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Tawa’s Daily Dots: Sunshine rays-es the roof, OT does extra work, Drive Nation tees up another qualifying effort

Daily Dots (April 7, 2021): Club or high school volleyball factoids, notions and ideas to impress your friends (or not)

• “Go Big or go home” I always say, which is why we’ll start recapping what happened last week with the Atlanta Big South qualifier, which describes itself as “The Nation’s largest girl’s qualifier held over a single weekend.”

And big it was! A total of 1,474 teams invaded the Georgia World Congress Center last weekend across eight different age groups and 26 different divisions. The tournament used all three buildings at the massive GWCC: 13 halls, 199 courts, 1.5 million square feet.

This morning, as a separate story — — I posted a “Rapid Read” about how TK 18 Legends won 18 American. The story is/was so compelling that it deserved more than a Dot’s worth of words. Check it out!

• The 18 Open division at Big South had 31 teams, six boasting national rankings; eight with Open bids already. So how did unranked, bid-seeking Sunshine 18 South Bay win it all? And with two losses, no less?

“The longer the tournament got the better this team played,” Sunshine’s Kyle Weindel noted.

Sunshine lost a match on each of the first two days and advanced to the Gold pools based on set percentage. After that, the team went 4-0 (8-0), including sweeps of national No. 18 Coast 18-1 in pool play the last day and No. 9 Houston Skyline 18 Royal in the championship match.

“Sweeping Coast and Skyline is no easy task for anyone,” Weindel said. “Both of those teams are incredibly talented and loaded.”

The qualifier win was the first for this core group, which has been together since age 11; and the first earned bid in an Open qualifier (they received an At-Large bid as 16s).

“Winning this tournament to me shows that this team had some unfinished business and lots to prove to not only themselves but to others,” Weindel said. “They belong!  They proved that they should be in the discussions for one of the top teams in 18 Open.”

One week earlier, the attitude of this team was entirely different. 18 South Bay was in Vegas for Red Rock Race and tied for 11th in a field that wasn’t nearly as strong.

“Sunshine South Bay was very disappointed after their performance in Las Vegas,” club director Cari Klein noted. “They worked hard to improve their game on the two days off.  The showed up in a big way with their serve and pass game. The passers, Carly Condon, Nicole Underwood, Caroline Altergott and Bella LeSage, were solid and passed over 2.4.  The servers were serving up aces and putting pressure on the other team.  Setter Ashley Cudiamat had 10 aces in the last day of pool play. 

“All season, we were working to involve the middles and, this weekend, Kristen Erland and Jesse Szymanski were blocking and attacking.  The offense by Amanda Burns was nonstop all weekend from the right side.”

Weindel also stressed passing as the key to 18 South Bay’s unexpected win.

“This group are really the unsung ‘heroes’ because of their ability to keep this team in system in serve receive as well as keeping the team in rallies in transitions,” he said. “Libero is often a thankless position, but, combined, LeSage and Condon, share in much of this teams’ success because of their ball control.  Altergott  carries such a heavy load (passing, defense, blocking and kills) for this team. She is always a consistent passer, but was challenged to raise her level of play after Red Rock Rave.  Jessica Majka, who only plays part time along with Underwood, had some huge kills in the crossover round.  She was able to score points in some precarious positions when the team desperately needed to side out, or score big points in transition.” 

ECVC 18s

• Coast and East Coast Volleyball Club Hurricanes 18 Black were the other 18 Open bid recipients, placing fourth and fifth, respectively, behind second-place Houston Skyline and third place A5 18 Scott, both of which had previously qualified.

Coast, which usually qualifies first time out no sweat, earned its bid in its third qualifier of the season.

“We are a team that is still finding our lineup,” Coast director and 18s coach Ozhan Bahrambeygui said.

Coast earned its bid despite a 2-3 finish, which included a loss to Sunshine 18 South Bay, a team it swept locally in the Premier Volleyball League.

Abby Tadder’s hitting and blocking were exceptional for Coast in Atlanta. Sarah Schrag was brilliant on the defensive end, setters Rocky Aguirre and Molly Wilson made great strides to hone in the offense and lefty Mckenna Branson got just healthy enough for her to resume being a  stabilizing force for the team.”

ECVC, from Virginia Beach, became only the second team from the Old Dominion Region ever to qualify for Open. The first was ECVC’s 16s from two years ago at Windy City.

ECVC came to Atlanta with qualifying in mind.

