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Tawa’s Daily Dots: Front Range rises, Unity comes together, see the sparks of a Livewire

Daily Dots (April 30, 2021): Club or high school volleyball factoids, notions and ideas to impress your friends (or not)

• Welcome to the Reader’s Digest version of Daily Dots. Today, we recap the results from 15s and 16s at Windy City in St. Louis and 15s, 16s and 17s at Far Western in Reno. Fourteen divisions. All in one 10-Dot report. I suppose that was inevitable after devoting so much time this week writing about 18s Junior Nationals in Columbus. 

Well, I can keep talking about the gargantuan task that lies ahead or start getting after it. Let’s get after it!

Nebraska Elite 16 Top Gun, seeded 10th in a field of 28, went undefeated to win the 16 Open division. Coach Tony Carrow had insisted that his team remained one of the top 16s in the nation, even after a T-15 showing (out of 24 teams) at Show Me, and Top Gun proved it in St. Louis.

The team got motivated to play by watching video of its performance at Show Me. Carrow’s assistant coach told the girls to get used to brutal film days in college unless they play hard and get results. They got results, including a sweep of national No. 3 Legacy 16-1 Adidas in the championship match. Top Gun won that match, 28-26, 25-22, by slowing down Legacy OH Harper Murray, perhaps the top attacker nationwide in the Class of 2023.

“It was a complete team effort,” Carrow said of the win. “When one struggled, someone else stepped up. We talked the last day about comments from the Kentucky setter (Madison Lilley])after her national championship win, that you lean on your teammates when you have to and they lean on you. That definitely defines the weekend.”

MAVS KC 16-1 and MN Select 16-1 joined Nebraska Elite in qualifying at Windy City.

MAVS came into the tournament with one-third of the team nursing injuries and started slowly, losing its very first match. The loss put Henry Lee’s team on a more difficult path to a bid, “but it turned out to be the path that was meant for us,” Lee said.

Taking it one match at a time, MAVS recovered to finish second in its opening pool and won seven matches in a row to clinch its bid.

“They dealt only with the match directly in front of them,” Lee said.  “Nothing more, nothing less.”

“More so than any other tournament this season, our success at Windy City was a team effort,” Lee added.  “Our players genuinely took turns shining and leading when we needed them the most.  Our serve receive was on point this weekend, which allowed our offense to stay balanced.  Our middles worked extremely hard not only to always be an option in transition, but to close.  In addition, our bench played a pivotal role in getting us through some tight sets.”

MN Select’s journey to a bid can only be described as a grind. Seeded fourth overall to start after Northern Lights 16-1 had to drop out, Select’s first eight matches ALL went three sets. Switch a few points in the team’s favor and it could have been tournament champions. Switch a few points the other way and Select could have gone 0-3 on Day 1 to fall from contention.

Playing all those three-setters, MN Select was understandably exhausted before its final Gold pool match versus Rockwood Thunder 16 Elite. It also was down. As the only 0-2 team in the four-team pool, it thought it was out of contention.

Some savvy parents told coach Brian Revell that hoped remained and they were correct. By losing in three, rather than being swept, MN Select still had a shot to finish second in the pool, which would be enough to qualify since Sunshine Classic winner Legacy had clinched a top-two finish in the other Gold pool. Nebraska Elite had to beat Dynasty 16 Black AND Select had to beat Rockwood in two. It was a longshot, especially since doing anything in two sets had been anathema to Select all tournament, but energized the team. The players had hope!

MN Select dominated Game 1 versus Rockwood, while Nebraska Elite took Game 1 handily from Dynasty in a match played at the same time one court over. Select completed the sweep with Avery Bolles connecting for three kills in a row as part of a closing run that helped the team turn around a late deficit.

Dynasty, however, was not cooperating. The Kansas squad defeated Nebraska Elite in Game 2 and played point for point in the third before Top Gun prevailed in extra points, 16-14.

Nebraska Elite’s win clinched the pool at 3-0, leaving the other three teams all 1-2. It came down to sets. Dynasty was 3-5. Rockwood was 3-4. By virtue of the sweep, MN Select was 4-4. The emotional video I posted in Tuesday’s Dots captured the moment Select learned it had clinched a bid. Unforgettable!

