Daily Dots (April 23, 2021): Club or high school volleyball factoids, notions and ideas to impress your friends (or not)
• In today’s Dots, let’s finish recapping the Lone Star Qualifier. There weren’t too many reports received by coaches of winning or qualified teams, but we’ll do our best with what we have.
In 17 Open, TAV 17 Black won its second qualifier in a row, sweeping A5 17-Jing in the championship match.
“Our goal was to stay focused and compete,” assistant coach Melanie Mercer said. “There were so many top level teams at Lone Star this year. We knew it would be a great opportunity to play at a high level.”
Unlike TAV’s 10-0 run through NEQ the weekend before, this one had some Gold pool adversity. Three teams ranked among the latest top 13 by VolleyballMag.com were in Sunday’s three-team pool. TAV started the pool off by sweeping national No. 3 Drive Nation 17 Red. Drive Nation then swept No. 10 Metro 17 Travel. Finally, Metro swept TAV. All teams finished 1-1 (2-2). Making it to the Gold bracket semifinals would come down to points.
TAV ended up first, thanks to a dominating win over Drive Nation. Metro finished second, essentially triple qualifying. Drive Nation ends up with a T-9 on its resume, but its play was better than that.
Aniya Clinton continued her outstanding play for TAV, which got strong work from an unusual source. After a DS suffered an injury, Sydney Breon stepped into a role passing and playing defense and did an outstanding job.
• With six qualified teams finishing within the trickle down limit of eight, there was room only for two bids in 17 Open. They went to Houston Skyline 17 Black, which tied for third; and Rockwood Thunder 17 Elite; which tied for fifth.
Houston Skyline Black is the club’s second team, but that’s just a designation. The team has four who jump touch 10-0 or higher and two Division I recruits. Kalani Rose’s team had a so-so showing at its first Open qualifier in Orlando, but expected to be much better in Dallas.
“Our expectation every time we take the court is to be competing in the gold pools on the final day of competition with the end goal of winning a medal,” Rose said.
The team muddled along the first two days, losing matches to higher-ranked teams but winning matches it should to get into the three-team Gold pools as a 3-seed. Skyline won both of its Sunday Gold pool matches, versus national No. 7 Madfrog 17 National Green and another talented 2s team, A5 17 Kelly; when just one win might have been enough.
Libero Kailee Gims, a New Mexico recruit, was outstanding. Her passing kept Skyline in system throughout the weekend. Sydney Whitfield, Lindsey Kriendler and Chandler Lee also distinguished themselves.
Lone Star was Rockwood Thunder’s last chance to qualify in Open. Gretchen Moser’s team had played in three other qualifiers, going 18-9 combined. At Big South, Rockwood finished one win out of a bid.
We received no report from the club, but know by looking at results that the team won the matches it needed to in order to get to the Gold bracket. Rockwood lost to three teams all ranked among the nation’s top 14, but won all of its other matches, including a sweep of NOLA Kasey/Jesse 17, which was pivotal to its qualification.
• Bids trickled all the way to fifth place in the 105-team 17 USA division. UPVBC 17 Adidas National defeated TAV 17 Blue in the final between previously qualified teams.
Madfrog 17 National Black and Woodlands Revolution 17 Premier, 17-3 between them, tied for third to pick up the first two bids.
The third bid went to Florida’s Team Kiwi 17 Spencer, which edged HJV 17 Elite, 25-20, 28-26, in the match for the final invitation to the Dance.
Kiwi is a first-year club and was seeded right in the middle when the tournament began. The seeding was appropriate.
The team had struggled all season with small injuries and never played up to its capability before the weekend. Playing USA at Sunshine, Kiwi placed 24th out of 64 teams. Playing Open at Big South, Kiwi finished ahead of just 12 teams in the 55-team field. Finally, at the Florida Regional Qualifier, the team missed out on a bid by placing ninth out of 58. This was the team’s last chance, coach Spencer Hilland said.
Kiwi made it to the eight-team Gold bracket, but lost in the first round, to TAV Blue.
“It was a bummer to lose our first match in the Gold bracket,” Hilland said. “However, we knew going into the Gold bracket that there were several teams that had bid allocations already and that there was the possibility of a trickle down bid.”
Sure enough, with two teams in the final four already with bids, there was room for one more bid among the quarterfinal losers. The four teams battling it out included HJV, which Kiwi lost to in three sets on the first day.
