Tawa’s Daily Dots: Covid claims 18 Open team, Drive Nation 16-Red living the dream, Coast 15-2 has that gleam

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Tawa's Daily Dots 4/22/2021-Hive 16 Gold
Hive 16 Gold

Daily Dots (April 22, 2021): Club or high school volleyball factoids, notions and ideas to impress your friends (or not)

Late on Wednesday, the schedules for GJNC 18s, which begin tomorrow morning in Columbus, Ohio, were finally released. As expected, TAV 18 Black is the No. 1 seed in the 18 Open division. CVC 18 Black tops the 18 National division. MichioChicago 18 National is the No. 1 seed in 18 USA. Madfrog 18 National Green leads the way in 18 American. It should be great competition for the 268 teams in attendance. That’s 12 fewer teams than the maximum (the “any team can play if they pay” Patriot division, originally capped at 72 teams, has only 60 teams in the field).

Fusion Red

• The 48-team 18 Open division has a new entrant: Fusion 18 Red learned on Friday that it would receive At-Large consideration.

Fusion is a hard-working, intense group, led by Brooklyn and Breelyn Borum, that should more than hold its own in this field.

“The girls were excited to be able to end their club career playing in 18 Open, especially the Borum sisters,” said club director Mike Bui. “They are definitely excited to play the best of the best.”

There will be challenges, however. Because high school volleyball is occurring simultaneously in Illinois, the team hasn’t practiced or played together in several weeks.

“The approach is to compete as hard as possible,” Bui said.

• If you have a new 18 Open team, it means that a team had to drop out. That would be TAV Houston 18 Black, which had a Covid-19 exposure within the team. When the team raised the issue with USA Volleyball, the governing body told TAV Houston director Joe Lind that the team could not participate.

“They’re bummed,” Lind said. “I am, too. This is the first time this group has ever qualified in Open. They’re excited to play in college and I wanted then to go on a good note.”

It’s not all sadness and tears with the players, though. Some can now go to their senior prom!

  I admit that I have not seen the teams this year, but looking at the eight, six-team 18 Open pools, the seeding is “interesting.” Pool 2, which includes A5 18-Scott, Coast 18-1 and AZ Storm Elite 18 Thunder, has five teams out of six ranked in VolleyballMag.com’s current top 30.

Only three of the six teams will emerge from two days of pool play to reach the Challenge matches that will identify the quarterfinalists.

Pool 3 has two top 10 teams, Adversity G18 Adidas and Houston Skyline 18 Royal. Pool 4 has three teams ranked among the top 12: MAVS KC 18-1, SA Juniors 18 Adidas and Premier Nebraska 18 Gold.

On the flipside, Pool 7 is clearly the easiest. It is anchored by national No. 11 OT 18 O Felix, but has just two other ranked teams: No. 22 Union 18-UA and No. 23 CUVC 18 Premier.

• After pool play, the field will be split in half. Here are the teams I believe will make it to the Challenge rounds, by order of pool play finish:

Pool 1: TAV, Northern Lights, Milwaukee Sting
Pool 2: Coast, A5, AZ Storm
Pool 3: Adversity, Houston Skyline, Rockwood Thunder
Pool 4: MAVSKC, Premier Nebraska, SA Juniors
Pool 5: Tri-State, Colorado Juniors, Sunshine South Bay
Pool 6: Tstreet, HJV, Mintonette m.81
Pool 7: Union, OT Felix, San Gabriel Elite
Pool 8: Elevation, Dallas Skyline, Encore

• Let’s start our recap from last week’s qualifier action with 15 American from Far Western in Reno. Coast 15-2 Steven, the No. 5 overall seed to start, survived a scary Day 2 to take home the lone bid in the 55-team field.

Coast came to Reno having won all of its matches in Premier Volleyball League Tournament 5, yet still did not know what to expect of itself. After cruising through its first four matches without breaking much of a sweat, the team started to believe that it could go all the way.

Then came the reality check.

Coast lost its first set of the tournament, to Vision 15 Blue, and had to battle to win the next two, 25-20, 16-14. Coast then dropped its final Saturday pool play match, to SA Juniors 15 National, to finish second in its pool. But for the 16-14 Game 3 win over Vision, Coast would have been out on Day 2.