Bolles was MN Select’s tournament MVP. An elite OH who jumps so high and has high level ball control, Bolles contributed in all phases. Peyton Howie, Kate Thibault, Ava Blascziek, Liesl Haugen, Marlie Hansen, Kate Simington, Sydney McDaniel and Ada Schlenker all did amazing things for the team and made up for the fact that Kayli Starkey had to miss the weekend because of a lacrosse commitment.

Revell made special note that the team’s usual head coach, Kayla Cole, also was not there due to maternity leave.

“She is greatly missed, but we’re excited to get her back soon,” he said. “Personally, Kayla is the catalyst for my volleyball coaching education, and has been the best resource for me.”

Seal Beach 16-Black won the 32-team 16 USA division and OT 16 T Chad and Iowa Rockets 16R also qualified for Junior Nationals.

Seal Beach was dominant in the win. Coach Kenny Ma’s team did not lose a set and, other than a 25-23, 27-25 win over Iowa Rockets in the semifinals, was rarely challenged.

“One of our biggest focuses for this past weekend was to win a championship, but to win it by being the best TEAM,” Ma said. “We focused on understanding each of our roles and identifying ways to create an impact on or off the court. We focused on being the best teammate possible by sacrificing our own individual goals for our collaborative team goals.”

Seal Beach’s success was a complete team effort, from terminating outsides Zoey Henson and Erynn Sweeney to phenomenal back row denizens Giselle Groe and Grace Maxwell. Hitters Valerie Coward and Julia Reusch, setters Alessia Filocamo, Ashley Artura and Esther Kailiponi and DS Juliana Stepanoff all stepped up and made an impact on the court in key moments.

OT knew going to Windy City that this was its last shot to qualify. It set a goal to make the semifinals, which would give it two chances at a bid-clinching win. The first two days were “survive and advance” days. OT advanced out of a three-way 2-1 tie on Day 1 thanks to points percentage and finished second in its Day 2 pool thanks to a three-set win over New WAVE 16 Tsunami, which would have eliminated them had it gone the other way.

On Sunday, needed to win its first Gold bracket match to reach the semifinals and guarantee it that shot, Chad Mercado’s team found itself down 24-23 in both sets versus Flyers 16 APX-John and rallied to win both by 27-25 scores.

Erica Lewis and Emery Fertic were catalysts to the team’s qualification.

“They stepped up in a huge way!” Mercado said. “Running a modified 5-1 they were able to lead the team through the ups and downs, setting with intelligence and producing one-on-one matchups!”

We did not hear from Iowa Rockets head coach David Rodgers, who is a friend and one of the kindest people in volleyball. His team was undefeated and had dropped just one set before that 25-23, 27-25 loss to Seal Beach in the semis. Perhaps we’ll hear from Rodgers soon and be able to tell the Rockets’ story next week …

Adrenaline 16-Marty, another Iowa squad, captured the lone bid in the 71-team 16 American division. Adrenaline, the top seed, went 10-0 for the weekend and had to defeat unbeaten teams in the quarterfinals, semifinals and finals to secure its Junior Nationals invitation. This reportedly was the first time all qualifier season that a top seed ended up winning an American division.

Head coach Marty Smith said that his team entered in the American division to win after stubbing its toe at Regionals.

“When this got rescheduled it presented us with a huge opportunity to get a bid and qualify,” he said.

The opportunity almost came to a grinding halt during the first match on Day 2, when starting outside Jacey Miller suffered a bad ankle sprain. Adrenaline lost the first sets of its next two matches before recovering to win and make it to the Gold bracket.

Smith said that he had a meeting with his team after Saturday’s pool and reminded them that there was more than enough talent to win the tournament, even without Miller.

“Day 3 came and we played the best we have in quite some time, even without Jacey, and we swept our way through bracket play, Smith said. “We just kept getting better and more confident as the tourney went on.”

Smith said the contributions came from throughout the roster.

“When you lose a top-three scorer on your team to an ankle injury, obviously everyone has to step up,” he added.

The team got contributions from setter Madeleine Miller, a tremendous leader; RS Lilah Van Scoyoc, an efficient playmaker at the net;  dominant 6-4 MB Annika Ivester and her hardworking, smaller counterpart, Parker Whitham; aggressive OH Delaney Bombei and DS turned OH Si’iva Senio, who was huge in place of the injured Miller; and steady defensive forces Kameron Brand and Brooklyn Miller.

