Daily Dots (March 11, 2021): Club or high school volleyball factoids, notions and ideas to impress your friends (or not)
• In the pre-pandemic days, I’d be on a plane this morning, flying somewhere, to Indy perhaps for MEQ, where I would see Scott McQueen and Circle City Volleyball; or to Orlando for the Sunshine Classic, to stay with my sister (the doctor) on the best lake in the state. What I’m trying to say is, “It’s Qualifier Season!!!”
Yes, I know it’s been qualifier season for the 18s for some time, now that the accelerated time line for that age group seems to have become permanent; and the Northern Lights Qualifier introduced 17 Open in late January a few years back, even though it was a full month earlier than any qualifier in this age group ever before and some five months before the thing teams are trying to qualify for — Junior Nationals – actually happens; and, because of COVID, we are about two weeks late getting started this year…but it’s Qualifier Season!!!! This is what teams across the country have been working for. Time to show what ya got!
Can you tell I’m pumped?
• This weekend in Orlando, the Sunshine Volleyball Classic hosts 15s, 16s and 17s (along with a non-bid 18s tournament). This qualifier, which is owned by USA Volleyball, has been largely a regional gathering since its entry into the qualifier rotation a few years back (2014?). Originally called the “Disney Showcase,” Sunshine has experienced a surge in teams the past couple of years by virtue of moving up in the schedule. The 17 Open field in 2021 will have 40 teams, while 16 Open has 31 and 15 Open 29.
• National No. 1 A5 15-Bob headlines the 15 Open field, which will have five teams total in VolleyballMag.com’s national Top 25. No. 2 Legacy Adidas 16-1 is the highest of four ranked teams in 16 Open. No. 2 A5 17-Jing and No. 3 Houston Skyline 17 Royal are the highest of six ranked 17 Open teams.
• You want predictions, I know you do. So, even though I’m not yet fully immersed to do so credibly, your wish is my command.
In 15 Open, A5 lost twice last week at Bluegrass. Bob Westbrook’s team is motivated to atone. I say they dominate the field. Madfrog 15 Green and Metro 15 Travel also qualify.
In 16 Open, No. 2 Legacy has been waiting for this tournament. No team takes a set off of them over three days. Two unranked Florida teams, No Name VBC 16 Sarah and OTVA 16 J Will, also qualify. That’s right; I’m going there! Out on that limb!
17 Open looks primed for that A5/Houston Skyline championship matchup but “John likes to have his fun,” so I’ll predict that A5 gets there but faces off against OTVA 17 O Roberto in the final and OT comes away with the win. OTVA 17 T Jason pulls off a mild upset for the final bid. A5 and the two OTVA teams become the fourth through sixth teams to punch 17 Open Vegas tix, joining Premier Nebraska 17 Gold, Adversity 17 Adidas and Drive Nation 17 Red, which qualified at Northern Lights.
• Before I leave the Sunshine Classic, an observation and a pet peeve. First, the observation: in each of the Open fields, more than half of the teams come from Florida (understandable) and Texas (huh?) — 15 of 29 in 15 Open, 16 of 31 in 16 Open and 23 of 40 in 17 Open.
Now the pet peeve: I’m not well versed enough to comment about the seeding in the Open fields, but I can tell you that the pools need reviewing. In 15 Open, both Arizona entrants are in the same pool. In 16 Open, the two teams from Puerto Rico will play the first day. And, in 17 Open, one of the 10 pools has three Texas teams in it. This should NEVER be at a national qualifier with a large, fairly diverse field. Don’t believe me? Take a look at the Open pools at the Mideast Qualifier. No team will have a region rival in its opening day pool, which is how it should be!
• The Mideast Qualifier will take place on three consecutive weeks, starting tomorrow in Indy with the 15s and 16s. The 15 Open field will be full – 48 teams – while 16 Open will consist of 46 teams.
The 16s age group is the only one that will run three bid tournaments: Open, USA and American. In addition to the 46 signed up for 16 Open, there are 102 teams in the USA field, 128 teams in the American field and an additional 37 teams in a “Select” field, the latter not being a bid tournament but still one where participants can get a convention center experience. Add it up. That’s more than 300 teams in one age group. In other words, just like old times, except with masks and hand sanitizer…
• In case you need a refresher (I always do, at least once every year), national qualifiers award bids to the Junior National Championships in three divisions: Open, USA and American. For fields with 24 or more teams in Open and USA and greater than seven teams in American, the full number of bids will be awarded: three each in Open and USA and one in American.
There are two other divisions contested at Junior Nationals: National, where bids are awarded through the 40 USAV regions; and Patriot, which is open to any team which has the entry fee and a willingness to compete.
• The 15 Open field at MEQ is absolutely loaded, with eight Top 25 teams, headlined by No. 2 Dynasty 15 Black; and six more that just missed earning a ranking. The depth should make for a highly entertaining final two days in Indy. The 16 Open field isn’t quite as deep, with five Top 25 teams and eight more that just missed. National No. 1 KC Power 16-1 and No. 4 1st Alliance 16 Silver are the two highest rated teams.
• Prediction time! In 15 Open, Dynasty is destined to make a statement. Brian Tate’s team does just that, winning to stake its claim to the top of the rankings. Lions 15-1, now fully healthy, also qualifies, as does NKYVC, which proved its bona fides last week by winning Bluegrass.
In 16 Open, it’s hard to go against the No. 1 team. I say KC Power qualifies but does not win. Mike Stowell’s team instead finishes second to Drive Nation 16 Red. By winning, the Dallas-area club puts to rest the rumors that Texas teams are not very strong in this age group. Unranked Milwaukee Sting 16 Gold is my surprise pick as the third qualifier.
Incidentally, I’ve been picking qualifiers for more than 20 years. I have an uncanny track record in age divisions where I don’t know as much as I should before making picks. Let’s see if I can shake off the rust of a year away from the prognosticating biz and show off that magic 8-ball this weekend…
• X-factors — Here are some potential impact players — on teams not seeded to contend – at the Sunshine Classic.
MB Camryn Jeffery, a 13-year old with breathtaking athletic gifts; playing 16 Open for Lake Mary 16 Elite Sue
S/RS Raegan McGee, a fiery competitor with a deft touch and big arm on the right; playing 16 Open for ECVC Hurricanes 16-1
OH Ali Waldon, whose big effort at the Texas President’s Day Invitational signaled she is ready to break through; playing 16 Open for No Name VBC 16 Sarah
OH Ellie Jackson, who will need to dominate in six rotations, like she is capable of, on an injury-laden team; playing 17 Open for JJVA 17N Adis
OH Morgan Stephens, a consistent, feisty baller who always gives a solid effort; playing 15 USA for JJVA 15N John