Tawa’s Daily Dots: Jupiter feels out unworldly, Stellar is stellar, this week’s picks could be from outer space

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Tawa's Daily Dots 4/9/2021-Texas Fury
Texas Fury

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

• Well, we’ve made it to Friday, but have yet to write all winning/qualification stories from last week. Nor have we made predictions about this week’s Open-level competitions at Show Me and NEQ. We only have 10 Dots to complete the week, so let’s get after it!

TAV 17 Blue

The focus today is on Big South and the USA and American divisions. In 18 USA, TAV 18 Blue, which previously qualified in this division by taking third at AVC Dallas, went 10-0 to win the division. The team, which features libero Katie Le, swept its first eight opponents, then outlasted two other previously-qualified teams, SKEVA 181 and Rio VC 18 Spider, each in three, in the semis and finals, respectively.

We did not hear from TAV before press time, but invite them to share their story in a future Dot should they be so inclined.

Tallahassee Juniors

With three already-qualified teams occupying the first three places, the trickle down went six places and allowed ECJVC 181, Texas Fury 181 and Tallahassee Juniors 18 Pro to pick up bids.

We have no report from East Carolina, which lost only to the top three finishers. Like everyone who qualifies, they are welcome to share their success at any time. We are happy to report about it!

Texas Fury and Tallahassee Juniors tied for fifth, along with Rocky Elite 18 Black and clubSav 18 adidas. Ordinarily, this would have meant playing off, but a late National bid awarded to one of the fifth-place finishers, which is superior to a USA bid, clinched USA for both Fury and TJVBC. Tallahassee Junior coach Erica Bunch said earning the bid was meaningful because some members of the team had never before been to Junior Nationals.

Texas Fury’s journey to a bid included close losses, a couple of nail biting wins and a critical Day 2 sweep of CJV 18 Veronica, which allowed Fury to survive a three-way 2-1 tiebreak. (Had that match gone three sets, Fury would have been out, even if it prevailed).

Coach Nicole Krieg said the goal for her squad was to make the Gold bracket and, hopefully, earn a bid.

“We know how difficult that can be with such thick competition throughout,” she explained.  “Fury was able to truly play at their peak several times during the weekend and our victories included several three-set thrillers.”

The bid clincher for Fury turned out to be the first Gold bracket match versus Paramount 181. That match was tight throughout, with each team winning a 25-22 set before Texas Fury eked out a 16-14 win in the third.

“We truly had a collective effort for this win, but some key players included Jessica Stock (outside hitter), Vanae Sapp (outside hitter), Alex Serna (Middle), Marissa Rodriguez (libero), and Mikayla Cho (setter),” Krieg said.  “I realize that’s quite a few but, honestly, at different times all these girls shined against the competition!”

• Before we turn to 17 USA (remember, the 18 American story was told in a separate Rapid Read article published on Wednesday — https://volleyballmag.com/rapid-read-tk-legends-040721/), let’s acknowledge Houston Stellar VBC, which qualified FOUR teams for Junior Nationals at Big South: 17 Elite (USA), 17 Premier (American), 16 Premier (American) and 15 Elite (USA).

I communicated with club director Sara Zanon earlier in the week and she promised reports on all of her club team’s achievements. Alas, none has been received. Zanon is a friend. I suspect that the press of time just overwhelmed her and her coaches. In the spirit of Motel 6, we’ll leave a Dot open for you should you ever wish to have your stories told…

TAV 17 Blue came to Atlanta with a 17 USA bid in hand, thanks to a third-place finish at MEQ in Louisville. Head coach Whitney Sample said the goal was to live up to its top seed and play as well or better than it did at MEQ. The team went 10-0 and won the whole dang thing, so mission accomplished, right?

“We did hold our seed,” Sample said, “but there were several much tougher matches than we had in MEQ, and we fought through them and came out on top.  Seeing them have to go to three several times and get challenged was great.”

FW Fire

Sample said coming from behind in the quarterfinal versus Dig This! 17 Black was the highlight of the tournament. TAV got smoked, 25-14, in the first set and trailed 21-13 in the second before rallying to win, 25-23, 15-10. TAV’s final two wins, over Stellar in the semis and FW Fire 171 Purple, both came in sweeps.

Among the standouts for TAV Blue were Alea Lastinger, Abby Wadas, Mattie Gantt, Ellie Davis, and Karen Wang.

Fort Worth Fire overcame a Day 2 loss to Paramount 171 to earn a bid as the second-place team. That was a spectacular showing for a team whose goal was just to get to the Gold bracket.

“For many of our players, this is the first National Qualifier they have ever played at this level,” coach Cody Hanson explained.

The key moment for his team came on the last day playing Tower Zero 17s in the quarterfinals.

“We were going to Set 3 in our match after dominating Set 1 and then losing in Set 2,” Hanson said. “Two courts over, we saw that TAV 17 Blue had just won, which put them in the semifinals. We knew that TAV already had a bid in the USA division, so all we had to do was win this third set and we were in for sure. I gambled and told all of my players in our team huddle right before the third set began that if we win, we’re going to Nationals and, if we lose, we are not. It paid off as we completely dominated in the third set to earn our bid!”

