Tawa’s Daily Dots: Competitive pools, strange qualifying rules and April Fools

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Tawa's Daily Dots 4/1/2021-Alliance Molten
Alliance Molten

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

• Hello and happy April Fool’s Day. My role in writing Daily Dots is both to inform and entertain. In that spirit, let’s talk about the origins of April Fool’s Day, because it’s such a  mystery to most and actually is a pretty cool story.

Back in the 11th century AD, in the days when everyone in Britain was god-fearing and cathedral building was commonplace, there were some who did not subscribe to the teachings of Christianity and instead were intent on praying to false gods. Many of these false gods were associated with the start of spring. The Latin word for god is “deus” and the Christians so mocked these folks for believing in anything but their one true God that they termed them “April Fools” while deriding their deus worship. Over time, April Fool’s Deus became the April Fool’s Day we celebrate today.

Today, let’s focus on the Northeast Qualifier, which opened its run in Philadelphia last weekend with the 18s age divisions.

I haven’t been to NEQ since its main location was in Baltimore, at the convention center nestled between the Inner Harbor and Camden Yards. I miss Baltimore as a qualifier city, because of all the attractions, but not that cramped convention center and the ridiculous requirement that spectators bring their own chairs. That led to the absurd parade-route atmosphere that had folks planting chairs courtside (and then two-deep and then three-deep, in the aisles) and leaving them there all day. There was no room to sit and no room to walk. It was so awful that I vowed never to go back and I haven’t since.

The convention center in the City of Brotherly Love, on the other hand, is spacious, I am told, and is a welcome change from the Baltimore days. Its location, across the street from Reading Terminal Market (which has Travel Channel’s National Sandwich of the Year – Roast Pork at DiNic’s — and my personal favorite — Peking Duck at Sang Kee Peking Duck House; get it with fried rice … so good!), is ideal and you can take the train there! Besides, Philly is just a great city. With the Museum District, Constitution Hall, cheese wiz, the Mutter Museum (creepy and fun) and so much else, there’s always something to do and eat! Plus, the city itself just has a great vibe!

• In the 18 American division, top-seeded Alliance 18 Molten emerged as champion from the 39-team field. The Tennessee squad went 9-0 and swept  Academy 18 Crystal in the final.

Alliance already had an American bid from the Southern Region, but wanted to earn that coveted national qualifier bid.

“The girls came in focused and determined to succeed and did,” head coach Rick Hess said. “They played great defense all weekend and their serve receive was good, which kept our offense in system a lot. As a team they were there for each other from the first play to the last.”

Expecting to compete at a high level and put itself in position to win, Alliance was only in jeopardy once. In the first round of the Gold bracket, the team lost Game 1 to SPORTIME 18 Gold and was forced into extra points in Game 2 before prevailing. Alliance won five straight sets thereafter to finish off strong.

“I feel we exceeded our expectations because we played some of the best volleyball as a team that we had played all year,” Hess said.

Asked who stepped up to make winning possible, Hess said it was hard to pinpoint any one person because winning required a team effort. The passing of Avery LePore and Anna Takahashi, setting from Jessie Huddleston and Sagaia Reilly and hitting of Olivia Jones and Charley Fulton were especially impactful.

Nova Juniors

• There was some excitement/bid confusion in 18 USA, where 32 teams competed for three bids. NOVA Juniors 18s Navy avoided the confusion by going 9-0 (18-0) to romp to the USA bid.

NOVA was seeded fourth overall but expected to win the title.

“We have been close all year and just kept falling short and had injuries or missed athletes and finally got it all together this weekend,” head coach Corey Verchio said. “We not only won; but we didn’t drop a set and honestly played pretty great all weekend.”

Verchio said that once NOVA handled VA Juniors 18 Elite on Day 2 (25-20, 25-16), he knew his team was headed in the right direction. On Day 3 his team was unstoppable and didn’t allow any team in the Gold bracket to score 20 or more points in any set.