• Twenty-three (23) teams competed in 15 Open at Windy City, but at least one more than that registered, because the qualifier gave out the full complement of three bids. They went to Lions 15-1, Flyers APX-Bill and Milwaukee Sting 15 Gold, in that order.

How close were these teams to one another? Lions lost to Flyers in pool play, 16-14 in the third; but won the rematch in the final, 28-26, 25-23. Lions also defeated Sting in Gold pool play, 15-13 in the third.

Lions lost only that match to Flyers. It turned out to be inconsequential for the victors, but was a massive win for the team from Frisco, Texas. Because if the team had dropped that match rather than winning in an overscore in the third, Union 15-UA and not Flyers would have advanced out of pool on Day 2.

Milwaukee Sting had an easy Day 1, then had to hunker down to earn its bid. Peter Netisingha’s squad played three-set matches for the next five, going 4-1, which was good enough for a rematch with Seal Beach 15-Black for third place and the final bid.

The first time Sting played Seal Beach, the team had to rally from a 12-6 Game 3 deficit to prevail. The match for the bid went more smoothly. Running a balanced offense and serving and passing at a very high level, Sting took a more comfortable path to the bid, 25-12, 25-19.

“We expected tough competition and an uphill battle throughout the tournament,” Netisingha said. “We met our expectations and, in many intangible ways, exceeded them.”

“‘Total team effort’ is the phrase that describes how our team reached our goals,” the coach added. “Claire Luoma and Jae Fitting, at the libero and DS positions, respectively, anchored our defense and team communication, and held our team accountable in all aspects of the game.  We rotated our pins throughout the weekend and each of them contributed to the team’s success in different ways at varying moments throughout the weekend: Sophie Chase, Kendall Heger, Caroline Harris, Sophia Wendlick, Olivia Kwiatkowski, and Melia Johnson each had huge moments.  Finally, our middles and setters (Anna Bjork/Rylea Alvin and Ella Safar/Lilly Wagner) connected from all over the court, making medium passes feel like great passes, which gave our passers and defenders great confidence in their first contact.”

I won’t use up another Dot reporting about 15 USA and 15 American from Windy City. We received no reports from 15 USA champion MPV 15s Max, a previous qualifier at the Sunshine Classic; nor from bid recipients Tejas 15 Black, DCVA/505VBA 15NOhana or Memphis VB Academy 15Red. We also did not receive a report from 15 American champion HPSTL 15 Orange.

The top four finishers in 15 USA went a combined 31-3. Great going! I hope to write about their accomplishments next week, fingers crossed. Likewise HPSTL Orange, which went 10-0 and dropped just two sets on its way to winning 15 American.

• Let’s head west, for the conclusion of Far Western’s two-week run in Reno. Reporting on this will be a bit of a challenge because the results on from this tournament seem to be inaccessible at the moment. We’ll do the best we can …

In 17 Open, Front Range 17 Black, Absolute 17 Black and Excel 17 National Red went home with bids.

Front Range pulled off a bit of a surprise by winning the tournament.

“Our number one focus was to qualify first, second or third, considering how tough the teams in the field were,” coach James Beasley said. “Our team showed a lot of fight and grit all weekend.”

The key moment for Front Range came in its second Gold pool match versus Excel. With two starters dealing with food poisoning, the team still managed to win in three. This was a theme for the weekend for this group.

The team got great work from Katie Dalton setting and attacking, Sasha Cohen putting up a big block at the net and attacking out of the middle, Ashley West passing and big time plays on defense, Quincey Coyle’s steady passing and attacking, and the Front Range reserves coming in and making key plays at crucial moments.   

Absolute coach Jake Spain said that the 17 Open field was the best he’d seen at Far Western in some time. Far Western usually occupies the last week on the qualifier schedule. Qualified teams routinely drop from the tournament. But with COVID postponing several qualifiers into May, Far Western both attracted and retained talented teams.

“I was excited to see how we stacked up against some of the top teams in the country,” Spain said. “We knew, because of the field, that it was going to be a grind of a tournament, but with the experience and confidence of this seasoned group we felt good.”