Coast regrouped, overcame injuries and made a strong Monday run with a new lineup. Seeded tenth out of the 14 teams in the Gold bracket, Coast swept four straight opponents to win the title. Coast defeated SynergyForce 15 Gold in the final. SynergyForce edged SA Juniors, 15-13 in the third, knocking out Coast’s vanquisher in the semifinals.

“The girls played as hard as they could and we superseded our expectations on the weekend,” coach Steven Wesley said.

Wesley added that playing as a team helped Coast overcome adversity.

“The team stepped up to reach our goal,” he said. “Every girl in every position stepped up to help us win.”

Drive Nation 16 Red

• Responses from Lone Star have been slowly tricking in. We’re going to share what happened in 16 Open in Dallas and reserve all other divisions for tomorrow, while hoping that coaches will continue to contribute.

National No. 2 Drive Nation 16 Red emerged victorious from the 38-team field 16 Open at Lone Star. For the second straight qualifier, Jason Nicholson’s team went 10-0. For the second straight qualifier, Drive Nation dropped just one set all weekend.

That’s domination!

Nicholson said that expectations were high after what his team did at Big South, but they were tempered by a worry whether his team could maintain focus to play at the same high level.

The team’s initial No. 3 overall seed, behind TAV 16 Black and Dallas Skyline 16 Royal, may have helped focus the team. In addition to winning Big South, Drive Nation also qualified at MEQ. Drive Nation should have been the clear No. 1 seed.

“I told the girls we needed to play with a little bit of chip on our shoulder as we went through the weekend,” Nicholson said. “I felt we did a great job this weekend of fighting through moments of sloppy play and refusing to lose when we were challenged.”

Drive Nation’s only dropped set, 25-23 versus Infinity 16 Adidas, came to start Day 2. The team responded to win the next set, 25-9, and the third, 15-10. There were other tough matches, versus Circle City 16 Purple, Hive 16 Gold and Dallas Skyline, in particular, but the team managed to win each in two the rest of the way.

“We had multiple moments where it seemed like we were out of gas but the girls showed fight and pulled out the win,” Nicholson said.

The win was a total team effort all the way down to Lauren Ingram, a 6-1 outside who is recovering from ACL surgery but has been a big inspiration. OH Halle Schroder has been a rock offensively and defensively. Skywalking Lauryn Hill continues to lead with her intensity and steps up in big moments. Reese Robins, Leah Ford and Alexa Garbow dominate the net with their length in the middle, blocking and hitting.  Lefties Sam Hoppes and Mak Krubally produce lots of points from the right side. Lily Nicholson and Miller McDonald sling the ball around to multiple, elite offensive players.  And liberos Landry McEachern and Savannah Ivie dig and pass everything.

Madfrog 16 Green

• Three previously-qualified teams, HJV 16 Elite, Dallas Skyline and TAV, finished 2-3-4, respectively, each with two losses. That shows how deep this field was. Skyline and TAV are top 10 teams nationally, while Houston Juniors is No. 22 overall.

Hive, Woodlands Revolution 16 Premier and Madfrog 16 National Green won the three bids in trickle down fashion.

Hive, ranked 17th nationally, qualified in its first event outside of the Intermountain Region. The team, which boasts two of the nation’s elite sophomores in OH Jordyn Harvey and MB Margaret Mendelson, was obviously mis-seeded (second to last in the field).

“We felt we had something to prove,” head coach Sarah Chism said.

The team went 2-1 on Friday, losing to Dallas Skyline, then went 3-0 on Saturday, which included a 26-24, 26-24 win over Metro 16 Travel and a three-set thriller over Alamo 16 Premier.

“I think Day 2 was the hinge point for us as far as opening the door for a bid,” Chism said. “We played three tough teams, and had three great wins to take the pool and go into Day 3 with some momentum. We had an exciting comeback against Metro in the second set to win after being down 23-15; and a huge three-set win against a great Alamo team. (Interestingly, last spring at Crossroads, we were seeded last and Alamo was seeded first and we played them on Day 1 and beat them in three. Then we played them again on day 2 in a crossover and AGAIN went 3 and we won. So it was definitely a repeat matchup from a year ago!)”

Twelve teams made it to the four, three-team Gold pools, including the four qualified teams, which all won their pools. That meant that three of the four second-place teams would also score bids. Win once in two chances and you were in.

Hive needed only one chance, as the team got by Houston Skyline 16 Royal in two sets.

