Tawa’s Daily Dots: No. 1 Sunshine comes up aces in KC, TAV’s first places at NEQ, Rome laces at Bluegrass

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Tawa's Daily Dots 4/13/2021-Northern Lights 171
Northern Lights 171

Daily Dots (April 13, 2021): Club or high school volleyball factoids, notions and ideas to impress your friends (or not)

• This is a busy week for me at VolleyballMag.com, made busier by my wife and my 10 a.m. flight to Phoenix on Friday to spend the weekend watching college baseball (Stanford at Arizona State). I have received, so far, fewer than 20 reports from the qualifier, with more than 40 eventually expected. Ordinarily, I would wait until tomorrow to start telling stories from Sierra National, Show Me, NEQ and Lone Star, but with Friday’s flight looming, I’m hearing House of Pain telling me to “Jump Around.” (Is there anything worse than an old man trying to act like he’s 30 years younger?).  So that’s what I’ll do. I will hopscotch from one qualifier to another, once I receive reports that make that division “complete.” Try to hang with me…

TAV 17 Black

• Our first stop in our qualification tour is Philly for the 17 Open division at NEQ. TAV 17 Black, one of two qualified teams in the 30-team field, started 3-0 (6-0) on Day 1 and never looked back. The team, headed by Ping Cao, won 10 matches while dropping only one set.

“We were already qualified from the MEQ, so our goal was to focus on the little things and continue to get better each play,” assistant coach Melanie Mercer said.

Triangle 17 Black

TAV had just one moment of tension throughout the three-day tournament, when 1st Alliance 17 Silver forced the final Gold pool match between the teams to three sets. Had 1st Alliance prevailed, it would have forced a three-way 2-1 examination. TAV still would have come out first, but a 1st Alliance victory probably would have meant that it and not Triangle 17 Black, would have received an Open bid.

As they have so many times during the season, Harmony Sample and Naylani Feliciano led the way for TAV.

“We did a great job this weekend because our team is making big improvements individually, which have contributed to our overall success,” Mercer said. “Our serving and passing has improved and was stronger than previous tournaments.”

NKYVC 171 Tsunami

Academy Volleyball Cleveland 17 Rox Red, NKYVC 17-1 Tsunami and Triangle left Philly happy with cheese steaks (with wiz) and Open bids in hand.

Academy Cleveland overcame its demons to put together its best weekend of the season. Mer Gromala’s team won five three-set matches and took a 9-0 record to the championship match before losing to TAV.

“We were faced with many similar situations where in the past we have fallen short,” Gromala said. “For the last month this group has been impressively consistent at making huge strides in practice. So I had a ton of confidence we would be a better version of ourselves. I knew our serve receive would be better; I knew we were going to dig more balls….however what that would turn into I was unsure…”

The highest pressure situation came on Day 3 versus previously-qualified Metro 17 Black, the tournament’s No. 1 seed.  AVC was 2-0 in Gold Pool 1 at the time but had been forced to three sets both times. The team needed to defeat Metro to clinch a bid, yet found itself down 13-10 in the third. Losing meant a three-way tie and AVC would take third and leave without a bid.

“No clue if the kids knew that because what mattered most was how we were responding,” Gromala said. “We pulled through and ended up winning, 21-19.”

Libero Abbey Havrilla has shown great growth the past few months and was a standout again in Philadelphia. Offensively, the team received contributions from so many, but RS Caroline Jurevicius, MB Cadence Shea and OH/MB Kathryn Randorf were particularly effective.

Gromala added this about her team’s growing pains early in the season:

“Making changes can be very difficult and this group is making them. I can guarantee this group won’t be the same next time most teams see them again. We got our Open bid, but I truly believe this group is just getting started.”

NKYVC went 6-3 on its way to an Open bid.

“We had our ups and downs this weekend when it came to consistency, but we really showed up when it was important,” coach Jill Hunt said.

Hunt felt good about her team’s chances to qualify as the fifth seed going in.

“We had great practices leading up to it and knew what we needed to improve on from our losses at Big South,” she explained. “We felt like a 5-seed was a good place for us to advance to the Gold pools, where we would have to get things done.  We had spent a lot of time the last few weeks working on our serving and blocking. If we got more aggressive on our serve and set a better block, we had a really good shot at winning a bid.”

Day 1 went as expected, but adversity hit the team on Day 2, when two players had a collision that left the team’s 5-1 setter, Cora Taylor, with a painful thumb injury that made setting a challenge. NKYVC lost that match, to East Coast Power 17 Steel, 18-16 in the third; then lost in two to tournament runner up 1st Alliance 16 Silver, with Taylor sitting out the first set.

