Tawa’s Daily Dots: Alamo dominates at Lone Star, Northern Lights shines at Show Me, four at-large no longer

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Tqwa's Daily Dots 4/14/2021-Alamo 15 Elite volleyball
Alamo 15 Elite 1

Daily Dots (April 14, 2021): Club or high school volleyball factoids, notions and ideas to impress your friends (or not)

• The 18 Open field at USA Volleyball’s Junior National Championships, set for April 23-25 in Columbus, is set. In the past 24 hours or so, four both lucky and deserving teams received word that they have scooped up the four At-Large bids. They are:

National No. 17 (according to VolleyballMag.com’s 18s club rankings as of March 31 — https://volleyballmag.com/club-national-rankings-18s-040121/) Wave 18 Kevin (California)

National No. 22 Union 18-UA (Kentucky)

Team to Watch Rockwood Thunder 18 Elite (Missouri)

Unranked San Gabriel Elite 18 Roshambo (California)

San Gabriel, which features strong defense and the all-around excellence of junior OH Peyton DeJardin, was perhaps the most surprising choice. Brian Thornton’s team bolstered its case by placing fourth at last week’s Sierra Canyon qualifier, the last qualifier on the schedule. SGE previously placed 11th at Red Rock Rave, but did beat Open-qualified WD Nation 18-Adidas there to strengthen its case. San Gabriel also has a win over WAVE in Premier Volleyball League action.

Of the four teams completing the 48-team field, Union is probably the most dangerous. The Louisville-area squad got much stronger when it added brilliant setter Elena Scott and masterful libero Eleanor Beavin from those PNK teams that made big splashes at AAU Nationals a few years’ back. Both Scott and Beavin are D-I bound as liberos. Add OH Ali Hornung, a Purdue libero recruit, and it’s safe to say that Union will have the best defense in Columbus.

While there are a lot of 18s teams this morning pondering what might have been, KC Power 18-1 has to be first among equals. Ranked No. 29 by VolleyballMag.com and No. 31 in AES, Power was loaded with talent, from three strong middles to a jumping jack right side to an impressive six-rotation outside, to two strong setters and an amazing libero. But the team had three chances and only came close once, when it placed fourth at Show Me. Finishing 13th at Crossroads and T-11 at Northern Lights likely doomed this team, which also did not qualify in Open in 2019.

Molly (Toon) Lillard, 28, was shot and killed by her husband in an apparent murder-suicide on Sunday in Scottsdale, Arizona. The daughter of former NFL great Al Toon, Molly was a standout high school and collegiate volleyball player. At the prep level, she played for my good friend Franklin Marcos at Middleton HS in Wisconsin and at Capital VBA in Madison. The 6-0 OH was one of the top 115 players in the nation her senior year and went on to play collegiately at the University of Michigan. Molly, who leaves behind an eight-month-old daughter, was beloved by all of her former coaches. Our hearts go out to all of them as well as everyone who loved and cared about Molly.

Alamo 15 Elite 2

• This is a tough transition, but let’s get back to recapping last week’s qualifier success stories, starting with 15 American from Lone Star in Houston. A total of 161 teams participated in the three-day event, which culminated on Monday. Seven teams did not win a match.

Only one did not lose one. In fact, Alamo 15 Elite did not drop any of its 22 sets. Three of its wins came versus teams that did not lose any other matches all tournament long. It was a truly superior performance from the team that entered as the No. 1 seed.

“We knew everyone wanted to take us down,” coach Raul Bernal said. “So, I reminded our team to respect their opponents at all times and just get us into the Gold Round in position to qualify.”

Bernal said the key to victory might be the 105 aces his team delivered over three days. That’s almost five aces per set!

“We serve tough to take teams out of system,” he said. “Aces are the icing on the cake.”

Despite going 10-0 (20-0) to reach the final, Alamo knew it needed one more win to earn the bid it came for. The opponent, Xcel Volleyball 151, also was 10-0 (20-0). The No. 2 overall seed had played two previous qualifiers, finishing fifth and second.

