Daily Dots (April 15, 2021): Club or high school volleyball factoids, notions and ideas to impress your friends (or not)
• The 48-team 18 Open field is set for the USA Volleyball Junior National Championships, which will be conducted April 23-25 in Columbus. Fourteen qualifiers handed out their full complement of three bids, which makes 42. The MLK qualifier, conducted in conjunction with Show Me, doled out two more and four At-Large bids were conferred this week. That makes 48 teams. The field is set!
Or is it?
We are hearing of at least one more At-Large bid being offered. Does that mean that one of the first four offered At-Large entry did not accept? Or that a previously-qualified team will not be making the journey to Columbus for one reason or another.
The intrigue builds.
We are making efforts to get to the bottom of this…
• The Open fields for the 15s through 17s at Junior Nationals are capped at 36 teams. Midway through qualifier season, 14 teams in the 15s division have locked up bids, 15 teams are dancing in 16 Open and half the field, 18 teams, have been determined in 17 Open. Here are the lists, with their most recent VolleyballMag.com national rankings:
1. A5 15-Bob (Georgia)
2. Dynasty 15 Black (Kansas)
3. WAVE 15 Juliana (California)
5. Madfrog 15 National Green (Texas)
6. Texas Advantage 15 Black (Texas)
8. KC Power 15-1 (Kansas)
20. Premier Nebraska 15 Gold (Nebraska)
22. Metro 15 Travel (Washington D.C.)
23. NKYVC 15 Tsunami (Kentucky)
Team to Watch Circle City 15 Purple (Indiana)
Team to Watch Rockwood Thunder 15 Elite (Missouri)
OTVA 15 T Randy (Florida)
Six Pack 15U (Iowa)
Triangle 15 Black (North Carolina)
1. KC Power 16-1 (Kansas)
2. Drive Nation 16 Red (Texas)
3. Legacy Adidas 16-1 (Michigan)
4. Texas Advantage 16 Black (Texas)
5. 1st Alliance 16 Silver (Illinois)
6. Tstreet 16-Curtis (California)
7. WAVE 16 Alfee (California)
8. A5 16-Gabe (Georgia)
10. Dallas Skyline 16 Royal (Texas)
11. Premier Nebraska 16 Gold (Nebraska)
16. Mizuno Northern Lights 16-1 (Minnesota)
21. Sunshine 16 Los Angeles (California)
22. Houston Juniors 16 Elite (Texas)
24. Top Select 16 Elite Blue (Florida)
25. NKYVC 16-1 Tsunami (Kentucky)
1. Sunshine 17 Los Angeles (California)
2. Houston Skyline 17 Royal (Texas)
3. Drive Nation 17 Red (Texas)
5. Premier Nebraska 17 Gold (Nebraska)
6. Adversity 17 Adidas (Illinois)
7. Madfrog 17 National Green (Texas)
8. OTVA 17 T Jason (Florida)
9. WAVE 17 Rachel (California)
10. Metro 17 Travel (Washington D.C.)
11. A5 17-Jing (Georgia)
12. Circle City 17 Purple (Indiana)
13. Texas Advantage 17 Black (Texas)
17. Mizuno Northern Lights 17-1 (Minnesota)
18. Nebraska Elite 17-Alpha (Nebraska)
27. Academy Volleyball Cleveland 17 National (Ohio)
Team to Watch NKYVC 17 Tsunami (Kentucky)
Team to Watch Triangle 17 Black (North Carolina)
Dynasty Academy 17 Adidas (Kansas)
• The adidas Lone Star Classic, in Dallas, hosts the only Open action nationwide this weekend. Shall we do some picking?
The 31-team 15 Open division has four qualified teams: KC Power, TAV, Madfrog and Dynasty. Three have won qualifiers. KC Power has won two. I predict that Madfrog will add a second pelt to its belt this weekend in its hometown, with high-riser Avery Jackson leading the way.