“Tough for us, as we were really working well together prior to that,” Hunt explained.

Two losses often mean a fall from contention, but in this case, lady luck was smiling on Tsunami. Thanks to a sweep of Sunshine 17 Westside, NKYVC came out on top in the three-way 1-2 to stay alive.

Sunshine 17 LA

“I think this was a turning point for us, to know we had a second chance to earn what we came for,” Hunt said. “This team really played together and for each other.”

NKYVC had a tough Gold pool, which included previously-qualified Metro and an AVC team it was 1-3 against coming in. AVC got it again, in three, but Tsunami had just enough to get by Metro, 16-14 in the third, to avoid a fifth-place match for the final bid with 1st Alliance.

“This was truly a whole team effort for success,” Hunt said. “We did a much better job setting the block to allow our defense to do its job.  Cora Taylor set a great system, even through the pain, to allow the big arms of Taylor Preston, Elena Dubuc and Brooklyne Darby to dominate on offense.  These three players really brought the heat on offense and were hard to stop. We had great blocking from Ava Kidd, CC Shick and Carly O’Rourke at the net.  They set a great block and really were able to control the middles.  Abby Schaefer was excellent in anchoring the serve receive and defense.  Lizzie McCluskey served exceptionally well, especially on the last two VERY big points against Metro in the Gold pools.”

Triangle 17 Black didn’t know how it would perform at NEQ. Its M1, Ava Toppin, was out with a broken hand suffered at the Sunshine Classic, which made a dent in the team’s offense.

“We knew we would ball control well enough to compete with anyone, but I wasn’t sure if we would be able to outscore them,” coach Aaron Harrison said. “Brooke Doherty really stepped up this weekend for us. She was one of the best outsides in the gym. Even we she got blocked or made an error, she came right back at it on the next ball.”

Triangle had back-to-back battles on Day 1 that set the tone for qualification. The North Carolina squad overcame MD Juniors 17 Elite Black, 15-11 in the third, then had to play 1st Alliance, the No. 3 overall seed. Triangle lost, 35-33, 16-25, 15-13.

“We played well, but made a few unforced errors that cost us that game,” Harrison said. “While we lost, the kids knew we could compete offensively with the field after that match, but we had to stay disciplined.”

Triangle got another shot at 1st Alliance in the Gold pools and won in two, which keyed its third-place finish.

Besides Doherty, Harrison lauded the back row work of Maddy May and Syd Daniels.

“They defended the ball as well as I have ever had,” he said. “Their relentless pursuit of the ball really set the tone for the team. Kaya Monrose really stepped up on Day 3 to help us drive home the win. While she started off slower than she wanted, she came through big when we needed her.”

NKYVC 151 Tsunami

• Let’s jump next to 15 Open at NEQ, where only two bids were available due to a smaller field size. TAV 15 Black and NKYVC 15 Tsunami earned the bids from the 18-team field by finishing 1-2 and going 16-1 between them.

LJ Sariego was back in the Keystone State for the second time in as many weekends and, once again, came out victorious. After leading TAV 15 Gold to the USA title one week earlier, he guided 15 Black to a 9-0 record and just one set dropped.

“I thought we had a chance to qualify, but we had practiced very poorly lately so I wasn’t sure,” he said.

TAV started slowly and was extended to three sets in its very first match versus ECVC 151 Hurricanes 15-1 but swept every match thereafter.

“I think Favor Anyanwu switching back to the middle from the right helped spur the run,” Sariego said. “She was very active in the middle and, along with Bri Watson, Mikala Young and Jadyn Livings, they were a handful offensively. Libero Gillian Pitts was strong as always and setter Camille Edwards dealt a very balanced offense, along with Bethanie Wu.”

NKYVC Tsunami won its first four matches of the tournament in sweeps and caught a break in its three-team Gold pool: the presence of newly-qualified Triangle 15 Black. If NKYVC won the pool, it would make the championship match and qualify automatically. But even if it finished second behind Triangle, it would still have a shot at the second bid in the third-place match. Tsunami overcame a 25-7 Game 1 loss to Triangle to win in three, 16-14 in the third, which clinched the bid.

Tsunami coach Tyler Collins said that 15 unforced errors contributed to the Game 1 debacle against Triangle.

“We changed our mindset, started to play as a team, and started trusting each other again,” Collins explained. “We had some major blocks by Julia Hunt and Lilly Hamburg, which gave us a ton of energy.  With that newfound energy, we started hitting harder and digging big swings from Triangle.”

The championship match could have gone either way. TAV ended up prevailing by scores of 25-23, 25-23.

“We finished with the bid, so we definitely accomplished a big goal even though we would have liked to win it all,” Collins said.