Alamo won, 25-20, 25-21.

“Our first contact was just great and we got our stride early in the match,” Bernal explained. Taking Set 1 was a huge shot in the arm to the team and helped them win in two sets.”

“Our bid was definitely earned by an amazing team effort,” Bernal continued. “Our middles, Brooklyn Rodriguez and Austin Smoak, worked hard to get available the entire tournament and gave our outsides and opposites an ‘ocean’ to hit the ball into. Our DS, Audrey Rogers, led the tournament with 28 aces on the weekend. She definitely made our opponents’ first contact a constant tough ball to take. Our backcourt did an amazing job of controlling our first contact as well. Lastly, our team captain rallied our team together with her offense. Captain Kendall Burns led our team with 77 kills and .377% hitting for the weekend.

“It was a genuine overall team effort. I’m glad to see their work and hours in gym come together.”

Northern Lights 16R

• We jump next to the 16 American division at Show Me, where Mizuno Northern Lights 16-R went 10-1 to prevail over the 80-team field.

Teams that play in American assert that it’s tougher to earn that sole bid at a qualifier than it is to grab one of three available bids in an Open or USA division. And, in certain respects, those teams are right.

Consider this: On Day 2, Lights was wept by TX Legacy 16 Elite. TX  Legacy lost just once, to Missouri Juniors 16-1, 30-28, 27-25, in a Gold bracket match. The team tied for ninth overall with just two sets dropped.

Missouri Juniors was ousted one match later, by Rockwood Thunder 16 White, 24-26, 25-23, 15-11. Missouri Juniors finished 7-1, with just three sets lost all tourney long.

Rockwood Thunder was ousted one match later, by Northern Lights 16-R, 18-16 in the third. THAT’S how close everything was!!

Northern Lights was seeded seventh at Show Me, but the coaches – head coach Jeff Kunze-Hoeg and assistant Morgan Schultz – knew the team could be better than that. Ever since finishing second in 16 Club in Omaha over President’s Day, the team started practicing with a new “I can” attitude.

The coaches thought they could at least match their seed at Show Me and maybe a little better.

“Over the first two days, we did not really play our best volleyball,” Kunze-Hoeg said. “We had to make a slight adjustment in our lineup, as our six rotation setter/opposite turned her ankle two weeks prior to the tournament and could only play back row.”

Northern Lights won by playing and winning five matches on Sunday, including a 26-24, 26-24 championship match barn burner over Circle City 16 White.

“This team played more games and matches than any other team in every division of the Show Me Qualifier,” Kunze-Hoeg said.  “Our setters, Ally Ball and Tanya Luniewski, played outstanding defense and led the team with their setting. Middles Megan Schoenfelder and Jillian Hanson shut down opposing middles. Ellie Egan, usually one of our outsides, took over on our right side for Luniewski and, in tandem, with Abby Kelly, also on the right, delivered numerous kills and blocks. Clara Brown and Chloe Collins led our offense on the outside, with Brown scoring at will down the line and Collins delivering the final kill. Our defense was solid throughout the tournament, led by Aryss McAdams and Clara Malecha.”

• We move now to the 24-team 18 USA division at the Sierra National qualifier in Reno, where the bid recipients were all top-eight seeds.

NorCal 18s

Fifth seed NorCal 18-1 Black and eighth seed WAVE 18 were both in the same Day 1 pool and both lost on Day 1.WAVE beat NorCal in two. NorCal defeated NCVC 18-1 Asics in two. NCVC beat WAVE, also in two. That three-way tie came down to points, with NCVC the odd team out, by one point, it appears. Both NorCal and WAVE went on to earn bids. Once again, we see that the tiniest of margins sometimes separate qualifying from finishing in the middle of the pack.

NorCal came to Reno wanting to qualify, of course, but the coach in Armen Zakarian wanted his team to finish on Day 3 of a tournament.

“This team has been close many times this season, but, for whatever reason, we hadn’t broken through in the Gold bracket,” he explained.