“I was especially happy with how the team never got too rattled,” Chism said. “They didn’t get too high or too low, just continued to grind and value each and every point. Even when other teams made point runs, we were able to make small adjustments, stay focused on our strengths and trust each other and that made all the difference.” 

“Every player had great moments, but the key to our success was the steady, consistent play of every player on our team,” Chism added. “It was truly a team effort.”

Hive setters Havannah Hoeft and Evalyn Chism led a balanced attack and played great defense. Harvey and Levani Key, both high flyers, were dynamic and powerful throughout the weekend.  Great passing by Lani Mataveo, Elle Burleson and Marli Clausi was key to getting standout middles Mendelson and Taylor Harvey heavily involved in the attack. They also put up a massive block, as did RS Nana Asiata.

Woodlands Revolution also needed just one chance. The Houston-area squad, ranked 15th nationally, took out the Frogs in two to tie for fifth alongside Hive.

We do not have a report yet from coach Ray Hedden, but the team, which was 29-3 coming into the tournament, went 2-1 every day to secure its bid.

When Madfrog coach Matt Sipes looked at the field, he figured that a top six finish was realistic for his team, which placed 11th out of 31 teams at the Sunshine Classic in its first attempt to qualify.

The Frogs started as the second seed in Pool 5, but took over that seed with a three-set win over Houston Juniors.

“We knew we had to win that first match against Houston Juniors to setup an easier Day 2,” Sipes said.

Madfrog went 2-1 on Saturday to advance, its lone loss in three to Houston Skyline. The two teams would play again in the seventh-place match for the final bid. Madfrog got the revenge it needed, prevailing 25-22, 25-22.

Blaire Bayless, a 6-2 OH, was the standout for Madfrog all weekend long. She hit over .400 for the weekend and made loud plays on offense and defense to keep the team’s momentum going.

Other difference makers included S/RS Harper Cooper, MB Lyric Berry and the dynamic defensive tandem of Kea Whillock and Blair Adams.

“Both stepped up to get key digs,” Sipes said. “Kea was instrumental out of the left back. She changed the tide in some of the big matches.”

• There are two national qualifiers staging this weekend, Far Western in Reno for 15s-17s and Windy City in St. Louis for 15s and 16s. Even though my picking has been awful, let’s pick, starting with Far Western.

There are 29 teams in 17 Open, meaning a full complement of three bids to be awarded. There are zero qualified teams and the top-ranked teams here are Nos. 19, 20 and 21. There is a lot of opportunity…

Tstreet 17-Naseri is a hot team. It qualifies second behind Absolute 17 Black, the top seeds. As for the third bid, it goes to Mizuno Long Beach 17 Rockstar in a battle with Sunshine 17 Westside.

In 16 Open, the 21-team field means only two bids, which is too bad, because the field quality is pretty good. The top two seeds, Coast 16-1 and Aspire 16 UA Premier, do not yet have bids. I say Aspire gets one here and wins it all, with the second bid going to Club V 16 Ren Andrew, which edges SynergyForce 16 James.

What of Coast? With its head coach in Columbus for 18 Open Junior Nationals, this team falls short in its first quest to qualify.

In 15 Open, the small 17-team field size leaves the best of SoCal, sans WAVE 15 Juliana, to battle it out for the two bids. As between Coast 15-Luis, Tstreet 15 Chris and Mizuno Long Beach 15 Rockstar, pick two. I’m taking Coast and Tstreet, but without conviction. 

• Turning to Windy City, the 16 Open field has 28 teams, with two, national No. 3 Legacy 16-1 Adidas and No. 15 Woodlands Revolution, with bids in hand. This field included three teams, Dynasty 16 Black, Nebraska Elite 16 Top Gun and Circle City 16 Purple, that were ranked when we first ranked this age group, but fell from the ranking last week. We see redemption for two of them in St. Loo. Legacy wins it all, of course. Nebraska Elite takes second. Dynasty and Academy Cleveland 16 Rox Red tie for third.

The 15 Open field has 23 teams. That looks like just two bids unless a team registered and then dropped.

This field is super deep, with almost two-thirds capable of making a run. Previously-qualified Rockwood Thunder 15 Elite is the top seed and has been playing at such a high level that it’s hard to go away from them. Chris Reid’s team takes the title.

Now, assuming only two bids, gosh…give me Milwaukee Sting 15 Gold and Seal Beach 15 Black. I don’t know why those two over OT 15 O Isaac, or Lions 15-1 or Elevation 15 Chicas or …

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