Tawa’s Daily Dots: Recruiting returns, qualifying passion burns and butter churns

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Tawa's Daily Dots 4/16/2021-Arizona Sky 18
AZ Sky 18

Daily Dots (April 16, 2021): Club or high school volleyball factoids, notions and ideas to impress your friends (or not)

• I have a problem. I have 12 Dots’ worth of information, but Daily Dots is a 10-Dot piece.

Monday through Friday. Every day.

Like Old Faithful.

Well, I’m going to mix it up. There might be a dozen Dots in this edition. As James Hong once said, “No one has to know.” (First person to email me, jtawa@volleyballmag.com, with the correct reference will get something fun from me).

This first Dot may be the most important to many: RECRUITING IS BACK!

Today, the NCAA Division I Council announced that, as of June 1, Division I will return to its regular recruiting calendar.  Division I has been in a dead period since March 13, 2020.

What today’s news means, most of all, is that both AAU Nationals and USAV Junior Nationals will have college coaches in attendance watching players play and their parents being parents.

• Ok, we’ve got 11 divisions from NEQ, Show Me and Sierra National to get through. Some will go quickly, because we have received no reports. Others will have a little more depth. Let’s have at it, starting with Sierra National in Reno.

Run by the Northern California Volleyball Association, Sierra Nevada ran Saturday through Monday last week and was the final 18s qualifier of the 2021 season. We wrote previously about 18 USA while we are jumping around. In this Dot, let’s talk about 18 American.

Twenty-four teams competed in this division. Only one, Northern California’s own, Absolute 18 Pink, did not lose. The team started on Saturday with a dominating win over Northern Nevada Juniors 18 Arceenia and capped its winning weekend by sweeping another area team, Silver State 18 Dana, the second time it defeated that team over the course of the three-day event. Absolute twice had to rally from a Game 1 loss, but otherwise had an unimpeded ride.

That’s all I have though. I wish I could tell more of the story, but my efforts went begging. I did locate a roster on Absolute’s site, so let’s recognize the players: Grace Hovan, Leia Minter, Lila Sayre, Caitlin Smith, Olivia Smith, Drew Stimson, Annabella Ure, Simone Wright, Josephine Woldemar, and Cynthia Naomi Beall.

• In the 23-team 18 Open division, AZ Sky 18 Gold won the whole tournament!

Flash backwards to Crossroads, when AZ Sky had a chance to qualify but lost to Encore 18 Goldhahn in the match for the final bid.

AZ Sky had a hard time dealing with the loss.

“The team was devastated,” head coach Julia Larish said at the time. “Not only to be that close to a bid, but to put everything you have into a match and come up short is a hard pill to swallow. They were exhausted and emotionally drained, but I also think they feel more motivated than ever and are more prepared to take on their next challenge.”

This was that next challenge.

“My expectation as a coach was to finish top three to ensure a bid,” Larish said. “However, the goals I set and communicated to my team were all focused on things within their control; things that I knew, if accomplished, should bring them to that outcome.”

AZ Sky opened as the No. 4 overall seed, but a Day 1 loss to ID Crush 18 Bower put AZ Sky in the same pool as Mizuno Long Beach 18 Rockstar, which was playing without its superstar setter, Kami Miner, but was playing with its superstar attacker, Starr Williams.

Sky played Long Beach first on Sunday and emerged with the three-set win. Two sweeps subsequently gave AZ Sky the pool and put it in great position to qualify on Monday.

Monday’s first Gold pool match versus Rage Westside 18 Jen, was key. AZ Sky recovered from a Game 1 loss to win in three, 15-13 in the third. Game 2’s win, 25-8, would be important as the pool played out, because after Sky beat Rage, Rage defeated AZ East Valley Juniors 18N1 Tempe, in three, 15-13 in the third. All AZ Sky needed was to win one set in its match with EVJ to win the pool and clinch a bid. The team went one further, rallying from a Game 1 loss to prevail in three.

Larish noted the play of setter Brooke Cowie “made great decisions; created 1-on-1 opportunities); OH Trinity Freeman (go-to hitter and passed well); and MB Madison Lounds (25 blocks and hit .490); but emphasized that the team played well as a whole.

“The team bought into their roles and that is where we truly found success,” Larish said.

Oregon Juniors

Oregon Juniors 18-1 Gold came to Reno seeded eighth overall and left with an Open bid after a 7-2 weekend.

OJ’s head coach Kalani Efstathiou said he thought his team had a good path to a bid but he wasn’t sure what to expect from his squad, which had just wrapped up the high school season only days before.