After losing to WAVE, NorCal did not lose so much as a set the rest of the way. On Sunday in the Gold bracket, the team swept OP2 18-1 EP in the semifinal and then avenged its loss to WAVE by sweeping to the title.

“We matched our expectations by winning against a great OP2 team in the Gold bracket semifinals, then exceeded expectations by going on to win the tournament and avenging our only loss against a well-coached and talented Wave team,” Zakarian said.

Zakarian said the Day 1 loss to WAVE was the kick in the pants that his team needed.

“We were fortunate to still come out first in a 3-way tie in pool, and the next morning we had a very productive session about mindset, breathing, and controlling the controllable,” he explained. “It was the most important session of the year in my opinion.”

NorCal received significant contributions from the entire team, including UCLA ’22 recruit Graycee Olson, who had 73 kills and hit over .440 for the tournament as an outside hitter.

“Graycee was no doubt the best hitter in the division, and possibly the entire tourney,” Zakarian said. “More importantly, her passing and overall leadership really matured this past weekend. Opposing teams can no longer pick on her in serve receive; she has proven she can handle whatever comes her way.”

Libero Brianna Lee and OH Naya Williamson, both seniors, also shined for NorCal. Lee was a steady leader, passed a 2.2 and averaged more than three digs per set. Williamson did not start a match for NorCal until the last one on Day 2 and made the most of her opportunity. She passed a 2.15 and put down 24 kills on 60 swings, including the final point at 24-23 to win the Gold medal.

WAVE 18 Dave had an American bid in hand going to Reno, thanks to a third-place finish in the SCVA bid tournament.

“This team wanted more,” coach Dave Johnson said. “They know they belong in the USA division, so getting a bid was the expectation.”

The team was motivated by a quarterfinal loss to the eventual champion in the 18 USA division at Red Rock Rave but lost to NCVC on Day 1 to put its tournament in peril from the start. WAVE responded by sweeping NorCal and advanced to the upper half on points.

WAVE was staring down a similar predicament on Day 2, but got help from Seal Beach 18 Black, which won a 16-14 Game 3 decision over Bakersfield 18-John. Had Bakersfield won that match in two, WAVE would have been out of contention for the Gold pools, based on points.

“Once we were into the top six, we played tremendous clean volleyball, keeping the ball alive with defense and coverage to frustrate Aspire in the quarters and Forza in the semis,” Johnson explained.

“This weekend was truly a team effort, as we got contributions from everyone at critical times,” Johnson continued.  “All three setters, Alana Embry, Jane Petrie and Audrey Tucker, did a fantastic job running the offense.  Our liberos, Kendall Thompson and Jaz Nason, kept us in system in service receive and played great defense. Our middles, Alexa Escobedo, Audrey Dennison and Audrey Hayes, attacked in transition really well and closed blocks all weekend.  Our left sides, Lucy Davis, Lily Nagy, Amaya McMillin and Alex Denny, had some tremendous swings, especially out of system to end long rallies; and our right sides, Anna Hellickson and Megan Thoroman, blocked and attacked at a high efficiency all weekend.  Playing 10 kids each set really makes each win a team effort.”

Forza 18 UA

Forza1 18 UA tied with OP2 for third, which was good enough for the final bid, because the Oklahoma squad already had a superior National bid from its region.

Forza1 not only expected to qualify; it expected to win. Aaron Flores’ team was on track to do just that through a 6-0 start, which included a Day 2 sweep of OP2, which entered as the top overall seed.

“The key moment was beating OP2 on Day 2 to win the pool and take over the top overall seed,” Flores said. “We solidified a first round bye in the playoffs. When OP2 won on Day 3, we secured the bid.”

Sarena Gonzalez, a junior setter committed to San Diego State, was the catalyst for the team. She ran a balanced offense.

“With the team’s kill leader on the season not attending, Sarena’s ability to spread the ball around and make all of her hitters better was key,” Flores said.

Senior RS Brenna Bell also was important to the cause. The southpaw assumed the role of go-to hitter and was an offensive force all weekend.

