Daily Dots (March 31, 2021): Club or high school volleyball factoids, notions and ideas to impress your friends (or not)

Today, let’s focus on the adidas Lone Star Classic, which featured the 18s last week competing in Houston.

First, yes the first “a” in adidas is lower case. As much as it feels wrong to type it like that, it’s part of the company’s brand identity, so lower case it is!

Tstreet Kasia

Second, let’s talk about Tstreet 18-Kasia, which won the 18 Open division one week after placing second in 18 Open at Crossroads in Northern Colorado. Tstreet, which is based in Orange County, California, opted for Lone Star over the Las Vegas Red Rock Rave, where many of its SCVA rivals went.

I understand why.

Pappasito’s Cantina.

SoCal has great Mexican/TexMex food, but it does not have Pappasito’s. The beef fajitas, cooked medium rare; with a marinated grilled quail on the site. OMG! It’s pricey, but there is nothing quite like it. For those who have never experienced it, make a note. You will not be disappointed.

• Tstreet bested 21 other teams to win 18 Open in Houston. It went 9-0 and defeated two of the other three previously-qualified teams, Houston Skyline 18 Royal in Gold pool play in three; and SA Juniors 18 adidas in the finals in two.

“One of our main goals was to play ‘our collective A-game,’ because that’s what it takes to win tournaments at this level,” club spokesperson Carson Tanner noted. “We’re really confident that our A-game is the best in the country. So if we focus on us, execute to our potential, we feel like we’re going to win every match.”

Tstreet had several standouts over the three-day event, which saw it lose just two sets. OH Elyse Stowell was really strong siding out and scoring in transition and her serve receive was very consistent. Jesse Smith and Lauren Bays were amazing on the defensive end, Katie Smith blocked and attacked well and boosted the team with strong serving runs and by making some plays defensively. Setter Rachel Fairbanks also stood out.

“She’s one of the leaders on the team and she played terrific,” Tanner said. “When she’s on her game you’ll be hard pressed to find a setter who can locate, dig, and block like her. She’s really a special player.”

• SA Juniors and Houston Skyline, which both qualified at AVC Dallas, placed second and third, respectively, meaning that the fourth-place finisher would receive the first bid. That went to Club V 18 Ren Reed. Club V went to Houston one week after compiling a 2-5 record at Crossroads, with full-match wins only over Hive 18 Gold and 915 United 18 Gilbert.

In Houston, Club V won two matches on the first two. The second win, versus Florida National Qualifier champion AZ Storm Elite 18 Thunder, prevented Club V from being eliminated on Day 1 and set the tone for Reed Carlson’s team to qualify. Club V, which finished first in the three-way 2-1 analysis (Madfrog 18 National Green was eliminated), romped to the Gold pools with a 3-0 (6-0) second day and then did the almost unthinkable: swept Storm for the second time in three days to clinch its bid.

“We went in to the qualifier having had a rough weekend in Denver,” Carlson explained. “A few players decided not to finish out the season for different reasons.  It solidified the roles of those in Houston and it turned out to be the weekend we were expecting going in to Denver.  We had to make some simple adjustments offensively and defensively; but, when we did, the team came alive.  Obviously, beating AZ Storm twice was a huge highlight for us, as it would be for anyone. Truth be told it was a total team effort, where EVERYONE played lights out… Super proud of them.”

• Full disclosure: I wrote the Club V story that way because I wanted to point out the TWO wins over AZ Storm. The reality, however, is that Club V qualified on Saturday after its strong Day 2 pool. With only 22 teams to start, only 12 teams remained in contention for bids after the first day. That number was just six after the second, and four of those teams already had bids – Tstreet, SA Juniors, Houston Skyline and AZ Storm. If you made it to the Gold pools on Sunday, you earned your bid on Saturday. That was true of Club V and it also was true of the other bid-seeking team that made the final six: TAV Houston 18 Black.

TAV Houston was one of a handful of teams that looked at the field and had to believe that, if the cards played out in a certain way, it would be in position to emerge with an Open ticket to Columbus. After all, few teams in the field had a hammer like TAV Houston did in 6-4 Oklahoma signee Megan Wilson.

“We were expecting high level competition,” head coach Brooke Carley said. “We knew each opponent would have a unique set of challenges for us to adapt to. We were ready to face those challenges.”