“The tempo of our game was just scary good for most of the day on Sunday,” Verchio explained.

While Wyoming recruit Kayla Mazzocca proved adept at leading the team all weekend when it needed it most, every player on this team had 1-2 big matches to put the team over the top, Verchio said.

Vienna Elite

Vienna Elite 18-F lost one match each of the three days, but survived and advanced to be in bid position on Sunday, thanks to second-place finisher Southwest 18N TR already having earned a bid at the Ohio Valley Qualifier.

Vienna Elite had been disappointing in Regionals two weeks before and was using NEQ to show their competitive spirit.

“We ended up finishing third overall,” head coach Joshua Park said. “It’s every coaches dream to see your team playing to their full potential, especially against some of the best clubs in the east.”

The key to qualifying, Park said, was beating an amazing High Voltage 1517CollegePrep team in the first round of the Gold bracket. That allowed Vienna Elite to avoid the stress of fighting for that third bid. 

“We had huge kills from our OHs, Jenna Waters and Cassidy Perino, solid contributions from our MBs, Amanda Gore and Caroline Rich, and exceptional defense, led by our libero, Lindsey Hardesty,” Park said. “Mix in amazing setting from Kat Fong, service runs from Reagan Witkop and Piper Howell and timely kills from Felice Lagarde…we had an amazing Qualifier weekend.”

St. Pete 18 Teal

We touched on the confusion surrounding the third bid in a Dot earlier this week. Teams that lost in the quarterfinals remained in the running for the final bid. Those teams were Alliance 18 Ren, St. Pete 18 Teal and the VA Juniors and High Voltage teams we mentioned earlier.

Normally, you would expect teams to playoff in these situations, but none did. Alliance and VA Juniors already had USA bids and High Voltage, a 17s team, did not want one. So, St. Pete, welcome to Columbus!

Truth be told, St. Pete earned the right. The team started 5-0 at NEQ and ended up losing only to the teams that finished 1-2 in the tournament.

St. Pete head coach Joe Abad was excited to talk about his team’s journey to a bid. We are, too. So, we’re going to give him the stage and let him gush about his squad:

“Our St. Pete Volleyball Club 18 Teal team was excited to be going into the Northeast Qualifier, in Philadelphia, with an American Bid already in hand, and having the opportunity to play in the USA division for the added competition and opportunity to qualify in that division as well. We knew that a few teams in the 32-team division already had bids and knew that we had a great chance to earn one as well, ranked fifth going into the tournament.

“The first day of pool play went well for us, going 3-0 (6-0 in sets), behind a strong offense led by OH Kate Youmans (uncommitted) and OH Gracie Kiser (Lehigh). We knew we would be relying heavily on these two, as our starting RS Ella Sokolowski (uncommitted) would not be playing due to a knee injury. They did not disappoint; both averaged just over 5 kills per set.

“On the second day of pool play, we went 2-1 (4-3 in sets), losing our last match to eventual tournament runners-up, Southwest VBC. We pulled out a big win against Paramount Volleyball Club – again behind great offense from our outside hitters, MH Aubrey Geis (Otterbein), as well as amazing blocking at the net by MH Nadia Lewis (Indian River), and serving by our setters, Kyla Barker (uncommitted) and Alexandra Postlethwaite (Southeastern).

“We got off to a slow start against the eventual tournament champions, NOVA Juniors, on the last day in our Gold Quarterfinal match. We eventually made it competitive, although coming up short against this very talented team. We were obviously disappointed with the result at the time – as we thought we would have to at least get into the semifinals to receive a bid, but we walked away knowing that the entire weekend we played well as a team, showed some good fight and energy, and had the mentality of wanting to win, which I always tell the team is even more important than winning.

“About an hour after leaving the convention center and being at our hotel, we were receiving calls and messages that our team was being paged by the tournament desk and that we had in fact been awarded one of the three USA bids as the teams remaining in the semifinals either had bids or received one for making it to the semis.