“We knew there was a good chance to qualify if we played well,” club director Craig Dooren said. “Unfortunately, half the Open qualifiers did not reach Round 3, forcing a very difficult situation.”

ECVC itself almost missed making it to the Gold pools. The team was 1-2 on Saturday and needed a set percentage tiebreaker win to advance. ECVC lost to the other two qualified teams in Gold, but edged previously-qualified Top Select 18 Elite Blue, 15-13 in the third, to set up a “for the bid” match with Rockwood Thunder 18 Elite. ECVC won that match, 25-20, 25-23.

Chloe Dupuis (ETSU) and Michelle Urquhart (Tulane), two of the four remaining from the 16s qualifying team, led the team in kills. Hayes Smith played her strongest game at setter against Rockwood.

Here is video of the winning point and the celebration that ensued:

• The 17 Open division at Big South was massive – 55 teams – with eight nationally-ranked teams, three with bids in hand. Previous bid winners Madfrog 17 National Green and Metro 17 Travel took second and fourth, respectively, meaning there was a trickle to fifth place.

Circle City 17

Circle City 17 Purple finished fifth, besting three other teams, AVC CLE Rox 17 Red, Houston Skyline 17 Black and Rockwood Thunder 17 Elite in the trickle-down bracket.

Circle’s qualification was no fluke. The Indianapolis squad, ranked ninth nationally, lost just once all weekend, to the eventual champion, but it was enough to force them into two do-or-die matches.

“I had high expectations going into the weekend with two solid weeks of preparation,” coach Makayla Ferguson said. “We were able to fully match those expectations by starting the first two days extremely strong and playing some of the best volleyball I have seen the girls play so far this year.  We were able to pull out of a minor slump on Sunday morning and officially qualify in our last match of the day against a really strong Rockwood Thunder team.”

Ferguson said the key moment of the tourney was taking the first set, 25-14, against Rockwood.

“The girls were motivated more than ever in our huddle, knowing that they had to fight one more set to finish the job and get their bid to Nationals,” she explained.

Key contributors for Circle City included libero Cadence Notter, whose serve receive was consistent and kept the team in system in nearly all possessions and whose defense left no open court for the opponents.  OH Chloe Chicoine played her complete, high-level game all weekend and setter Grace Reynolds ran the offense beautifully, kept opponents guessing and her team firing on all cylinders all tournament long.

WAVE 17 Rachel

WAVE 17 Rachel qualified in third place with a 9-1 record. The San Diego-area squad earned its bid by starting 8-0 and winning its Gold pool. With two other Gold pool winners with bids in hand, the other two, WAVE included, automatically qualified.

Head coach Rachel Morris said that her team, ranked No. 22 nationally, was motivated by seeding coming into Big South.

“We were mis-seeded in my mind, coming in at 23, so my girls definitely felt like they had something to prove,” she said.

The key win came over Academy Cleveland in its Gold pool. WAVE needed just one set win over A5 17-Jing to clinch first and a bid and went one better, winning that match in three sets.

Morris said that so many kids played MASSIVE roles (her emphasis) all weekend long.

“In all honesty, this was FULL team effort,” she added. “It is hard for me to not mention every one of my 13 kids. Everyone stepped in at any given time and did more than just contribute. I had athletes called upon to do things they had never done before and they did it with flying colors. I had middles come in and bomb serves for big leads against great teams. I had attackers come in to block balls and do it with bells on. Every single kid did not one, but many, things great this weekend to get us to where we were.

“But, since I know you want me to actually name people, here ya go: Day 1, Jillian Aasand (setter), had to fill some big shoes with Brooklyn Burns, our 5-1 setter, unable to play because of food poisoning. Jillian just recently came to our team from our 2s team, and has never competed at this level before. She 100% led us to a 3-0 start to the tournament, upsetting the 6-seed overall at the end of the day. She was later called upon to serve for match point and play defense against some big teams and absolutely crushed it!

“RS Avry Tatum was a HUGE key to our success this weekend as well. She was attacking from everywhere, left side, right side, running slides, 3s and hitting out of the back row, with force. OH Gabby McLaughlin was another big contributor. Defensively and offensively she was so steady and kept us in system and helped us out when we were out of system. She somehow was jumping higher and hitting harder the further we went in the tournament. The kid was like the Energizer Bunny. She could not be stopped. Lastly, Brooklyn Burns, MB Claire Deller, DS London Haberfield  and libero Anna Pringle have to be mentioned. Avry, Gabby, Claire, London and Anna played every single set of the weekend. Without any one of them, we would not have been as successful. They helped us when we were without Brooklyn mentally and physically. They all stepped up as leaders, and they helped us stay steady through the entire tournament.”