TAV Houston entered the tournament seeded 15th overall, but its path looked promising. Sure, Tstreet was its first opponent (a 25-17, 25-19 loss), but the team felt good about its chances versus Club Cactus 18-Mizuno, the pool’s fourth seed; and second-seeded Austin Skyline 18 Royal, a team it had already beaten at the Tour of Texas. Both matches were competitive, but TAV Houston prevailed in each and was on its way.

On Day 2, TAV Houston was the last seed in Pool 1 and knew that its first match, versus Austin Juniors 18 Mizuno, would be critical to its fortunes. TAV Houston won that match, 26-24, 25-23.

That sweep, it turned out virtually guaranteed a bid for TAV Houston the way the rest of the set played out. TAV Houston went into its final match of the day with a 1-1 record, but able to clinch advancement by winning just one set versus Houston Skyline 18 Black. TAV Houston did even better, sweeping both sets to clinch with momentum.

“We exceeded our expectations because, not only did we improve our level of play from our last tournament, we improved between each match during pool play,” Carley said. “Each one of our players did a phenomenal job stepping into the various roles they were given throughout the tournament. Overall, our setter, Piper (Boydstun), played a huge part in reaching our goal. She led our offense and team confidently.”

• There is still the matter of that third bid. Lone Star is one of the rare qualifiers where an Open bid does not come from the Day 3 Gold pools. Had I been covering the event, my focus that morning would have been on Flight 1, because those were the matches with dramatic implications. There were six teams in the Flight 1 bracket, but ONLY ONE could walk away with an Open berth.

That turned out to be nationally-ranked Dallas Skyline 18 Royal.

As smooth as TAV Houston’s path to a bid was, it was just that rough for Dallas Skyline, thanks to Club V’s opening day win over AZ Storm. It put three nationally-ranked teams in the same Day 2 pool, with only two able to advance to the Gold pools. Dallas Skyline lost tough matches to the other two ranked teams, Houston Skyline and AZ Storm (15-13 in the third), and, at 1-2, needed Tstreet to finish top two in its pool, to remain alive for a bid. Tstreet obliged and Dallas Skyline went into Sunday knowing it would need three wins to reach its goal. Skyline started its quest with a three-set win over Houston Stellar, then swept Austin Juniors for the second time in three days before dominating Excel 18 National Red in two for the bid.

Dallas Skyline head coach Robert Brown reported that the team’s lone goal was to bid at Lone Star and that the team achieved its goal when Nikki Steinheiser, McKenzie Johnson, Lexie Collins, and Shaylee Shore stepped up their play.

• Before we move to 18 USA in Houston, I want to include something I first ran two weeks ago today, with slight modifications.

“It has been an absolute blast these past nine weeks being with VolleyballMag.com and writing about and promoting club volleyball and its hard-working players. I hope to continue doing so into April and beyond but need your help.

You see, Lee Feinswog and Ed Chan, who own VolleyballMag.com, aren’t prepared to bring on a full-time reporter. They very much want to, but exist on advertising revenue and funds generated from their Sustaining Membership drive, which enables them to run the website and cover the sport.

They didn’t count on me, however. So …

I do not have the luxury of working for free. I don’t need to be rich; but I do need “just enough,” or else continuing to work for VolleyballMag.com beyond next month may not be possible.

Will you support me in this endeavor?

When you put content behind a paywall, like we did at PrepVolleyball.com – the company I founded in 2003 — most people feel like they have no choice but to subscribe. When you make it free, and ask for voluntary contributions, 98% of people simply look the other way.

I am asking you not to look the other way.

Please, please, please support what I am doing by sending a Venmo donation (good for the year) in the amount of your choice (suggest $10-$20) to “VolleyballMag.” Just be sure to put “Tawa” in the description.

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Houston Juniors Premier

• The 46-team 18 USA division went five places deep before identifying its three bid recipients. They turned out to be runner up Houston Juniors 18 Premier, Austin Performance 18 Adidas and Instinct 18 Wild Gold, all Texas-based teams. The victor, Texas Pistols 18 Black, also was from Texas, as was third-place finisher Texas Image 18 Black, which qualified at Crossroads.