With bids trickling to eight places, three bids will be conferred here. I predict that Alamo 15 Premier will leave Dallas with a bid, as will the winner of Houston Skyline 15 Royal and Houston Juniors 15 Elite. They play on Day 1. The third bid…it would be so easy to say Dallas Skyline 15 Royal…will be 575 VB 15-Kortney, from the Southern Region. Others to watch include Team Indiana Icy Iguanas and Flyers 15-APX Bill.
The 16 Open division has 39 teams and four qualified teams. This is a deep field, with four teams in the top 10 of the national rankings, released today; nine among the top 30 and at least six others that would be in a top 40 if we went 10 deeper. That’s almost half the field rated among the nation’s elite!
Alamo 16 Premier does not have a bid yet. The team not only wins a bid; it wins the whole tournament, defeating OT J 16 Will, which also qualifies, in the championship match. There are so many candidates for the third bid…Hive 16 Gold has the talent but isn’t ready yet to contend…Dynasty 16 Black has gobs of talent but has been dealing with injuries…so give me Infinity 16 Adidas to find a way and become the first team from Mississippi to qualify in a high school-aged Open division.
Looking at 17 Open, there are eight qualified teams in the field of 43. Seven are ranked among the top 13 nationally. As a consequence, DO NOT expect this age division to cough up three bids. The field is just too top-heavy for that to happen. I like Adversity 16 Adidas to win this. Illinois clubs have been having extraordinary success playing high school during the week and club on the weekend and we say that continues here.
Two bids will come out of this qualifier, one to Coast 17 Rodrigo, which ties for third; and one to Rockwood Thunder 17 Elite. If the division gives up a third bid, we think it will be OT 17 O Roberto over Roots 17 UA.
• So, getting back to 18 Open At-Large considerations, I have confirmed that four teams, WAVE 18 Kevin, San Gabriel Elite 18 Roshambo, Union 18-UA and Rockwood Thunder 18 Elite, all were offered AND accepted Open bids. If there’s another At-Large bid out there, and there is, because Rancho Valley 18 Premier just accepted it, it means that a team that qualified at a qualifier will not be able to attend.
The intrigue builds further…
• Let’s get back, for the moment, to writing about last week’s qualifiers. I now have reports from all three qualifiers in 16 USA from Show Me, a division that featured 47 teams.
EVA 16 National, Premier Nebraska 16 Black and OP2 161 finished 1-2-3 to earn the bids.
EVA is Elite Volleyball Academy, a Delta Region team based in Little Rock, Arkansas. The team, coached by Tanja Eckart, lost its first match, was seeded in the bottom half of the field and lost its first match to Mizuno Northern Lights 16-2, the overall No. 6 seed. EVA then ran the table, winning nine in a row to emerge as champions.
“We have been preparing for the qualification process since mid-November,” Eckart said. “We were going into April and the Show Me Qualifier with high hopes. In the process of preparation, we played regional tournaments either 1-2 age groups up and in the highest division offered, and national tournaments we played in 16 open. We have not won any of those tournaments so it was hard for the team to see the possibility of the win, but we have talked about trusting the process and how our preparation will pay off once we go into qualifiers. I think the result speaks for itself and playing up and in tough divisions did pay off to prepare us to win Show Me KC.”
The key moment that sparked qualification came in the first round of Gold bracket play on Sunday against top-seeded 417 Juniors 16-1.
“I think facing a really tough opponent in the first round of bracket play and really believing in our system was the spark for the mentality, ‘We can do this!’” Eckart explained. “It was an unbelievable team effort, as every single player did their role and their position to the best of their abilities. It was truly a perfect storm with all the things coming together. We played as a team from the start to the end.”
“We had to trust our training and, in the process, we talked about doing small things well consistently and with high quality and great discipline,” Eckart continued. “I believe this mentality and culture we built was what carried us through the qualifier and to the win. We always want to control what we can: our effort and attitude along with being disciplined in the system. When we execute those things, I tell the team that we are hard to beat. They bought fully in.”