OTVA 17 T Jason

• OTVA 17 T Jason, ranked 24th nationally, went 10-0 as the tournament’s fourth overall seed, to win the title and the bid. The team was pushed to three sets just twice, by AVC and Legacy 17-1 Adidas, before clinching.

Head coach Jason Partington said that his team, which previously tied for fifth at the Sunshine Classic qualifier, had three expectations going into Big South: “To continue to play at a high level, finish higher then Sunshine and earn a bid to JOs.”

The team did all those things and more, closing with wins over No. 9 Circle City, previously qualified Metro and No. 8 Madfrog to take home the title.  

“Only a total team effort by every player on this team helped us achieve our goals,” Partington said.

• Big South’s 16 Open division also was massive, with 54 teams participating. Seven teams had national rankings, five in the top ten:

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

Here’s how those teams finished: previously-qualified Drive Nation finished first; previously-qualified Legacy placed second; Tstreet qualified third; WAVE qualified fifth; and A5 went 7-1 but lost the wrong match and placed eighth.

Drive Nation went 10-0 and dropped just one set on its way to double qualifying. Jason Nicholson’s team placed third earlier at the Mideast Qualifier.

Nicholson said he was feeling good about how his team was playing heading into Atlanta but knew there were going to be many contenders.

“The pool of teams was very deep and I was hoping to make it to the gold pools and see what happens,” he explained.

Rockwood Thunder 16 Elite pushed Drive Nation to three sets on Day 2, but the team otherwise swept into the Gold pools.

“Once we hit the Gold pools, I feel like we hit our stride and our ball control was very consistent, allowing us to be in system and play great volleyball on Sunday,” Nicholson said. “I am excited about the way they performed and pulled through.  We had every excuse to be exhausted after officiating three times and playing in our fourth match of the day on Sunday, but their energy and focus was great.”

The sweep of Legacy in the championship match was particularly impressive. MB Reese Robbins and Leah Ford, RS Sam Hoppes and OH Halle Schroder combined for 34 kills in the win, meaning Drive Nation was earning its points with kills. Setters Lily Nicholson and Miller McDonald combined to average 15 assists per set and Lauryn Hill and Landry McEchern anchored the defensive efforts with 17 digs between them.

• Tstreet, Top Select 16 Elite Blue and WAVE took home the three bids, placing third, fourth and fifth, respectively.

Tstreet played shorthanded due to injury to its outsides, but survived and advanced for the first two days before playing its best ball on Sunday. Libero Koko Kirsch, an incredible all-around player, played six rotations as an outside for Tstreet in its win over Top Select for the bronze.

“I was really proud of the team for stepping up shorthanded and taking care of business,” coach Curtis Yoder said..

Yoder said two key moments sparked the team’s qualification. The first came versus Rockwood Thunder in a Saturday match to get to the Gold pools.

“We had already played a full pool that morning, and the challenge match to stay in gold was at 8pm,” he explained. “With all that down time in between, we had to make sure to rest and stay in the right mindset for nearly six hours. We came out sharp against Rockwood and took them down in straight sets. Sidney Shaffer had a huge match, with seven kills, zero errors, and a handful of timely blocks.”

Tstreet then defeated WAVE in their Gold pool to get to the semis. The team had to rally from down 14-12 in the third to win, 16-14.

“Wave has been our top competition in Southern California so it’s always sweet to get them,” Yoder said.

Sidney Shaffer

Asked about players who stepped up, Yoder was succinct.

“It was a full team effort this weekend and I could highlight any player,” he said, “but Shaffer was definitely a standout. To me she looked like one of the strongest middles in the field.”

Top Select

Top Select’s goal was to take things one match at a time. The Orlando team went 3-0 on Day 1 to stay in contention and took a Day 2 loss to WAVE, when it had already clinched advancement to the Gold pools. Beating A5 on Sunday, after losing to the same team at the Sunshine Classic, was a huge boost.

Sarah Gooch, Nayelis Cabello and Ileyshmi Negron were instrumental to the team’s success. 

WAVE lost only once all weekend, but the loss, to Tstreet in the Gold pools on Sunday, forced the team into a “win to bid” match versus OT 16 J Will for the last ticket to the Dance. WAVE won in two to make the cross country trip a successful one.