“Our setter and overall leader, Courtney Hanson, played fantastic all weekend long, never coming off the court,” the coach said. “Additionally, our 6-0 opposite, Meagan Ledbetter, put balls away all weekend, while our libero played lights out and newcomer Jaydin Gillespie really stepped up.”

Amarillo Xtreme

Amarillo Xtreme 17 National won its first eight matches to claim the final bid as the fourth-place team. The team did so despite having a roster of just seven players.

“The girls took it as a challenge and knew we just had to play with nothing to lose,” coach Will Boyd said. “They showed they can grind and be resilient and that’s all I could ask for.”

Four of AXV’s wins went to three sets, including the quarterfinal bid match versus A5 17 Missy.

“The team played really good together, knowing we had a weakness and we were missing a key player,” Boyd explained. “We knew we had to play hard and, even though we fell at times, we had our goal in mind the whole time.”

 Jaycee Adams stepped up big time to help the team qualify.

“She’s our libero and, due to a player going down late last month with an ankle injury, I needed her to hit,” Boyd explained.

Taytum Stow also was a catalyst, as her court demeanor helped keep everyone emotionally balanced during the highs and lows of a three-day grind.

• There were 126 teams in 17 American and Houston Stellar 17 Premier was the best of them all. The team went 10-0, but was challenged in the Gold bracket. Stellar had to win three, three-set matches to reach the final, including a semifinal over Elevate Volleyball 17-Chuck. The scores of that match, 26-24, 24-26, 18-16, just makes a volleyball fan wish he was there!

Stellar, the third overall seed to start, won the bid by sweeping fourth-seeded AZ Sky 17N1 in the final. 

Gainesville Juniors 161 dropped just one set in romping through the 95-team 16 USA field. It is the second qualifier win for this team, adding to its 10-0 run at the Sunshine Classic.

Unfortunately, for the second straight time, our attempts to get a report from the club went begging. This club, which was one of our stalwart responders in the early 2000s, fell off our radar after Jeff Reavis and Chad Davis left. Sure would like to get them back in the fold…the door is open.

Did I mention Reavis? Yes I did! His Ocala Power United 16 Adidas team tied for third and also earned a bid. And I did not hear back from him! He’s going to claim he never received my emails. That’s his usual M.O. Anyway, congrats to OPU as well as the fifth-place finisher, HJV 16 Premier, which I also did not hear back from.

Rockwood Thunder

That leaves the spotlight to Rockwood Thunder 16 Navy, the team that won its bid by going 9-2 and placing second overall. Rockwood lost only to Siesta Key Juniors 16 C.D., coached coincidentally by Chad Davis, before falling to Gainesville, 26-24, 25-22, in the championship match after the bid had been secured.

“We were going in with the mindset that it was bid or bust,” Rockwood coach Josh Mattingly said. “We got seeded 32nd, which we thought was a little disrespectful, so that fired up the girls, and they came out ready to go.”

Mattingly said that his team found different ways to win.

“Our middles were animals all weekend and terminated at a high clip, and our serve/serve receive game was just very solid throughout the tournament,” he said.

That Day 2 loss to Siesta Key, after both teams were guaranteed spots in the Gold bracket, got Mattingly’s team refocused.

“That was a wakeup call for us that if we wanted to walk out of Atlanta with a bid,” he explained. “We were going to have to beat very good volleyball teams to do it.”

Mattingly said all 12 players needed to contribute for his team to qualify. He added this:

“Our 3 middles that we rotate in and out — (Tess McConnell, Alexandra Bishop and Grace Weikel) — were so good all weekend, and our libero and 2 DS’s –- (Audrey Savacool, Madi Hartman and Dana Grib) — had a great weekend. Our setter — (Taylor Dumm) — made great decisions all weekend as well. Total team effort!”

• I was super excited to talk to 16 American winning coach Margaret Anthony about Carolina1 VB 16 Elite Pickens’ unbeaten run in Atlanta. I think, but am not sure, that “Margaret” is actually “Peggy,” the legendary coach from South Carolina high school superpower Pickens whom I haven’t spoken to since she retired almost 20 years ago. Alas, we did not connect and, apparently, C1VB declined the bid and trip to Vegas. This is what gave Stellar its fourth bid!

• It appears that the top three finishers in the 84-team 15 USA division all earned bids. I write “appears,” because that would mean that Houston Stellar 15 Elite, which finished fourth, may not have earned a bid in Atlanta.

In the aftermath of the tourney, I was convinced that second-place finisher Miami Hype 15U Emilio had earned a superior bid previously, but the Sportwrench site later corrected to show that the Miami club’s previous qualification had come in 15 American by winning the Sunshine Classic.

DME celebrates

What I do know, for sure, is that Big South 15 American winner 575 VB 15 Kortney and third place finisher DME Adidas Elite 15U Black did, indeed, score bids in this qualifier.

575 overcame a Day 2 sweep at the hands of CVC 15 Black to win out, five Gold-bracket sweeps, and claim the crown. Coached by Kortney Kimura, I have a sense that you will be hearing about this team and the Atlanta-based club a lot in the coming years. They are go-getters!