An injury altered Absolute’s lineup, but it did enough to finish second. Grace Wuischpard showed her versatility by playing great on the right side when needed. Setter Leah LaBoy and libero Bella McGirr continued to anchor the team by taking care of the first two contacts. And OH Grace Oliva played her best tournament as the team’s go-to hitter and impacted matches with her blocking and defense as well.

“I’m so proud of the girls for overcoming so much adversity and continuing to stay steady throughout the tournament,” Spain said. “They are a gritty, competitive bunch that finds ways to win tight matches.”

We did not receive a report from Excel, but hope to in order to report next week on its achievement.

• Gainesville Juniors 17 Elite and Dig This! 17 Black and maybe one other earned bids in 17 USA. I write “maybe one other” because I believe that both third-place finishers, Livewire 17 Adidas (Show Me) and FW Fire 171 Purple (Big South) previously qualified, yet do not believe the tournament played off for fifth place.

We did not hear from Gainesville or Dig This!

Livewire had Hailey Brisbane and Ava Deakman step up on the outside, while libero Dani Smith was a true leader on the court.

Front Range 17 Red captured the lone bid from the 17 American division. The team succeed by playing its game and never letting down.

“They kept their level of play and their energy to the very last point of the very last set of the 10th match!” noted co-coach Stacie Holmgren.  “It was amazing!”

“This was definitely a team win,” Holmgren added. “Libero Amanda Wright is amazing on defense and saved us too many times to count. Setter Grace Holmgren sets a 5-1 and her location of the ball and volleyball IQ is so impressive. Hitters Maren Cacciato, Emma Selliskar, Ellie Palazzo, Chloe Riley, and Natalie Niles were pounding the ball and blocking so well. It was some of the best offense I have seen this season. Our passers, Cassie Lorenz, Carlie Haskell, and Lexi Stege, were serve receive passing and covering so incredibly! They never gave up! This team has so much heart, passion, and love for the game.  They make incredible plays because of their trust for each and respect on and off the court!  We could not be more proud of them!”

Late update: The results came back up and the third bid went to Forza1 North 17UA. I will reach out next week in the hopes of telling the team’s story.
• The three bids in 16 Open went to Coast 16-1, Aspire 16-UA Premier and Mizuno Long Beach 16 Rockstar.

“Our goal coming in was to win a bid to JOs and that is what this amazing team accomplished,” Coast coach Said Souikane said. This weekend was about focus and consistency.”

Souikane said that a win on Day 2 over Vision 16 Gold sparked the championship run.

“The entire match we only made one error, winning 25-13 and 25-14,” Souikane said.

Individual standouts for champion Coast included spectacularly steady libero Sydney Bold, setter Zoe Rachow, who connected well with her middles and was especially effective on out-of-system plays; reliable scorer Brooklyn Briscoe, dynamic blocker Noemie Glover and the tandem of Milan Bayless and Kate Schnell, who were both outstanding at taking aggressive swings and attacking all areas of the opponents’ court.

Aspire finished third in qualify Open just one week after earning the National bid at its regional qualifier.

“We played well for most of the tournament but expected to have some lows in our first 3-day qualifier of the season,” coach Sharon Vanis explained.

Aspire hadn’t clinched a bid going into its final match of the tournament, Vanis said.

“Our team plays its best when there is a sense of urgency involved,” she added.

Everyone on Aspire’s team stepped up at different times during the tournament to contribute to its ultimate success. The ability to run the middle opened up attacking lanes for the team’s talented pins.

Setter Georgia Lee did a great job of running the offense.  Pins Kierstyn Barton, Avery Burks and Neomi Beach and middles Ella Lomigora and Kate Phillips were all very physical and active both offensively and defensively.

“We learned a lot about our team this weekend,” Vanis said.   “This group will only get better.”

Mizuno Long Beach coach Megan Moenoa expected her team to finish among the top three, even though it has struggled with consistency to date. The team placed fourth, but was able to secure the final bid because second-place finisher Sunshine 16-LA had previously qualified.

Beating Club V was the key win, because it solidified Mizuno’s spot in the top four and guaranteed the bid.