“Overall it was a great weekend for us in Philadelphia – finishing 5-2 (losses to the tournament winner and runner up), we played some great teams, practiced for nationals at the end of April (as Philadelphia was our last tournament until Columbus), got to work on aspects of our game, and spend more time together as a team. The city had amazing weather, a great atmosphere, and the tournament was run very well with a lot of attention to the health and safety of the players, coaches, spectators, and staff involved.”

• National No. 1 TAV 18 Black remained unbeaten by rolling through the 18 Open division with a 9-0 (18-0) record. A supreme terminating team with great siding out ability, that continued unabated all weekend, head coach Joe Jablonski said.

Tribe 18 Elite Annika

Three teams emerged from 18 Open with bids, East Coast Power KOP 18 Royal, Tribe 18 Elite Annika and MD Juniors 18 Elite. For MD Juniors, I believe this is the first Open bid in club history.

• Despite our requests, we received a report only from Tribe as of press time. Hopefully, ECP and MD Juniors will tell us their qualifying stories at a later date so we can share them with you.

As for Tribe, the South Florida squad used big wins on Day 2 versus Triangle 18 Black and previously-qualified A5 18 Boba to springboard their bid run.

“The key moment for us this weekend was our win against Triangle,” head coach Annika Barnwell said. “It was a competitive dogfight to come out second in our pool on that second day. Ironically, in our huddles, I was trying to motivate the girls to play for every point as if it were for a bid. Little did I know, we really were!!”

“Not to sound cliché, but EVERY player stepped up to reach our goal,” Barnwell continued. “From day 1 of our season, I’ve been reminding the girls that we win as a team and we lose as a team and we won a bid as a result. Whether on the court or on the sideline, every person plays a vital role in our success as a team. And every player performed their role well. Players on the court consistently played with relentless effort and when players were not on the court, they were motivating, communicated well and helped to fuel the energy of the six players on the court. It feels good to know that every player played a vital part in our team securing a bid. We won a freaking bid!”

• Yesterday, we wrote about the Lone Star Classic, but didn’t say much about 18 American, because we were waiting on a report from champion CC Force 181 Crossfire. We received one this morning from club director Crystal Lyne.

“Qualifying felt so good as this is a first-year team just playing out their senior year,” Lyne said. “The players all have different mindsets, background training and, most of all, different locations as they come from various cities.”

The team also had three, Sara Lyne, Kandice Rowe and Payton Sanders, who played up on a CC Crossfire team that I first saw dominate 15 USA at Lone Star in 2017. That Crossfire team made the 15 National final at Junior Nationals that year in Minneapolis.

“Our expectations were high coming into the weekend, especially when we received the second seed overall,” Lyne explained. “Even the girls were excited and expected a lot of themselves. The team did not peak until Day 3…and played lights out.  Every player complimented each other and they truly played as a team. Ana Cerda and Kaylin Kirby came on strong to complete the mission!”

• There are four national qualifiers this weekend: the Northeast Qualifier continues in Philly with 13 Open, 15 USA and 15 American; Lone Star continues with 11s and 12s in Grapevine, Texas; Show Me debuts in KC with the 18s as well as 11s through 14s; and Big South convenes in Atlanta for three days in all age groups at the massive Georgia World Congress Center.

Here are the nationally-ranked teams at the various qualifiers:

Show Me – 18 Open
No. 7 MAVS KC 18-1
No. 14 Mizuno Northern Lights 18-1
No. 29 KC Power 18-1

Big South – 18 Open
No. 8 A5 18-1 Scott
No. 9 Houston Skyline 18 Royal
No. 18 Coast 18-1
No. 20 Mintonette m.81
No. 26 Club V 18 Ren Reed
No. 28 Metro 18 Travel