“This accomplishment was a whole team effort,” he added. “We served aggressive and stayed true in their blocking and defensive schemes. We made adjustments as needed and worked together as a team. Abby Yoder ran an amazing offense all weekend long.  Julia Hunt is hard to stop on offense and had some big blocks at the net.  Lilly Hamburg was a blocking machine and was huge for us at the net! Alivia Skidmore and Lilly Gillespie did a great job and made some very critical plays with big swings. Elizabeth Tabeling anchored the serve receive. With Elizabeth and Kaleigh Frietch in the back court, we dug everything, which made it hard for the other teams to score.  Audrey Leonard brought big aggressive serves.  Melana Bigelow and Addison Roney did a great job on the right side, with Addison making a critical swing that changed the momentum against Triangle.”

• The last qualifier report for today will be 17 Open from Show Me in Kansas City. Hopefully, we’ll have many more reports to share tomorrow and in the ensuing days.

National No. 1 Sunshine 17-LA lived up to its ranking by going 9-0 (18-0) in its first qualifier of the year. The Southern California team traveled with eight players and yielded 20 or more points in a set just six times.

“They were on a mission to win the whole thing,” coach Cari Klein noted.

Skylar Gerhardt, an outside, had to play middle because the team was missing two, and did a great job playing a position she hadn’t played all year.  Kelly Belardi ran a fast offense and continued to set a complicated offense from the left front blocking spot. RS Kerry Keefe had 66 kills for the weekend, hit .370 and was a non-stop offensive threat from all over the court. Dani Thomas-Nathan’s topspin serve was working to the tune of 13 aces. OH Elia Rubin had 68 kills and 23 aces and performed well under the pressure of receiving every serve.

“We had two liberos splitting the time and bringing in fresh energy,” Klein said. “Megan Verbiest had some amazing digs to finish off the final game against Circle City.  Ellie Geoghan stepped in with some amazing setting when we beat Dynasty.  Lucia Scalamandre’s slide started to become effective Day 3 and she was a dominant blocker, shutting down hitters all weekend long.”

Sunshine was at its best in winning time, notching 25 aces on Day 3 while passing above 2.5 most of the day.

“They served hard and played team defense at a high level this weekend for nine matches straight,” Klein said. “They fought hard and stayed focused on the ‘gold.’”

Dynasty Academy 17 Adidas and Mizuno Northern Lights 171 also took home bids by finishing tied for third.

Dynasty Academy is a great story. It operates essentially as a separate club as Dynasty VBC, even though the teams train at the same facility.

“We currently have one team at each age group and are designed for the multi-sport/multi commitment athlete,” 17 adidas coach Brian Tate explained. “It was set up to give teams the opportunity to ‘build their own schedule’ to help accommodate their other interests. For example, we have beach players, basketball players, track athletes, etc.”

Dynasty Academy finished tied for 13th at MEQ in its previous qualifier and was determined to improve on that position. The team went 2-1 the first two days, both good enough to win its pool; then took on tough Club Ignit to start Gold Pool 2.  With Sunshine the other team in the pool and previously-qualified Circle City 17 Purple in the other Gold pool, beating Ignit would almost certainly mean qualifying.

Ignit won the first set, 25-23, but only after Dynasty Academy made a serious run after being down by 5-6 points. 

“We fought back with tough serving and quality transition offense to gain momentum at the end of the set,” Tate said. “That propelled us into Sets 2 and 3, where we rode efficient serve receive offense and high level serving to earn us plus-1 whenever possible.”

“Overall, it was a great team effort to earn our bid,” Tate continued. “Cait Bishop distributed the ball well while running out offense at a high level. Pins Madi Corf, Amara Traiger, and Bella Limback did the lion’s share of the scoring, with timely kills and blocks from middles Erika Hanke and Britt Lee. Skylar Weaver led our passing along with help from Aubryn Berck, Abby Chambers, and Jordyn Anderson. Finally, I would be remiss without giving my assistant coach, Karli Reichert, a shout out.  I had three teams playing this weekend and Karli really ran the show on Days 1 and 2, keeping the team disciplined and playing at a really high level.”

Northern Lights matched Dynasty Academy in final placement and overall record, but Andy Guggisberg’s team’s road to a bid was a bit different. It placed second in its pool on Day 1 and Day 2 and got crushed by Circle City in its first Gold pool match. This was not the plan.

“The expectation was to get a bid,” Guggisberg said.

Northern Lights stayed resilient, however. The team rebounded by sweeping Dallas Skyline 17 Royal.

Guggisberg has seen that kind of fight from his team all year. On Day 2 at Show Me, Lights and PVA 17 Elite engaged in a 45-contact point early in Game 3.