“Our first match was against Dynasty 17 Blue and my players just played out of their minds, knowing that they had to win that match and the next to get that bid,” Hilland said. “They were bid hungry! Once they knew that winning 5th place guaranteed them a bid to GJNC, they did just that.”
Team Kiwi followed up that win with a revenge sweep of Houston Juniors and the golden ticket was theirs!
Hilland said that a coach, watching at home in Tampa, was key to the team’s qualification.
“A former player of mine, Hannah Smallwood, who now coaches for us at Team Kiwi, was supporting and routing for us from back at home,” he explained. “She would check in with the girls, text them, facetime them and keep their spirits alive, win or lose, throughout the weekend. She made the team two hype-up videos and wrote them a motivational speech before they played the Gold bracket on Sunday. This really kept this group believing, even after that first-round loss. Hannah’s support and guidance really pushed and helped this team believe and reach their goal of earning that bid.”
On the court, six players stood out over the weekend: determined libero Araceli Wakefield, blocking machine Lillian Beardsley, undersized fighter Kylie Ciani, experienced leader Jasmine Welton, powerhouse hitter Erika Spankus and steady S/RS Gabrielle Spankus.
“As a first year club, to earn a bid to GJNC in 17USA is just simply amazing!” Hilland exclaimed. “And for it to be the club’s first ever bid too? Just priceless!”
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• Waco Juniors VBC 17 UA took three-set wins over previously-unbeaten teams in the quarters, semis and championship match to emerge with the bid from the 96-team 17 American division, which was played in Houston.
Coached by Kamol Nohe for the third straight season, Waco Juniors fell short of making the Tour of Texas this season.
“So they were hungry each time we played in any tournament to prove that we deserve to be in the top 25 in the region,” Nohe explained.
Waco won its first seven matches in straight sets to reach the Gold bracket quarterfinals. Getting to the Gold was the first goal. With that achieved, all that remained was to qualify.
Nohe said that when Waco beat a big Arkansas team, 501 Volley 17 National, in three sets, he had hope that his team could go all the way.
In the semifinals, Waco faced off against Houston Stellar 17 Premier, a string, fast and athletic team which had already qualified. Waco lost the first set. Stellar had all the momentum. Nohe asked his team whether this was going to be its last set of the tournament.
“They replied back with a strong and emphatic ‘NO!’ Nohe said.
The team squeaked by to win the second, 27-25, then made one more push to win the third, 15-7.
Rested for the final, Waco found itself facing a familiar foe, Katy United 17 Adidas, a team it had defeated at the Crosscourt Classic.
“They were a very strong team,” Nohe said. “They knew us and we knew them.”
Katy won the first set.
“Again, I had to reach out to the kid’s hearts and minds to get them up to start the second set,” Nohe said. “We adjusted and beat them 25-20. The third set proved to be a thriller. Both of our teams traded kill to kill, error to error, and ace to ace. Fortunately, we had a little more energy to pull off the win, 15-13.”
Nohe lauded all of his players.
“My outsides, Kayla Williams and Graycee Mosley, were amazing at getting kills when we needed them. My setters, Makayla Wiggins and McKenzie Mansell, got to the ball with their hands and put the balls in location for the outsides to hit. My middle blockers, Gabbie Jones and Lauren Johnson, moved side to side to force hitters to go around them and funnel the attack to an area we can dig. My libero, Kara Wachsmann, chased and dove at balls to keep them from hitting down to the ground on our side. My right side, Trinity Acorn, is my quiet and effective player. She remained disciplined and contributed with kills at a very crucial time of the match.”
“I am very proud of my team,” he concluded. “They exceeded my expectations.”
• In the 111-team 16 USA division, bids were awarded to teams placing first, third and fourth. Previously-qualified EVA 16 National took second, finishing in bid position for the second straight week.
Northern California’s Encore 16 Lontayao finished 5-1 in three-set matches to win the tournament. We did not receive a report from the club, nor did we get one from Dallas Skyline 16 Black, which qualified in third place.
The final bid went to Ozark Juniors 16 Elite. The Arkansas squad won its first eight matches to clinch a bid, then dropped its final two, in three sets each, to finish in fourth place.