Big South – 17 Open
No. 2 A5 17-Jing
No. 8 Madfrog 17 National Green
No. 9 Circle City 17 Purple
No. 15 Academy Volleyball Cleveland Rox 17 Red
No. 18 OTVA 17 O Roberto
No. 22 WAVE 17 Rachel
No. 24 OTVA 17 T Jason
No. 25 Houston Juniors 17 Elite

Big South – 16 Open
No. 2 Legacy Adidas 16-1
No. 3 WAVE 16 Alfee
No. 5 A5 16 Gabe
No. 7 Tstreet 16 Curtis
No. 9 Drive Nation 16 Red
No. 21 Woodlands Revolution 16 Premier
No. 25 High Tide 16 Elite

Big South – 15 Open
No. 1 A5 15 Bob
No. 2 Dynasty 15 Black
No. 3 WAVE 15 Juliana
No. 5 Madfrog 15 National Green
No. 19 Houston Skyline 15 Royal
No. 22 Metro 15 Travel

• Where there are Open competitions in age groups we cover, there are my fantastic, awful, spot on, dreadful, pre-tournament predictions to cheer and jeer!

At Show Me, the 18 Open field has only 13 teams, with just two, MAVS KC and TAV Houston 18 Black, already with bids. The size of the means that only two Open bids will be conferred here (unless three teams that originally signed up, dropped, in which case there would be three). We’re going to assume just two and share that, while Northern Lights and KC Power appear to be favorites to capture those spots, to expect some surprises in Kansas City. The field may be small, but it’s pretty strong 1-13.

I like MAVS to win it all – they are that good – and, ultimately, I’ll go with Lights and Power to take the bids. But DO NOT be surprised if PVA 18 Elite, Front Range 18-1, Pohaku 18-1 and Shockwave 18 Adidas Scott have something to say about it.

At Big South, the 18 Open field is filled with 31 teams, several making their last ditch effort to earn that elusive Open bid. Eight teams come to Atlanta with Open bids in their pockets, so fewer than the maximum three bids might be allocated given that bids will not trickle beyond eight places.

Looking at the field, it is impossible for me to believe that Coast will not get it done here; that team is just too talented. I predict Ozhan Bahrambeygui’s squad reaches the final before losing to champion A5 Scott. I also predict that only two teams emerge with bids here. The field is just too talented at the top. The second team will be Rockwood Thunder 18 Elite. The St. Louis-area squad survives and advances for three days, losing once each day, but manages to find its way into the top eight and clinch its Open berth.

The 17 Open field at Big South is massive – 55 teams – with three, A5, Madfrog and Metro 17 Travel, already with bids in hand. The field size seems to exceed the iron-clad 48-team limit set forth in the Championship Manual, but Big South Tournament Director Lauri Dagostino said that things are different this year because of COVID.

“We applied early for consideration, presented new formats to be approved, because we filled within a week for those divisions,” she said. “Since there were so many questions as to which events might actually even be able to take place, they granted our request.”

Anyway, I like Circle City to qualify AND win it all. HJV steps up to get the second bid with the third going to OT Jason, a squad people are sleeping on.

The 16 Open field at Big South also is massive, with 54 teams, and has four, Legacy, A5, Drive Nation and Houston Juniors 16 Elite, already with bids. Who wins? I’m going with WAVE to bid and win. This team is ready to make its statement and this will be the weekend. The other two bid winners will be…gosh there is so much talent in this field…Tstreet and Woodlands Revolution, which will use a 3-0 (6-0) first day as a springboard to a great weekend.

The 15 Open field at Big South is a more typical 36 teams and has four that have already qualified: A5, Dynasty, Madfrog and OTVA 15 T Randy. I really don’t yet know these teams, which makes picking treacherous. I’ll take the Frogs to win, with WAVE, OT Isaac and HJV finding their way to bids.

• I’m off now for a six-hour drive to Pullman, Washington. I finally get to see my son, who plays baseball at Stanford, live and in person this year! Oh, and about that April Fool’s Day story in the first Dot … April Fools!


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