Dallas Skyline 16 Royal

• I just received two late reports, so let’s jump to 16 Open at Show Me for our final qualifier report of the day. Show Me had 24 teams in the field, but no team finished unbeaten. Only two, Dallas Skyline 16 Royal and Premier Nebraska 16 Gold, ended with one loss. Both qualified, but neither won. That’s how unusual this three-day tournament was.

Northern Lights 161

National No. 1 KC Power 16-1 ended up winning the division despite losing back-to-back matches to MAVS 816 16-1 and Mizuno Northern Lights 16-1, the latter of which was the third qualifier. Mike Stowell’s team had already clinched first when it faced off with MAVS in the last match of their Day 2 pool. MAVS 816 won, 26-24, 25-23, to produce a three-way tie atop the pool at 2-1, but did not win big enough to prevent HPSTL 16 Royal from advancing to the Gold pools in second place.

KC Power’s loss the next day to Lights, in the first match of Gold, produced some tense moments for the pool. After Northern Lights upset Power in three, MAVS KC 16-1 then defeated Northern Lights in three. That puts MAVS in the driver’s seat to win the pool, IF it could get by KC Power. That proved too big an “if,” however, and Power prevailed, although not before being taken to three sets.

Since all three teams in the pool were 1-1 in matches and 3-3 in sets, AND because KC Power was the only previously-qualified team in the pool, the math ( i.e., point percentage) meant everything to the three teams in Gold Pool 1 AND the second-place finisher, Premier, in Gold Pool 2.

Premier Nebraska 16 Gold

KC Power won big enough and lost small enough to come out first, automatically conferring a bid on Premier. Northern Lights, which lost to MAVS KC, edged MAVS for second place and the final bid by no more than a few points.

“Yes, we got the short end of the stick in a 3-way tie,” MAVS coach Henry Lee said.  “It was heartbreaking. No playoffs because of adjustments for COVID. Power losing to Northern Lights in the first match of the day made the road tougher for us even though we did end up beating Northern Lights.  We were up in the second set against NL to win in straight sets, but ended losing that set 27-25.  Ultimately, that made the difference in the final finishes of the pool.  Winning in straight sets would have put us first in our pool and with a bid.  Even so, we were up 8-5 against Power in the third set and couldn’t close it out, so we had our chances.”

Stowell wasn’t thrilled that his KC Power team didn’t play at a high level for the entire weekend. But the team played well in defeated MAVS, 25-13, in the first set of the last Gold pool match, which gave the team the point differential needed to make the final.

“We don’t like the COVID rules of not playing it out on the court, especially when the point differential was so small, but that’s what we are dealing with for now,” Stowell said.

Libero Alayna Pearson in the back row and Sawyer Thomsen, Reagan Fox and Ali Olson at the net keyed Power’s win over MAVS. Power then played its best match of the tournament in the final, sweeping Dallas Skyline, 25-19, 25-17. 

Others who contributed to the winning effort throughout the weekend were Ella Swindle, Eva Testrake, Izzy Day, Caitlyn Cobb, Kate Peterson, Taylor Russel and Rachel Bingham. Testrake, Day and Cobb were particularly effective in serve-receive and on defense.

• Skyline, Premier Nebraska and Northern Lights secured the three 16 Open bids.

Skyline had played only local Texas competition before Show Me, and had been inconsistent while playing, which gave coach Ryan Mitchell pause about how his team would do against a strong field.

“We far exceeded my expectations,” he said. “We were able to put together eight quality matches out of our nine played, and answered my question of whether we could string together multiple good matches in a row.”

Mitchell said the key moment of the tournament came in Game 2 versus Premier in the Gold pool. Skyline already had a win in hand over HP and won the first set versus Premier. One more set win and Skyline had a bid and was in the championship match!

The team, according to Mitchell, was playing “lazy and uninspired” in the second set.

“We were down 19-14 in the second set, and I pulled my L1 and L2 and put in some fiery depth in Autumn Perry and Macy Taylor,” he explained. “Next time we looked up it was 20-19 us and we went on to win a tight one, 27-25, to win the match and the pool and thus qualify. “Our team had multiple performances like that where people stepped in and did their job.”