“Our expectation as a team was to qualify this past weekend,” coach Jenny Lingenfelter noted. “We have battled injuries over the past couple months, so the goal was to get at least to the semifinals, with the hope that at least one of the teams had already won a bid. That’s exactly what happened.”
The key moment that sparked qualification happened in the first round of the Gold bracket against Arete 16 Navy.
“We knew we had to go strong and win that one,” Lingenfelter said. “The kids played outstanding and were able to get the job done. As soon as we heard that EVA 16 Team won their quarterfinal match, we knew we had accomplished our goal.”
“The outstanding performance of setter Kennedy Phelan on the serving line, defensively, as well as running the offense, was a huge part of our success,” Lingenfelter continued. “Outside hitter Regan Harp and right side hitter Maddie LaFata stepped up and carried the team offensively all the way through the tournament. The toughness that Brooke Rockwell showed on the court regardless of her shoulder injury was absolutely amazing. Brooke, together with libero Ashley Ruff and defensive specialist Ella Weilert, were the main reason behind our great passing and outstanding defense.”
• Another Waco Juniors team, Waco Juniors 16 UA Black, went 11-0 to win the 147-team 16 American division. Unfortunately, we do not have a report. Waco defeated 501 Volley 16 National in a straight set final.
As always, if Waco Juniors wants to share its qualification story we’ll keep a Dot open for it!
• I had picked national No. 2 Dynasty 15 Black to win its previous two qualifiers and the team I proclaimed the most talented team in the 15s age group let me down both times. So, of course, I didn’t pick Brian Tate’s team to do damage in 15 Open at Lone Star.
10-0. Wins over No. 1 KC Power 151 in the semis and No. 3 Madfrog 15 National Green in the championship match.
The team was coming off of a 5-4, eighth-place showing at Show Me after coming in second at MEQ and third at Big South in two previous efforts.
“Our expectations were to improve on a disappointing finish at Show Me,” Tate said. “We wanted to make sure we played good volleyball and had a chance to win it at the end of the weekend. We were able to compete at a high level all weekend against GREAT teams and ended up being in the final, still playing great volleyball, to win it.”
On its way to the title, Dynasty was able to defeat both Power and Dallas Skyline 15 Royal, two teams that had beaten it earlier in the season. Tate said those were key moments.
“Both teams are really well prepared, but our girls were on a mission this weekend to come out on top of a loaded field,” he added.
“This team is loaded with talent and everyone contributed!” Tate went on to say. “Skyler Pierce, Carlie Cisneros, and Abigail Mullen scored a lot of points for us. Middles Saida Jacobs, Piper Newton, and Mak Miller did a good job blocking pin to pin and getting timely kills. Nela Misipeka and Maya Houseworth came up big with blocks and kills, especially in the Power and Madfrog matches. Ava Martin and Emma Christian put our hitters in great spots! Of course, none of it works without our serve receive, led by Ryan McAleer and Claire Jones. Any success that we had this weekend can’t go without recognizing the job assistants Jody Shelton and Madi Osterhaus did keeping the girls’ minds right coming off of Show Me. Everyone did their job at a really high level all weekend.”
• Excel 15 National Red, Austin Juniors 15 Mizuno and Dallas Skyline 15 Royal finished fourth, T-5 and seventh, respectively, to snag the three bids.
Excel went 6-4 on the weekend, which is a rather pedestrian record until you consider that the team’s four losses came versus just two teams: Lone Star champion Dynasty and national No. 5 TAV 15 Black. Excel was exceptional in three-set matches, going 4-1. That’s clutch!
Excel coach Justin Waters said the goal was to get to the Gold pools.
“We were expecting to put ourselves in a position to stay in contention throughout the weekend and ultimately make Gold,” he said. “We figured just making it to Gold would give us a great chance with the trickle down.”
Excel went 2-1 on each of the first two days to stay in contention, then made a huge statement on Day 3 by outlasting KC Power in three sets. Alas, Dynasty also beat Power, which relegated Excel to second place in the pool and a trickle down rather than having a chance to win a tiebreaker and get to the final.
Isa Camacho control from the libero position and the six-rotation excellence of Denasia Maxey, who came off the bench in Day 2 and never left the court, was essential to the team’s qualifying.
We did not receive reports from AJV or Skyline. AJV’s qualifying run included a 3-0 first day, followed by going 1-2 on Day 2. Winning a set off of Dynasty, which swept the other pool denizens, proved the different to advancement. In the Gold pools, AJV needed just one win to qualify and got it versus Team Indiana Elite 15 Icy Iguanas.