“We have had such limited practices this year with Oregon’s high school season running at the same time as club,” he said. “Therefore, we really have gone to tournaments with the mindset to take those opportunities to improve and compete. We stayed focused on one match at a time and continued to just battle and execute in each match.”

Efstathiou said that OJVA played consistently well all weekend, which helped it qualify.

“We faced some strong teams and found ourselves in deficits a couple of times, but I would say this team is learning to trust themselves in those moments,” he explained. “They didn’t panic and just kept competing until they found their opportunities.”

OJVA’s path to qualifying included a win over previously-qualified Club V 18 Ren Reed on Day 1 and over several bid-wanting teams as hungry as they were. Beating Club V was key.

“We’ve taken sets from Open-qualified teams and top-ranked teams in the country, but we kept coming up short in the match results,” Efstathiou explained. “Before that match we talked as a team that if we really wanted to prove that we belonged in the Open division, then we needed to show that we could beat other qualified teams. They never backed down in that match and clearly were playing with higher expectations for themselves and it showed.”

Monday’s Gold pool included a dominating two-set win over Mizuno Long Beach and a competitive two-set loss to San Gabriel Elite 18 Roshambo. The pool started with Long Beach edging SGE in two sets. With all teams 1-1 (2-2), it came down to points. OJVA had the bid!

“This truly was a team effort,” the coach said. “We have two girls who are returners on our 18 Gold team, Daley McClellan and Alison Buchholz, and I would say their leadership and play this weekend were key to our success. Our middles, Tess Masingale and Brezlyn Langer, had a huge match against Mizuno Long Beach on our last day to get us into the finals. We had a great match-up there and they executed perfectly. We’ve also added a new setter, Adia Messenger, who always has a team-first mentality and has shown great leadership on the court as well. Having two highly competitive setters has improved the dynamic nature of our offense.

“Our pins carried us in much of the second day against great ball-control teams (WAVE and Rage Westside). McClellan, Jasmine Sells, Alison Dreves, and Ainslie Ridgway have been steady in serve receive and have continued to provide offense and blocking at both pins consistently. Those four have played together for several years now and they complement each other very well on the court. Our libero, Caitlin Gay, has been a key leader for our defense and was steady all weekend. She gets better as a match goes on and she learns more about her opponent in each play.

“Our defensive specialist, Christin Kwon, had a HUGE dig in our match on Day 3 that brought so much energy to our team at a critical moment. Last, but certainly not least, is our middle Emma Swett. She wasn’t able to play this weekend and had to stay home. She has been the heart of our team for much of the season and continued to find ways to inspire and motivate the girls, even from home. It’s a special group and they balance each other very well.”

There was a third bid and it went to Rage after Jen Agresti’s team edged San Gabriel, 15-13, in the third. We received no report from Agresti but hope to get one in the future.

All’s well that ends well for San Gabriel: it received an Open At-Large bid after that devastating loss and will be in the 48-team Open field in Columbus.

• Now, let’s jump to NEQ, starting with the 16 Open division.

TAV 16 Black, led by OH Kyndal Stowers, MB Hannah Pfiffner and liberos Zoe Winford and McKenna Gildon, went 10-0 to qualify and win.

The team dropped just one set and that came in the championship match versus previously-qualified 1st Alliance 16 Silver. That set score was 29-27, evidence that TAV was more than competitive in every set it played. I wish I had more, but…

NKYVC 16 Tsunami

NKYVC 16-1 Tsunami and Sunshine 16-LA finished joint third to claim the other two bids.

Sunshine came into the weekend with a new setter and a concern, from the coaching staff, that the changes would not prove too stressful. They did not. Sunshine did not drop a match until it had already clinched its bid.

The team was led by the six-rotation play of Torrey Stafford, who passed really well on the weekend.  Grace Thrower had 44 kills on the outside the last two days. The team’s setters, Sydney Floyd and Quincy Wedbush, both had struggled with bad ankle sprains; so they had help from Emily Wen, who was brought on the team to help. She stepped in with 154 assists and ran the team quite well.  The middle work of Dior Charles, who blocked really well; and Nicole Lankton, who ran slide with ease; proved invaluable to the team’s cause. Carly Greskovics and Saylor Little, who share the libero duties; passed well and were solid on defense. Finally, the team was able to get Avery Jones and Julia Capps involved from the right front and right back to keep the balanced offense.

NKYVC finished T-24 at Big South in its second qualifying attempt. After going 3-0 on Day 1, Renae Taylor’s squad went 1-4 thereafter, including being swept out of contention on Day 2. After contending for a bid its first time out at MEQ, this was a change. Which NKYVC team would show up for NEQ?