Instinct Wild Gold

Texas Pistols, which qualified by tying for third at MEQ with an 8-1 record; went one better by going 9-0 in Houston. The team, which was seeded first to start, dropped just two sets, one to Spiral 18 Tee on the first day and one to Image in a tight semifinal.

“18 Black expected to win,” the club said. “We started 1 and wanted to come out #1 and winning the Gold Ball.”

Head coach Janine Smith said that a three-set loss to MEQ champion Upward Stars 18 Corey in the semis in Louisville gave Pistols a laser focus to finish this weekend.

The club said that achieving its goal was a complete team effort, led by exceptional floor defense and dominance at the net from Kyndal Payne, Leah Stolfus, Bryley Steinhilber, and Taylor Thomas.

• HJV 18 Premier finished second to snag one bid. The team dropped from the Open division to USA and went into the tournament with high expectations. Head coach Stephen Gbur said that being seeded ninth to start was surprising and gave the team extra motivation.

HJV dominated its first pool but was shocked by TAV Fort Worth 18 Royal to open Day 2 play.

“We needed to sweep our next two matches to guarantee we still won our pool or we would have met Texas Pistols in the quarterfinals instead of the finals,” Gbur noted.

HJV swept those two matches and two after that to, first, clinch its bid and, next, make the championship match, where it lost in two to the Texas Pistols.

Three players stepped up their play to help HJV earn that bid.

Perris Key (UTRG) was huge and played both the pin and in the middle for us,” Gbur said. “Sadie McKay (USC-Akin) took on a bigger than normal offensive role and really excelled! Lexi Jones (HBU) took on her job of six-rotation OH and cracked the ball all weekend!”

• AP lost its final two matches of the tournament, but winning its first seven ensured that it would be playing in Columbus.

“I expected for us to compete at a high level with some high quality teams,” head coach Matthew Cisneros said. “I thought our path provided us with a good opportunity to get our bid. We knew it was going to be difficult but attainable.”

Cisneros added that playing the Tour of Texas, where AP secured wins over the likes of Open-qualified Houston Juniors 18 Elite and USA-qualified TAV 18 Blue, told him that his team had what it took to qualify for Junior Nationals if it could channel that same energy.

“We did what I knew we were capable of,” Cisneros concluded. “It was just a matter of bringing our energy and executing our systems at a high level.”

“We really had everyone step up,” he added. “Genevieve Perry and Kaitlin Davis might the two that stood out the most. Genevieve was a force at the net and Kaitlin, who has been primarily a DS in years’ past, has stepped up and played OH for us this season and hit at very good efficiency this weekend.

A quarterfinal loss to Austin Performance left Instinct vying with two other teams, CJV 18 Ralph and 18 Kaos Black, for the final USA bid. Instinct got the bye into the bid match and watched as Kaos got by the team from Carolina, 27-25, 19-25, 15-11. Instinct then won, 25-22, 25-23, to capture the final golden ticket to Columbus.

Instinct coach Cilene Drewnick said she believed that the loss to AP had cratered her team’s chances to qualify at Lone Star, but that the team rallied after learning they had a chance for a trickle down bid to fifth place.

“It was a team success, with everyone doing their best,” she said. “Brooke [Nichols] was exceptional in her set distribution and leadership. Our middles, Ava Grace Haggard (Baylor commit) and ‘Hutch’ [Hailey Hutchings], did a great job and were very disciplined. Trinity Vinzant and Emma Simpson, our six-rotation outsides, played their best, passing 6 rotations, and scoring as we needed it. Harper McDonald and Sadie Washburn had great moments. Xuan Nguyen, who is a setter, played as DS/libero, and really helped the team, picking up some great digs and excellent serves. So, too, Cameron Boyd.”

• Finally, we turn our focus, ever so briefly, to 18 American, where Corpus Christi Force 181 Crossfire finished off a 10-0 weekend by edging San Antonio Force 181 Darkside to win the lone bid emanating from the 68-team division. The two teams are part of the same Force family after a merger a few years ago.

I wish I could give you a report, but my efforts to reach club director Crystal Lyne have not yet born fruit and I tried to make contact two different ways. Lyne is usually a faithful responder, so fault probably lies with me. As with all the others, CC Force is invited to tell me its qualifying story at any time, so that I can, in turn, tell you.

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