“We may have had our best match last,” coach Kevin Hodge said. “The girls stepped up and it was truly an entire team effort. I’m so proud of the girls keeping that energy high at the end of a long weekend. I could name big time players from this team in specific moments from the weekend but it was all of the girls, collectively, who made this happen. We still have much to work on and our staff is excited to get back into the lab with our athletes.”

• Compared to 17 Open and 16 Open, the 15 Open field at Big South was a manageable 36 teams. Six were ranked, including four teams in the top five; and four teams, national No. 1 A5 15 Bob, No. 2 Dynasty 15 Black, No. 5 Madfrog 15 National Green and OTVA 15 T Randy; all had bids. Winning would be amazing; emerging from the gauntlet with a bid ever so satisfying.

The four teams ranked in the top five finished first, second, third and T-5, with a combined record of 31-3, so they more than lived up to their ranking.

Wave 15 Juliana

National No. 3 WAVE 15 Juliana went unbeaten, with just one set dropped, to earn the bid and win the title. Its only lost set came on Day 2 to Metro 15 Travel. It won its last four matches, including a second win over Metro, without dropping a set.

“Our team stayed strong as a unit the entire time,” assistant coach Kara Hanes said. “We were playing at 100% during the finals. Our energy, team work, balanced offense, and steady ball control allowed us to beat A5 in two sets.”

Amanda Saeger led the offense throughout the tournament. Niki Eagan on the outside came up big in the finals. Jenna Hanes in the middle hit .909 with 10 kills in the championship match. And libero Maya Evens orchestrated the teams defense and served five aces.


• Metro and Triangle 15 Black emerged from the field to claim the other two bids, placing fourth and fifth, respectively.

“Going into Big South, we knew the field was large and would have tough competition, but if we won the right games we could put ourselves in position to get the bid,” Metro assistant coach Aubrey Mohler said. “We knew a trickle down was possible if we took care of the matches that we needed to.”

“Each day we had small goals,” Mohler continued. “Day 1 was to make the top half and hopefully win our pool (which we did). Day 2, we just needed to make top two in our pool of three to advance to the Gold pool. Day 3, our focus was to win our first match versus Houston Skyline and hope that Madfrog and us were the top two teams.  We ended up defeating both teams – Houston Skyline we won in 2 and Madfrogs in 3.  We then won the pool and advanced to the Gold bracket. With A5 and Dynasty advancing as well, we automatically earned the bid.”

The win over Madfrog was a particular highlight.

“We faced Madfrogs at Sunshine and they controlled the entire match and were in system the whole time (they run the fastest offense at 15s),” Mohler said. “This time when we faced them, we focused on serving them tough so that we could keep them out of system and let our defense do work.”

The team got great back row work from libero Mailinh Godschall, strong serving from Godschall and setters Clara Yu and Natalie Nguyen and dominating hitting from outsides Cari Spears and Emmi Sellman.


Triangle expected to make the Gold pools on Sunday and match or exceed its seventh seed. The team’s goal was to win a bid by finishing among the top three. Well, would you settle for something in between?

The North Carolina won its first six matches to get into position, then dropped a match to Dynasty on Sunday. The loss forced Triangle into a trickle-down bracket for the final bid, but also caused them to realize how good they were. The three-set loss, to the No. 2 team in the country, helped the team begin to believe how close they were.

“They just needed one small push to get where they wanted,” head coach Alston Kearns said.

The bid match came against OT 15 O Isaac. Triangle won in two.

“We never stopped working and were eventually able to use our strengths to win in the end,” Kearns said.

The bid was the result of a total team effort, of course, but three players stood out on the weekend: setter Emily Bobbitt, OH Sally Perez and MB Ashlyn Philpot.

“Those three really demonstrated a killer instinct and a lot of individual talent,” Kearns said.

• That’s it for today’s Dots, as this is Dot No. 10. You may have noticed that our Big South focus on a Wednesday was entirely on the Open divisions. I did that because I had reports from everyone in the 15-18s divisions. I’m still waiting on 11 reports from the USA and American divisions. Hopefully, more will come in tomorrow before Thursday’s Dots… And I haven’t forgotten about you MEQ and Show Me! I have full reports from NEQ and am missing only one from Show Me. Thanks to all the coaches that take time from their impossibly busy days to share their experiences so that I can share them with you!

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