“Day 1 was OK but still not the team that I saw at MEQ,” Taylor said.  “We were still not playing with the confidence that I know that they have.  Day 3, when they walked into the gym, it was a different feel to the team. It felt like they all knew what their job was and what needed to be done.  It was exciting and scary all at the same time. I knew that the team came to win.”

The key moment came in the Gold pools. After losing to 1st Alliance, NKYVC edged Metro 16 Travel in three, which gave the team the spark it needed to finish the day. Tsunami defeated Tribe 16 Elite Brett in two, which clinched the bid.

“We played Tribe on Day 1 and beat them in two sets,” Taylor said. “However, Tribe came to play and wanted that bid as well.  Set one, we were down 18-11. I called a time out and told them that they do not have a choice to flip the switch. That is when the spark started to finish the match with Tribe in two sets.”

Key contributors were Kayla Hostetler, Ava Jacobs, Chloe Fortner, and Sidney Arstingstall, who were amazing in serve receive and back court defense. Setter  Maya Hunt kept the competition guessing by constantly changing the options to create one-on-one situations.  The front line of Calah Jackson, Sydney Nolan, Peyton Mast, Ava Siefke, and Courtney Stava  added to the defense by producing a solid block.

“I can’t just name a few,” Taylor insisted. “It was a team effort in reaching success this weekend. We talk all the time about how a TEAM will get the job done. That is exactly what it took. It took all 10 of them contributing to the matches. I’m very proud of these girls.”

• Fifty-eight teams played 16 USA. The second, third and eighteenth seeds earned bids. We did not hear from any of them.

TCVA 16 Green Adidas, a Texas club, went 10-0 to take home the title. TAV 16 Blue, which hadn’t dropped a set before the final, finished second; and Triangle 16 Blue finished second and third, respectively, and also took home bids. Which team finished second and which placed third? Beats me! Look at AES and you’ll understand  my confusion: TAV is listed second, yet played in the third-place match. The opposite holds for Triangle. Both are 16 Blue teams, so that might have caused the issue. I sure wish I had reports from these clubs to understand what actually happened…

• TCVA’s other 16s team, TCVA 16 Gold Adidas, went 10-0 to win the 85-team 16 American division. The team cruised until the semis and finals, where it was extended to three sets each time before prevailing.

Because I received no report here, I checked AES for results info. It appears that 16 Green Adidas and 16 Gold Adidas have not played an official match this club season.

• The final NEQ division to recap is 17 USA, which had 64 teams. We received no reports from Liberty Elite 17 National, which won; and TX Performance 17s, which placed third. That means all the glory in this Dot belongs to second-place finisher VA Juniors 17 Elite, which was 9-0 (18-0) before running into LEVBC in the championship match.

VA Juniors

VA Juniors was coming off of a very successful showing at Big South, where the team started as the 54th seed and finished T-5 and in the Gold bracket.

“We acknowledged as a team that we were finally peaking and that NEQ would be our opportunity to “’cross the finish line’ of earning a bid, coach Jharred Tulloch said. “We set the expectation of finishing in the top three. We didn’t expect to finish the tournament only dropping the two sets in the finals that’s for sure. That definitely exceeded our expectations. Earning the bid was our ultimate goal and we were finally able to accomplish that.”

The team’s big win came over Triangle 17 Blue in the quarters.

“I think we as a group realized then that we had a very good shot at receiving the bid,” Tulloch said.

OH Leia Harper, a senior who will play at Georgia Tech, was a beast for the team. She averaged almost six kills per set and added 12 aces. Libero Bela Neumann was a catalyst for the team. She played outside for Big South, but went back to the contrasting jersey here and stepped up in a huge way.

“Her coverage of the court, exceptional bailout setting, and immense volleyball IQ kept us in-system and helped us to the highest side-out percentage we’ve had all season,” Tulloch said.

Finally, 6-foot-2 setter Ella Park showed what a difference maker she is. VA Juniors lost the Brown recruit for eight weeks with a broken foot.

“Her getting back into the starting lineup at full fitness made a huge difference to our overall offensive output, and her height gave us a huge advantage not only offensively but blocking wise as well,” Tulloch explained.

• OK, we’re cranking now! We have five divisions at Show Me left to cover and we are finished. I’m going to combine 17 American and 15 American into this one Dot, because we have not heard from either Rockwood Thunder 17 White, which went 10-0 to win 17 American; or Premier Nebraska 15 Red, which went 10-0, didn’t drop a set and had a team score more than 19 points in any one set just twice on its way to winning 15 American. As always, they are free to share their story of qualification in a future Dot.