Baylor recruit Harley Kreck did a great job running the offense and getting all of her hitters involved. She made sure to feed middles Ella Chaney and Reagan Engler, who hit .407 and .395, respectively, for the weekend. Libero Symone Sims and DS Tinley Merder keyed a phenomenal defense. Krista Dooley and Hope Briggs put up a wall on the right side, while outsides Becca Kelly and Madison Goellner led the team in kills.

That loss to Skyline was the only one of the tournament for Premier Nebraska, which was 7-0 to that point, although four of the wins required the full three sets, including Sunday’s Gold pool win over HP.

“Having already qualified for Nationals in our regional bid tournament in Omaha a few weeks ago, we made it clear going into the weekend that we wanted the team to play free and enjoy the present moment,” Premier coach Elise Fulcher said. “It can be very easy to waste a lot of time focusing on items they can’t control or looking too far ahead, so we worked hard at putting all those distractions aside and just focused our own efforts. Playing one match a time, being in the moment, and playing relentless volleyball. They did an excellent job of playing to win and showed some stellar resiliency to persevere through some great battles.”

“On this team, everyone contributes to our success and is focused on being disciplined in executing their responsibilities,” Fulcher added. “They understand their roles and their impact in the overall benefit to the team, which is why this team is succeeding. They have become more aware than ever that all the parts together create one massive force to be reckoned with. They are sharing the workload, working extremely hard for each other and experiencing enjoyment together.”

Adam Beamer said that the focus for his Northern Lights team, which was seeded 12th coming to Kansas City, was “to play hard, without worrying about qualifying, who we were playing, etc.”

“It’s been a long road back with Minnesota volleyball – due to COVID shutting everything down,” he added. “I feel like we are a year behind.”

“We exceeded our expectations,” he continued.  “While I don’t believe we should have been the 12th seed in the field, I was also wasn’t holding my breath about qualifying.”

Getting to the Gold pools and ultimately earning that bid was a total team effort.

“Everyone stepped up and implemented what we had worked on in practice,” Beamer said.  “It’s tough to single them out because we carry 11 players, including four middles and four pin hitters, and they all play and contribute.  Our setter, Stella Swenson, did a great job with tempo and decision making.  Opposite Sydney Schnichels was a force and helped spread the court.  DS’s Rylee Nelson and Sydney Jaynes did a great job in serve receive.  Outsides Emily Moes, Ella Christ and Olivia Swenson all contributed and helped us have fresh legs on Day 3.  Middles Maddie Knutson, Annika Veurink, Ari Blohm and Kaitlyn Sellner had great blocking vision and worked hard to get quality slowdowns at the net.”

• I asked Monday morning for reports from teams making news this weekend outside of a national qualifier.  I have time and room for a couple of highlights and will sprinkle more in over the week.

Elevation Chicas

Elevation 15 Chicas placed second at the OVR bid tournament despite having Katie Noschang out with an injury and OH Payton Evans coming back from a sprained ankle. Howard Garcia’s team earned a National bid while going 5-1. Its only loss came to Mintonette m.51 in a three-set championship match.

“What does this mean?” Garcia asked? “That by moving players around, we still can play at a high level. Leah Wiley, who is taking over RS for Katie, is doing a great job blocking and getting some good swings. We should be ready for Windy City.”

***

Tstreet 16 Curtis competed in PVL Tournament #4 over the weekend, and came away with another championship.

Lily Dwinell and Paige Buzzerio stepped up as outside hitters and were a huge part of our success this weekend,” coach Curtis Yoder said. “Clara Stowell led us as a 6-rotation setter and opposite who made some massive blocks throughout the day. Koko Kirsh was solid at libero along with DS’s Brooklyn Yelland and Maia Nieman, who allowed us to successfully run a two-man serve receive for much of the day.

“It was a solid team effort with big contributions from everyone on the team. Another great weekend for Tstreet 16s!”