“It was a full team effort; everyone stepped up when we needed them to,” Moenoa said. “Our pins, Samarah Dacoud, Ameena Campbell and Olivia Babcock, are really finding their confidence; taking big swings and making good decisions in crunch time. Jordin Taulua and Yvonne Barnes-Asuega have done anything we ask of them this season and continue to compete and add depth to our squad. Our middles, Aliyah Fasavalu and Chase Koepke, are starting to hone in their eye sequence and blocking abilities, getting a lot of crucial blocks and touches this past weekend. Cortni Youngblood, our only Libero/ DS on the trip, did a great job controlling the ball in serve receive and in out of system situations. Our team’s setters, Fatimah Hall and Gianna Tagoai, distributed the ball well all tournament and continue to get more confident in their choices.”

While Moenoa was happy with the results and clinching a bid, she was probably happier with how the players were with one another.

“We put a ton of emphasis on the kind of teammates we want to be for each other,” she explained. “I’m most happy with how they supported one another this weekend and got the most out of each other.” 

Sunshine 16 Westside, Livewire 16 Adidas and Tstreet 16-Carson all secured USA bids in the 16 USA division in Reno.

Sunshine went to Reno expecting to earn a bid and compete for the title.

“It was a big ask for our team, as they are a group that returned a core from last year and brought in players from four other teams to complete the roster,” coach Katie Charles said. “The girls had been training hard leading up to the event and I genuinely believed we could earn our bid this weekend. Winning Gold was an added bonus!”

Sunshine had several outstanding performances for the weekend. OH Riley Green was a steady presence in the back court and provided a massive offensive push to the team. S/RS Lauren Brooker was good all weekend and was a formidable blocker on Day 3, Alexa Trapani provide excellent play and leadership in the libero role, anchoring the serve receive and running the defense. OH Melina Angeles stepped into a six-rotation role on Day 2 and played some of the best volleyball of her career so far.

“It was an incredibly balanced weekend from the whole team, with every member contributing to our success,” Charles said.

Livewire qualified by playing consistently well for the duration of the tournament.

“We knew over the past couple of qualifiers that we’ve been so close to getting a bid; we just knew we had to play consistent volleyball every match,” coach Chris Brown said. “The key moment was winning the first set against TStreet in the semifinals. We had won the first set in so many big matches but failed to close, so I instilled that we could not afford to be content and could not let the other team gain any momentum.”

“Going into Far Westerns we knew we had a great chance to win the tournament and qualify,” Tstreet coach Carson Tanner said. “Our goal was to do just that. We were in a great rhythm and playing good ball all weekend, but in the semifinal we made a few too many errors and fell just short against a strong Livewire team.”

Tstreet lost more than just a match. Libero Sophie Reed injured a wrist pursuing a ball and was unavailable one hour later when Tstreet battled Rancho Valley 16 Premier for the final bid. Tstreet lost the first set but bounced back to win the final two to qualify.

“The entire weekend was a huge success for us,” Tanner said. “We strung together a bunch of well-played games/matches, and walked away with some hardware and a bid. It was a full team effort this weekend and I attribute the team’s success to all the players buying into their roles, fulfilling their assignments, and being poised under pressure.”

Rise 16 National won the 16 American division and the lone bid to Junior Nationals. The Rise staff is always welcome to file a report with us so that we may celebrate the tam’s achievement.

Tstreet 15 Chris

• The 15 Open division in Reno turned into an all-Southern California affair, as SCVA teams held down the four finishing spots. Tstreet 15-Chris defeated Mizuno Long Beach 15 Rockstar C for the title, while City Volleyball 15 Stef defeated Coast 15-1 for third place and the final bid.

Being full healthy was a boon for Tstreet. It magnified the team’s expectation that it could contend for the Gold medal. The team did lose twice to Coast, but neither proved costly. If anything, the second loss led directly to the team’s success.

The field was small – just 17 teams (apparently, at least 24 were registered at one time because three bids were available) – so there was only one Gold pool of four teams. Won the pool and you win the Gold medal. Finishing anything but last and you qualify.

Tstreet played Coast to start the Gold pool and came out flat against a Coast team that played high level ball. Coast stomped Tstreet in the first and won a closer second set to get a leg up on qualifying.

“After that match I told the girls that we needed to flush the first set of that match down the drain and build on the improvements we made in the second set, because we knew how tough the pool was and that anything could happen,” Tstreet coach Chris Sisson said.