• The 17 USA division included a previously-qualified team, Mizuno Northern Lights 172. Lights was the top seed in the 47-team division and rolled to the title.

Northern Lights coach Rachel Brown was worried the target on the team’s back would be too large to miss, especially with a starting right side out due to injury.

“Our expectation going into the weekend, no matter who we played, was to always play at our level,” Brown said. “We wanted to hold our seed if possible, but the goal was to finish in the top three, executing new hitting shots when the opportunity presented itself, and have fun trying out a new lineup/positions.”

The team finished 9-0, was extended to a third set only twice and went 3-0 against the other teams that qualified.

“We greatly exceeded our expectations,” Brown said. “Our team maintained consistency in effort and skill throughout the entirety of the weekend. They made many successful plays through a hit that they have been working on, through a scrappy play that took throwing themselves on the ground, and most definitely pulling themselves out of small ruts and taking the lead on a game against a tough opponent. As coaches, we are so insanely proud of them.”

Brown lauded the play of her entire roster. I’ll let her hand out the accolades.

Maddie Lipetzky (middle hitter) is one of our strongest players. She plays with intent, and is extremely reliable. She is a go-to outlet for kills, is a solid and consistent block in the front row, and can keep us in a rally through her defense in the back row. On top of it all, her positive attitude, calm demeanor and grace make her a leading force on our team.

“Darienne Andre (middle) did a phenomenal job of always being active on the court, whether it was blocking or hitting. She had some major blocks and swings, which helped us at very crucial points.

“Our outsides, Allie Elliot and Abby Standwood, did an outstanding job at owning the front and back row when needed and really being leaders on the court throughout the whole tournament. They received a lot of sets and the setters commented multiple times how they were always there no matter what was given to them.

“Our setters, Abby Jandro and Ella Kiebel, were put in a situation where they sometimes needed to swing, block and set due to an injury with our right side. Their set selections were out of this world and set our hitters up for so much success. They are both defensively sound and this really helped us be steady the whole way.

Jayna Bredenberg did a fabulous job as a defensive specialist this tournament for our outsides. Not only were her skills on par but her communication on and off the court was on a whole other level; multiple times coming up to the ten-foot line to tell our front row hitters what she was seeing was open on the court. 

Kaija Kunze-Hoeg is usually playing as a DS/libero, but stepped up and played right side this last weekend. The way this kid can see the court when she’s hitting and perfectly place a ball (whether it be a hit or tip) to make the defense scramble is one I haven’t seen in a very long time. It felt great to see her feel so confident as the tournament went on to continue to own that position.

Jenna Pelnis was our steady libero the whole weekend and she truly owned the backcourt. She really stepped up and commanded the court in her role on defense as well as serve receive.

Emma Slusser, our right side, whose injury prevented her from playing this weekend, did a fabulous job at being a supportive teammate on the sidelines. She made such an impact in the way she was communicating to each player what she saw on the sidelines and being our main cheerleader for us.  I know each girl, and all us coaches, greatly appreciated her stepping up into being the teammate who did everything she could to still be present with the team.”

Livewire 17 Adidas

Livewire 17 Adidas lost only to Northern Lights 172 on its way to tying for third and receiving a bid.

“This team had come so close to getting a bid,” coach Allissa Morgan said. “I had high expectations that we could get it done in Kansas City, as we had finally stepped up and started really competing at the next level.”

Morgan said that winning the first match in two on “bracket day” gave her the confidence that Livewire would fight to the end.   

“Winning a bid is a huge accomplishment and we are so excited,” she said.  “The girls really were tenacious and fought through the tough moments.”

Setter Maila Coles really stepped up and led the team.  She played every set of every match and was a huge leader for us.  She also made smart choices and got to every ball.  OH Emma Soderstrom led the offense with smart shots and a calm demeanor while remaining a fiery competitive spirit. Six-rotation RS Kylie Davey finished as Livewire’s No. 1 point scorer and made the offense very dynamic.

UPVBC 17 Adidas, from Oklahoma, and Iowa’s Six Pack 17 also captured bids.

• In 15 Open, two teams with bids in hand found their way to the championship match. Both KC Power 15-1 and Rockwood Thunder 15 Elite were undefeated heading to the final. Power, which earlier won MEQ, added a second title with a three-set win.

KC Power coach David Beach said that, having qualified, the team had the luxury of experimenting with different lineups and seeing how kids looked in new positions. There were no expectations; just to compete and play hard.

“I love the way we compete,” Beach said.  “Even when we weren’t executing our best, our effort and team support were still inspiring.”