575 Kortney

575 entered the tournament as the No. 6 seed, but expected to get a bid.

“We have been playing great volleyball over the past few weeks,” Kimura said. “Our goal was to win Big South but that’s a tough goal. We knew we were capable of beating any team, but to put it all together and beat five teams on Day 3 is incredible.”

Kimura said he jumped out of his seat on the clinching point.

“Our middle turns around after blocking and runs to jump set a ball to our outside, who gets the kill to win Big South,” Kimura said. “That was special for that moment.  No positions, just volleyball players making volleyball plays.”

“I do not want to single out players that stepped up,” he added. “They all played an incredible role and we play our entire team of 11 in 99% of our matches this season.  We run out of subs very fast.”

DME, from Daytona Beach, won its first eight matches at Big South before losing to 575. Alvaro Sanchez’ team rebounded to defeat Stellar in three for third place and, apparently, the final bid.

The team had gone to MEQ and didn’t play to its expectations, finishing T-9 with a 4-3 record.

“My only expectation was for our team to fight as hard as we could, to prove we learned our lesson of taking opportunities for granted,” Sanchez said. “The team sure proved they learned that lesson.” 

“Our performance wavered a few times,” he added. “But their resilience did not. I would say we emptied the tank every game. Our setter went down in the semifinal. They could’ve chosen to pout, but kept fighting.”

Sanchez said that in the third set of the bid match versus Stellar, a Stellar outside unloaded down the line with no block up. Gaby Conway was ready on defense and dug a great ball that Alyssa Kornegay got to Emma Van Deusen on the outside. Van Deusen put the ball away in the seam. A point that should have been Stellar’s went to DME instead. In a 15-10 game with a bid on the line, that might have made the difference.

“Everyone starred in their role,” Sanchez said. “It was a true team effort or we couldn’t have won. Kornegay ran a great offense with 245 assists on the weekend, Westfall led us with 111 digs and passed a 2.23, and Van Deusen paced us with 110 points on the weekend, hitting a career high .333 for the tournament. Ella Pringle also stabilized our serve receive, passing a 2.23, and scored 83 points.”

• There were 143 teams entered in 15 American at Big South, but none better than Jupiter Elite 15E, which dropped just one set on the way to the title and the lone bid.

“I’m so thrilled about this weekend’s win!” coach Jack Mitchell exclaimed. “Words can’t even describe how happy I am for this team.”

Jupiter Elite came to Atlanta with tempered expectations because an injury took the roster down to just seven players.

Mitchell said a dropped set on Day 2 might have sparked the championship run.

“I was so frustrated at the girls for dropping a set and not playing to their potential,” he explained. “I let them know how disappointed I was, and they saw it on my face, which sparked something within them. After that moment, they went out and took the next set, 25-7, and won the third to put us in Gold. They didn’t lose a set after that.”

Jupiter Elite’s win, with a roster of seven, was obviously a team effort.

“Honestly, all of them stepped up,” Mitchell said. “We are such a small team and, without everyone playing to their full potential, our win couldn’t have been possible.”

• There are only two Dots left, but that’s enough room to quickly make predictions about teams that will win/qualify in the 15-17 Open divisions at NEQ and Show Me.

Let’s start at Show Me.

17 Open has 24 teams with only Circle City 17 Purple qualified. This is a strong field with lots of contenders. Sunshine 17-LA likes being No. 1 nationally so I say it wins despite being short-handed. Club Ignit Select 17 Blue and Dallas Skyline 17 Royal get the other bids.
 
16 Open has 24 teams. Only No. 1 KC Power 16-1 has qualified. Mike Stowell-coached teams hate to lose, so I think this team wins again. Let’s give bids to Premier Nebraska 16 Gold, Topeka Impact 161 and Dallas Skyline 16 Royal.

15 Open has 23 teams and three, KC Power 15-1, Rockwood Thunder 15 Elite and Dynasty 15 Black, with bids. Since I think Dynasty is the best team in the country and has yet to win a qualifier, I will take this team to get it done in its own hometown. We’re going to say bids go to NORCO 15 Black, Premier Nebraska 15 Gold and Circle City 15 Purple.

• At NEQ, there are 30 teams in 17 Open, two with bids. TAV 17 Black, one of the teams with a bid, wins this one and words start to circulate that Ping Cao is weaving his magic again. Two “Academies,” Academy 17 Diamond and Academy Volleyball Cleveland 17 Rox Red, secure trips to Las Vegas here, as well as… 1st Alliance 17 Silver.

In 16 Open, the field has 28 teams. Only 1st Alliance 16 Silver has a bid. They win, with bids going to Sunshine 16-LA, TAV 16 Black and Metro 16 Travel.

The wild card in 15 Open is the presence of two Puerto Rican teams. They are usually very good in this age group and I know nothing about the pair. Add the fact that the field has just 18 teams – hence, only two bids – and it could get crazy.

Triangle 15 Black and Metro 15 Travel both have bids, but neither will finish top three here. Give me NKYVC 15 Tsunami to win it all, with TAV 15 Black edging Tribe 15 Elite Dean for the second bid.

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