***

The Intermountain Region held its bid tournament this past weekend for 12s, 13, 16s and 17s. Club V dominated.

12 North Black took 1st (National bid)
12 South Black took 2nd (American bid)
13 North Black took 1st (National bid)
13 South Black took 2nd (American bid)
16 Ren Matt took 1st (National bid)
17 Ren Reed took 1st (National bid)

Note than Andrew Richards’ 16s and 17s teams did not participate.

“They are anticipating getting an Open bid,” said director Matt Carlson.

• Last week, I asked volleyball coaches on my email list to distribute a bunch of questions for players to answer in a “Three Contacts With…” series. I am receiving a lot of submissions, so let’s do two today!

Ella Lomigora

First up, “Three Contacts With Ella Lomigora.” Lomigora is a sophomore middle attending Corona del Sol HS and playing club for nationally ranked Aspire 16 UA Premier. Let’s see which three questions the All-City performer picked to answer…

Q: You can blink and be transported to any place in the world for a day. Where do you go and why?

EL: I would go to Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. I would want to go visit my family and see how they are doing. My parents are from Sarajevo and moved to the U.S. after the war in 1995, so all of their siblings and my cousins are out of the country and I can’t go see them every other week or month because of the distance. This day would let me go and hang out with them randomly, and let me go somewhere completely different than the states.

Q: What about going to college scares the bejeebers out of you?

EL: Being on my own for once, and having to keep myself accountable for everything about my life, since my parents won’t be there. I will have to make sure I eat enough (and eat healthy), manage my  money and time, go to and complete my classes, and experience what being independent is really about, because if all else fails it will just be me and how I handle any situation it comes to. At the same time, I am excited to go through this experience, and looking forward to seeing how I will adapt and thrive throughout my college life.

Q: What kind of coach brings out the best of you as a player?

EL: I believe that more technical coaches bring out the best in me as a player because they impact me, not only in the moment, but also in my future as a player. What I mean by this is that if my coach were to tell me a specific play, or skill to do at that moment of play, I have a new piece of information that I can hold onto and bring with me no matter where I go to play. I feel as though technical coaches also make me more aware and knowledgeable about the sport, and make me want to know and learn more the more I play. They make me more interested and invested in different plays, and help me become a well-rounded player by increasing my volleyball IQ as well as my skills and techniques for when I play. A coach that has impacted me a lot throughout my volleyball career is Coach Andrew Yamashiro. He is an extremely technical coach that has taught me and worked with me since I played for him on the Aspire 13 Rox team. He has continued to be a great coach to me and many other girls on our team, and has always supported us and provided a large well of volleyball knowledge and tips. Accountability is also very important to me as both a person and an athlete. My club coach, Coach Sharon Vanis, makes this a priority on our team and I believe this plays a major role in the continued success of our team. She makes sure we are all doing our jobs as players, and that when we step onto the court we understand our goals and how we can achieve them.”

Chloe Kaminski

• “Three Contacts With Chloe Kaminski.” Kaminski is a junior OH/DS from Blue Springs HS and Dynasty VBC. She’s been All-State the past two years, Area POY the past two years and is committed to Oklahoma. I bet she’s interesting. Let’s see…

Q: You can blink and be transported to any place in the world for a day. Where do you go and why? 

CK: I would go to Versailles, France, because history is my favorite subject in school and Louis XIV was a very interesting topic and I would really like to visit his palace in real life. Also, Versailles isn’t far from Paris, so once I was done at the palace, I could sightsee in Paris.

Q: What’s the most interesting or unusual thing about you?

CK: Freshman year of high school I had a Crocs phase. So now I own 12 pairs of Crocs. My collection includes all the colors of the rainbow, white, black, and multi-color tie-dye. 

Q: Describe your scariest moment while learning how to drive.

CK: I don’t personally have a specific scary moment while learning how to drive. However, while learning how to drive, you start to see how bad other people are at driving, which can be very scary. I’m a very safe driver so now being in the car with other people while they drive can be nerve wracking. 

***

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