open with a pool-topping 4-1 record. Jon Rye’s team lost only to HJV (though it was a bad loss).

Rye said that he doesn’t have the most physical group, “but the girls play with a chip on their shoulder, plenty of attitude and confidence, and a ton of grit.”

OH Lauryn “Lolo” Lambert led the Skyline offense for the weekend, amassing twice the number of kills as the next Skyline hitter. The threat of Lambert and 6-1 OH Lauren Perry allowed the team’s middles, Shelby Burriss and Ashby Daniel, to both hit over .400 in Skyline’s win over TAV.  Lambert also led the team in passer rating for the tournament and had the most passing attempts.

“It’s nice when the player the other team wants to naturally serve the most is the player we want them to serve!” Rye exclaimed.

Libero Mckenna Brand and DS Lindsey Keith also had solid performances in the back row, “like they do each and every weekend,” Rye said.

Skyline heads to Orlando this weekend for the Sunshine Qualifier.

“My guess is we are predicted to finish fourth or fifth … but I know we can beat all the teams predicted to finish ahead of us,” Rye said.

• A sweep of national No. 9 Drive Nation 16 Red helped No. 19 TAV 16 Black win the 16 Open division with a 4-1 record, the same record Drive Nation finished with.

Both teams benefited by No. 8 Alamo 16 Premier being without its two best players because of COVID-related issues. Phil Jackson’s team struggled to a 1-4 mark without them.

Kendyl Stowers was outstanding playing six rotations for TAV. Hannah Pfiffner scored at will from the middle. Defenders Zoe Winford and McKenna Gildon passed and defended at a high level.

CeCe Gooch returns soon from her ACL tear in August, which will give the team another quality MB/RS at the net.

Dallas Skyline 16 Royal finished 3-2 to take third place.

“Honestly it was extremely ugly volleyball from everyone,” Skyline coach Ryan Mitchell said.  “Very close and intense, but not clean at all. It was more a weekend of who wanted to lose less not win more.”

“All six teams in the power pool have the goods to make waves in Open Gold, but will have to level out their consistency to win big on the last day of a tournament,” he added.

• The 17 Open division had three Top 25 teams in the six-team first pool, but none finished in first place. Those three teams, Dallas Skyline 17 Royal, TAV 17 Black and Houston Juniors 17 Elite, went a combined 8-7 and finished second, third and fourth, respectively, behind unheralded Roots 17 UA Green, which finished 4-1.

“This team performed as a unit – supporting each other when the matches got tight, and trusting one another to do their job,” said Roots head coach Jess Brannan. “I was most impressed with them taking the skills we are working on in practice and bringing them into competition. They have set some high goals, and are taking risks. They are fun to watch!”

Sadie Swift and Sam Wunch controlled the net and were offensive powerhouses for Roots, which twice went to three sets, a win over Skyline and a loss to TAV. Kennedi Bray’s all-around consistent performance and wicked serve put points on the board. Brooke Jefferey stood out both playing middle and as a six-rotation pin. The defense of Olivia Adair and Kate Alex made it tough for opponents to score. They really did play as a team!

I want to add that I was most impressed to learn why Brannan did not respond until this morning.

“I wanted to give the athletes a minute to weigh in prior to sending,” she explained. “They are a great group of young ladies and, being that it was International Women’s Day yesterday, I wanted to give them the opportunity to celebrate their success, and decide how they wanted to communicate about our team. It takes all 16 of us to make it happen on the court, and an army of supporters from families to club leadership.”

HJV coach Jeff Ham said that his team played inconsistently but got a nice win on Sunday over TAV.

“The top pool was just playing for seeding so it’s a really fun weekend,” he said. “I’m sure that the other three pools, with the top two of six in each pool pre-qualifying for next year’s Tour, probably had more drama.”

• National No. 1 and undefeated TAV 18 Black pulled off a shocker by winning the 18 Open division. Joe Jablonski’s team was tested, however, with three, five-set matches after losing only one set for the season before the weekend.

“We did not play great this weekend,” Jablonski said. “It was team effort to grind out the victories. We felt the other teams in the pool challenged us a ton to be better each set.”

Dallas Skyline 18 Royal finished second at 4-1, Houston Juniors 18 Elite was third at 3-2 and TAV Houston 18 Black, which boasts 6-4 high-scoring pin Megan Wilson, placed fourth at 2-3.

HJV head coach Kara Pratt was ecstatic about her team’s play, especially considering that Penn State-bound middle Erika Williams did not play and the team lost pin Eliana Posada in the Skyline match. Bailey Tillman was a rock star at libero for the team and players stepped up to play and play well in positions that they don’t usually play.

• Finally, we say “Happy Birthday” to AZ Storm Elite coach/director Terri Spann. She’s either beloved by the players in her club or they’re being forced to play nice, as evidenced by this 200-second birthday tribute.

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