Eckart said that unstoppable offense by EVA’s outsides and gritty defense – “no ball goes unchased” – keyed the win.
“I do have to give a lot of recognition to my team captain, Laci Bohannan, for the impeccable way she led this team for three consecutive days,” Eckart said. “She perfectly provided encouragement and motivation needed at the right moment. She has a way of saying the right things the team needs to hear at the right time. I have coached her seven years now and still admire her leadership each time she speaks in the huddle.
“Another player that deserves a lot of credit for this achievement is our setter, Olivia Wiedower. She ran a well-organized and fast offense and made great decisions for us to have a chance to win. I could really go down the entire roster, as each player’s contribution was not smaller than the one next standing to her. I could not be more proud of each one of them. To win a qualifier you need all the pieces to move in the same direction. It was a total team effort.”
• Premier Nebraska 16 Black was undefeated before falling to EVA in the championship match. Two of those wins came against the third qualifier, OP2.
Coach Lindsay Peterson said that her team expected to qualify after playing great at MEQ but falling just short in a challenge match.
“Our goals coming in were to play consistently across all three days, play for each-other, and be disciplined,” Peterson said. “The girls fully expected to qualify if they could meet those goals.”
Premier Nebraska went 6-0 through the first two days, which gave the team the push it needed to get across the qualification finish line.
“Making it to the championship match was something that we wanted for sure, but we knew that there were three bids,” Peterson said. “The girls held themselves to those goals, pushed very hard all weekend, didn’t let down, and in my opinion met the expectations they had for themselves!”
Peterson made sure to point out that every player on her team made big contributions. Anna Weberg was a defensive dandy for three days. Azaria Green’s dominant blocking sparked runs. Caitlin McCormack used her vision to score with consistency. Ali Butler served exceptionally and had big kills in big moments. Skylar Walters set a 5-1 and made great decision. Shealie Wiebers was an offensive spark the last two days. Ava Greene, still recovering from a high ankle sprain suffered at MEQ, came up with huge blocks. Kaelyn Anderson served as well as she had all year. Ava Hilts took big swings from both pins, especially in the finals. And Audrey Behrens, who is out for the season, called plays from the sidelines and provided a great boost with her leadership.
OP2 went 8-2 at Show Me, losing only to Premier Nebraska. The team had been dealing with injuries but was finally back healthy in Kansas City.
“I knew we had the potential to qualify at a national qualifier, but didn’t know if we could do it first out of the gate,” coach Will Ethridge said. “We struggled a bit on Day 1 and 2 but really stepped up our performance on Gold bracket day!”
Ethridge said that once his team reached the semifinals, he knew his team would have two opportunities to qualify with three bids available.
“This team has a lot of grit,” he explained. “I just could not see them missing with two opportunities.”
The team lost to Premier in its first opportunity, but the match went three sets, which was better than being swept, like it had the day before. OP2 then cashed in the bid by defeating Dynasty 16 Blue, also in three sets.
“It really was a solid team effort,” the coach said. “We got great performances from all on Day 3. Team captains Brynlee Birney and Bailey Denwalt led the way with solid performances at libero and setter, respectively. Newcomer to the team, Madeline Onan, really brought some firepower from the opposite position. I’m very proud of the girls. We went to the third set five times over the weekend, winning four of those matches!”
• 18 Open At-Large mystery solved! WD Nation 18-Adidas, which qualified at Red Rock Rave, is not making the trip to Columbus. Coach Danny Tullis had nine players listed on his roster for the Vegas qualifier, but only eight went. Thereafter, because of injury, including to his standout setter, WD’s roster dwindled to six. Soon it was four, as a couple of younger players could not make the trip for various reasons, including school exams. He tried to pull from other teams — he had 1 17s and two 16s teams — but one 16s team was already committed to traveling to another event that weekend. And there were informal high school beach volleyball championships in Louisiana that weekend… And other parents didn’t want to travel because of COVID or incur the cost. Soon he was trying to pull from 13-year-olds…
“Everything that could have happened for me not to go to Nationals happened, Tullis said.