“We covered three balls and had multiple bodies on the floor at five or six different times during the rally,” he said.

Lights ended up winning that match, which gave it confidence during the tough times. Now that it stepped up and beat Skyline, all it needed was for Circle to do the same to secure its bid…

Circle won the first set. Skyline won the next two, creating a three-way tie at 1-1. That first-set win by Circle was enough, however, to secure the second-place finish and the bid for Northern Lights.

“We did what we drove to KC to do and were able to come home with a bid,” Guggisberg explained. “5-3 isn’t a pretty record, but as I was told my first year coaching elite club volleyball: ‘It’s Open. You don’t have to win all the matches. You just have to win the right ones.’”

Six-rotation outsides Estelle Haugen and Julia Hanson keyed the team’s qualification. They never came off the floor and, together with libero Simara Amador, keyed a solid passing game all weekend. Kaitlynn Peterson, typically a right side, came off the bench and played outside during the PVA match and gave the team a huge spark. Cam Greenwald hit over .300 for the weekend and was an absolute monster at the net.

“She slowed down more balls this weekend than I could count,” Guggisberg said. “Kendal Kemp makes you think about what you want to do as an opposing attacker.  She made setters choose to set away from her all tournament long.  Down the stretch against Skyline, in the match we needed to win to qualify, she blocked three balls that saved the match.”

Maddie Converse and Emma Berran ran the offense with precision.

“Their ability to run the entire offense and find the hot hitter from anywhere on the court is why all our hitters had such great weekends,” Guggisberg said. “At the Open level, everyone has at least one monster on the outside. The blocking work of Peterson, Britt Carlson, and Sienna Ifill slowed down all but one (emphasis mine) of those outsides throughout the entire event.”

Guggisberg added one final thought: “Chloe Chicoine (sophomore OH, Circle City) is legit.”

• On Thursday, we will release our 16s national rankings, again going with a top 30. Today, I sent out the proposed ranking to every team in the top 30 plus several teams that were ranked before or were close to being ranked. If you are a 16s coach with a team that has a case for the top 30 and you did not receive an email from me today, please contact me, jtawa@volleyballmag.com.

• Here now is suggestion No. 10 from Hall of Fame coach Terry Pettit’s “Ten Suggestions for Coaches,” which can be found, in full, at https://terrypettit.com/:

10. Consider keeping a coaching journal where you write down observations about your players, the feedback you give them, how each individual learns, and what type of communication is most effective. Periodically reviewing the journal can help us from continually rediscovering what we already knew (but forgot) about a player or team’s development.

• Yesterday, I asked some players to answer this question:

Would you rather:

1. Jump three inches higher
2. Hit five MPH harder OR
3. Be 25% smarter?

Any why?

Seventy percent answered “Be 25% smarter.”

“I would want to be 25% smarter within my volleyball game because it opens up new doors,” Mckenna Wucherer of Milwaukee Sting 18 Gold said. “I would be able to see different parts of the court and better understand what is happening on my side of the net, as well as my opponent’s. I would work hard to spread this knowledge and put my team in the best possible position to be successful.”

San Gabriel Elite’s Makena Morrison, a UC Davis recruit (probably as a libero), was one of the 20 percent who wanted to jump higher.

“I am going to say jump three inches higher, although I would like to be three inches taller,” the 5-7 Morrison said. “I love hitting the ball!  Outside hitter is my passion but I also know that my athleticism will get me where I want to be in college.”

Rockwood Thunder 16 Navy libero Madi Hartman was in the minority of players responding that they wanted more juice on the ball.

“I’m a DS/L and continuing to step up my serve game is on my goal list for this season,” she explained. “So, I think hitting with more velocity would help my serve.”

• Finally, let’s finish up today with a video. With the NCAAs starting tomorrow, editor Lee won’t want to deal with video for the rest of the week. This is championship point for Sports Performance 18 Elite versus Elevation 18 Goller at Bluegrass 2 last weekend. MB Audrey Rome is doing the honor. The 6-3 junior, who touches 10-3 and has yet to announce a commitment, hits the ball VERY hard.

Editor’s note: We want all our readers to become VolleyballMag.com Sustaining Members — https://volleyballmag.com/sustaining-membership/ but we understand if that’s not right for you. And if you’re here just to read John Tawa’s incredible and unparalleled coverage of national club and high school volleyball, you can contribute directly to him by using our Venmo account. We suggest $12 for Tawa — Give Twelve for Tawa! — but you can give any amount you choose. No amount is too small, and we know that John thinks no amount is too large! When you contribute, just put in the Venmo description “Tawa.” Thanks on behalf of all us at VolleyballMag.com. Our Venmo account is VolleyballMag.

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