Beach said that the team’s first contact siding out was key to the team’s success. Rather than single out players, he lauded coach Natalie Bates for doing a nice job in that area.

Circle City

Premier Nebraska 15 Gold, Six Pack 15 and Circle City 15 Purple finished T-3, T-3 and fifth to earn bids. We heard from Six Pack and Circle City. Premier coach Shannon Smolinski has been swamped, but we expect to devote a Dot to her team in the future…

Six Pack tied for third with a 5-3 record. Coach Elizabeth Plum said the team likes making small goals.

“We made the goal to get first or second in our pool Day 1 to make the top half,” Plum said. “We kept that goal on Day 2 and Day 3.”

Six Pack 15

Plum said that qualifying in the team’s first qualifier definitely exceeded expectations. 

“Because we didn’t get to go to qualifiers last year with COVID, we didn’t know how we measured up at the Open level,” she said.

The next iteration of Petersen twins [mom is the head volleyball coach at UNI], Payton and Jadyn, led Six Pack in kills. Plum said that their court awareness and volleyball IQ are unmatched.

Six Pack also got strong work from setters Gabriella Lombardi and Emma Stammeyer and terrific defense Annalise Grant and Morgan Block, which gave the team multiple swings in every rally. Finally, the middles and right sides, Marissa Cahoy, Jessica Gergen, Kinsey Mohwinkle, Gabriella Lombardi and Isabelle Elliott, made impressive stops at the net at crucial times.

Circle City went 0-2 in Gold pool play on Sunday and needed to play and beat HPSTL 15 Royal in the fifth-place match to capture the final bid.

Coach Jenna Tadros said she was hopeful that Circle could qualify, but, seeing the pools, it was going to be a whole lot harder if her team did not win its Friday pool. It did not, resulting in  Day 2 pool that consisted of Circle, Rockwood, Dynasty 15 Black and Dallas Skyline 15 Royal.

“It was hands down the hardest pool I’ve ever seen on Day 2 at a 23-team qualifier in 10 years,” Tadros said. “Two of the four had already qualified and Skyline proved they were a force when they beat Dynasty in Match 1 that morning. All four coaches discussed that it was going to be a long day…”

Circle figured out a way to get by Skyline and Dynasty to advance second, but could not sustain the momentum early on Sunday, forcing it to the fifth-place match.

Mild-mannered, Tadros actually got a yellow card after a dicey call at 19-19 in Game 2 of the bid match.

“Our girls exploded with energy from it,” Tadros said. “Every now and then those tend to work in your favor even when the call doesn’t come your way. This was one of those moments.”

Tadros said that OH Ava Utterback made a fan of many with her dynamic attacking all weekend. Utterback, who won’t turn 15 until June, handled the triple block and being served constantly with great poise. 

“She played almost flawless volleyball against Dynasty,” Tadros said. “After we lost set 1, 25-8, Ava asked me if there was anything she could do and I told her, ‘Just keep going.’ She then went to her teammates and had an inspiring talk- we came back and won the match in three.”

Tadros said that setter Emery Moore and RS Alexis Maesch also had great moments. Maesch was unstoppable and stepped up in a huge way on Saturday in a must-win match against Skyline.

Livewire 15 Adidas

Livewire 15 Adidas, Madfrog 15 Black and Shockwave 15 Adidas Black all qualified in 15 USA.

Livewire won despite losing matches on each of the first two days, each by two points in third sets.

“The team came through,” coach Chad Speer said. “We have fought through lots of injuries and the concept of working hard defensively and contributing offensively. Amanda Tremeroli (OH), Myah Sharfner (setter) and Skyler Gartin (MB/RS) led a train on Day 3 that was not being stopped offensively. Rachel Eastburn (libero) turned into Superman to anchor the defense.”

MAVS KC 151 and friends

Shockwave went 7-1 at Show Me, but when it lost to Madfrog – Sofia Alexander was incredible for the Frogs, apparently — in the Gold bracket semifinals, 16-14 in the third, Shannon Lamb’s team did not know that it had already sewn up a bid, thanks to fellow third-place finisher MAVS KC 152 already have received a National bid through its region.

Shockwave 15

“Our team was really upset when they lost to Madfrog,” Lamb said. “We were so close. Both teams battled until the last point of the third set. We found out we qualified after we lost and surprised our team with the medals and news of the bid to USA.” 

Shockwave had several standouts on the weekend, including 6-1, offensive-minded setter Camdyn Stucky, six-rotation pin Gracie Morrow, shot maker Jillian Gregory and middle blocker Avery Elofsson, whose attacking and blocking at the net was a difference maker.

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