Fortunately for WD, USAV volleyball understood that this year is not a normal year. They have agreed not to sanction the club.
• While we wait for some stragglers who promised qualifier recaps to come through, let’s finish today’s Dots with two more “Three Contacts with…” pieces.
First, “Three Contacts with…Rachel Fairbanks.” Fairbanks is a senior S/RS for Foothill HS and Tstreet 18-1 Kasia who has signed to play at Pitt. She has been on two Open national champions over her club career and is a 2020 Under Armour All-American.
Q: What’s the most interesting thing about you?
RF: Ever since I can remember, I have been able to say any word backwards. I am not exactly sure how we found out I was able to do this, but I can. I have three older sisters and I can remember sitting around the dinner table when I was probably five years old and they would just shout out words for me and I would just repeat them, but backwards. It became more a source of entertainment rather than a cool talent.
Q: What’s the wisest thing a parent ever said to you?
RF: Both of my parents are very sport-oriented and truly believe that attitude and effort will get you further than talent. Over the years, they have said many things that will forever be engraved in my brain, but the one that pops up in my thoughts the most often would probably be, “Walk it off.” Whether it be with a little injury or a bad play or even a bad day; taking some time, a deep breath, and walking it off always clears my head and prepares me for the next moments.
Q: What’s the funniest moment you remember from kindergarten?
RF: If I’m being honest, Kindergarten was my most rebellious year. From jumping off of the swings on the playground to sticking out my tongue to my friends and getting busted, my parents received many phone calls. Out of all of the things that occurred, however, the most serious offense that I did was doing my friend’s homework for her. Later that day, when I faced my parents, they scolded me for doing too much homework.
• Finally, “Three Contacts with…Kate Phillips.” Phillips is a 6-1 sophomore middle from Aspire 16-UA. She also plays beach and was named to the All-Arizona Academic team in her first two high school seasons.
Q: What is the most interesting or unusual thing about you?
KP: First off I would like to say that I love anything art-related! From my early years up to now, my parents often find me making art projects out of random things I find around the house. Through this past year’s craziness and through many quarantines, I decided to start a business called “Original Copy,” where I paint and design new or previously-owned shoes. While I love doing this so much, and still paint shoes from time to time, I’ve found that my true love is in painting! During my off time, if I’m not on the court or sand playing volleyball, you can find me painting at school or in my room. Recently three of my best paintings were displayed in a local art show.
Q: You have to cook dinner for yourself and any three people in the world currently living. With whom do you dine and what are you serving?
KP: If I could invite any three people to come to eat a dinner that I have prepared for them, I would definitely start with Gordon Ramsay. He would raise the bar of how well I need to prepare this night, and I know for a fact that he would keep me humble the whole course of the meal. Next up we have Guy Fieri attending my dinner party. Guy would be invited just for being himself. He would obviously provide the comedic relief balancing out Mr. Gordon Ramsay. And he’s tried some of the best foods in America, so having him taste my food would be monumental. Finally, the last person invited is the fabulous April Ross. First off the conversations would be amazing, and she has also traveled the world. With traveling the world comes great and different food from everywhere. Now to reveal the amazing dinner that will be served to these three people: The one and only thick and creamy Kraft mac ‘n cheese. No one would be able to resist it!
Q: If you find yourself stranded on a deserted island and can only have one movie that you’re able to watch, what movie do you choose and why?
KP: If I was stranded on an island only being able to watch one movie, I know without a doubt which one I would choose. That movie would be “Castaway.” With this film being as legendary as it is, who wouldn’t want to watch this over and over again? I would also use this for something else. I would simply follow the actions that Tom Hanks followed in order to escape the island. Of course, we’d have to improvise a little bit. Along with all the actions needed to escape this situation, I need my very own ‘Wilson,’ so I’d make a coconut named ‘Nilsen’ to be my best friend.