Skyline also had to beat the Iguanas for a bid, but that came in the seventh place match after the team lost all three matches in its Gold pool. Before then, Skyline had gone 5-1, losing only to the Frogs. Facing Team Indiana again must have been scary for the Dallas club, given the beat down it had administered on Day 1. But Skyline again dominated play to secure the final bid.
• We complete the Lone Star recap with 15 USA, where Club One 15 Black prevailed despite losing twice. Houston Stellar 15 Elite and FH 15 Ikaika-Annette also qualified out of the 116-team field.
Club One, based in Tulsa, started out as the 34th overall seed.
“We were not ranked high, so our expectations were to work hard as a team and be as aggressive as possible,” coach Brittany Hendrix said. “We knew we were coming in as an underdog so our goal was to put pressure on teams by being consistent and aggressive.”
Club One lost matches on each of the first two days, but advanced to the Challenge round. It won two three-set matches to get to the Gold bracket on Sunday, then survived three-set tests in the semifinals and finals to walk away with the Gold Medals.
“The team greatly succeeded our expectations by buying into the notion that teamwork and aggressiveness wins championships,” Hendrix said. “They were fearless in big moments and it showed. I think the key moment was in the quarterfinals, when the girls realized how far they made it in the tournament and believed they could keep winning against great teams.”
Hendrix said the team played lights out defense, hit with power and precision and put up a big block in key moments.
“This qualifier championship was truly a team effort,” she added. “Our setter, Madeline Fenner, made decisions and took chances that were impressive for a setter her age. She worked hard each point and knew that each ball she gave the hitters mattered. Each player had a determination this tournament that I had not seen before. The believed in themselves and supported each other like a true team.”
Stellar had finished fourth at Big South, but was determined to make the finals at Lone Star. The team reached the championship match, but the fight made it all that sweeter. Stellar was 6-0 in three set matches, including 18-16 and 17-15 wins, to get to the final and went extra points in Game 3 versus Club One before losing in the Gold Medal match.
“We just kept fighting!” head coach Sara Zanon, who had to miss the tournament for her stepdaughter’s Senior Night at Chaminade University in Hawaii, said. “The key moment was getting past our Challenge Bracket on Day 2. Pulling out an 18-16 win in the third set over OP2 15-1 was the momentum we needed.”
15 Elite became the fifth Stellar team to qualify for Junior Nationals. Zanon said it was a total team effort.
“Tatum Busch is critical to our team’s success as a six-rotation OH. Alexa Fernandez runs the show as our only setter and has such a high volleyball IQ! Ellie Ocampo’s serve receive and power as a six-rotation OH is key. Taylor Larkin is a wall in the middle. Aly Frias is a sparkplug at libero. Elaina McGee can serve and pass super effectively. Ariana Garza is quick on the attack in the middle. Angelica Medina has a big left arm on the RS. Kera Arrington has power on the RS.”
FH went 10-1 and had to win two loser out matches to earn a bid. FH stands for “Fieldhouse,” and is a new, up and coming club just north of Fort Worth. We did not hear from them, but hope to in the future. We have a Dot open …
• Finally, let’s take a peek at what’s happening in 18 Open at Junior Nationals for 18s in Columbus. Forty-eight (48) teams in eight, six-team pools kicked off play this morning.
After one day of play, I am happy to report that no one has been eliminated from medal contention!!! There are nine 0-3 teams on life support, Houston Juniors 18 Elite and Club V Ren Red and Milwaukee Sting 18 Gold the most surprising, but no pool had three teams go 3-0 on Friday, so there is still hope.
No. 1 TAV 18 Black went 3-0 to lead 11 still-unbeaten teams. Five of the eight teams participating which are ranked in our national top 10 finished Day 1 unbeaten.
At-Large San Gabriel Elite 18 Roshambo, part of a seven-team Southern California contingent that went a combined 16-5, is the most surprising unbeaten team. Another At-Large pick, Union 18-UA, also negotiated the first day without a loss.
Tomorrow morning, each of the teams will play two additional pool play matches to determine the top 24. On Saturday evening, those 24 will play in eight, three-team brackets to determine the eight teams that will vie for the title on Sunday.