Mizuno Long Beach beat City in the next match and City followed by defeating Coast. This opened the door for Tstreet.

“When City won that match (over Coast), I reminded the girls that if we come in and handle our business in our last two matches that a gold medal could still be on the table for us,” Sisson said. “I believe that motivated them, as well as playing Mizuno and City in our remaining two matches, which we had suffered losses to each of in our previous matchups against them in PVL play.”

Tstreet won its final two matches to win the pool and the title in tiebreaking fashion. 

“Our entire team rallied behind our two injured players, MB Ella Irwin and S/OPP Julia Khakis, who were injured on Day 1 of the tournament,” Sisson said. “Losing those two greatly hurt our depth, but we knew we still had the pieces to win if we played to the standard we have set for ourselves this season. The other 10 girls on the team played great volleyball and all had terrific moments, but we had standout performances from our two outsides, Gabriella Gubbins and Sofia Williams, who played tremendous defense out of the middle back and carried a heavy load for us offensively, taking a lot of swings and earning a lot of important points for us all weekend long. We were also kept in the flow of our offense sparked by the passing, setting and defensive contributions of our libero Annah Legaspi and setter Victoria Turner.”

Undersized Long Beach put itself in position to qualify and win the title by going the first seven matches without a dropped set. The loss to Tstreet doomed Long Beach’s championship hopes but Silver medals and a trip to Junior Nationals were pretty good consolation prizes.

“Our passing was amazing all tournament long,” coach Carlos Briceno said. Indeed, the quintet of Kaia Herweg, Malyssa Cawa, Summer Suppik, Taylor Mercado, and Lindsey Du combined to pass a 2.4 throughout the tournament.

“This allowed our middles to be highly efficient and involved in almost every offensive play,” Briceno said.

City’s goal coming to Reno was to play well enough to be in position to play for a bid on the tournament’s last day. That’s precisely what happened!

City’s Day 3 upset of Coast propelled it to third in the Gold pool and the final bid, which it clinched when Mizuno Long Beach also defeated Coast. Had Coast won that match, City would have finished fourth in the pool and out of bid position.

Key players for coach Stefanie Wigfall’s team included OH Mila Mijailovic, setter Thea Morris, MB Madeline Way and RS Kimi Watanabe. Top player Danica Rach, a terminating outside, went down with an ankle injury early on Day 3, but was instrumental in leading City to the Gold pool. Way shifted to the outside to compensate and was instrumental in the win over Coast.

Unity 15 Joel

• Our last division is 15 USA. Previously-qualified Livewire 15 Adidas won the event, with bids going to Unity 15 Joel, WAVE 15 Jaye and Rancho Valley 15 Premier.

Livewire had seen a lot of success recently. Chad Speer’s team won 15 USA at Show Me and just went 5-1 weekend at the AZ qualifier.

Livewire 15 Adidas“We talked about being mentally tough going into Reno,” he said. “We had conversations about resetting and accomplishing another challenge.”

Speer said the turning point came when the Livewire 16 Adidas team came to support his team on Day 2. The 15s had been a little sluggish to that point, though it had not dropped a set, but really turned it on thereafter and roared to the title. The team won by serving tough and attacking teams with its physicality. 

RS Aniston Smith and MB Zoe Leanard stepped their games up this weekend, as Livewire dominated from the right and in the middle, where Skyler Gartin also played well.

Unity, a first year club that coach Joel Blocksom said started out of a dirty and old warehouse, is celebrating its bid to Junior Nationals today after overcoming a No. 37 starting seed to finish second.

“I knew that we were seeded much lower than we deserved, but, honestly, I was just hoping that the girls would have an opportunity to play in the Gold bracket on Day 3,” Blocksom explained.

Unity started strong by defeating the No. 9 overall seed to start the tournament. The team needed a comeback from a close Game 1 loss to do it.

“The girls rallied together, believed in each other and came back to win the first match in the third set,” Blocksom said. “I think that was the moment that the girls started to believe that they actually had a chance of making a deep run in this tournament. I was blown away by the resilience my team showed, and how bravely they stood up against a much higher ranked opponent.”

Unity showed that kind of fight all tournament long.

“I told the girls to embrace the moment,” Blocksom explained. “To remind themselves that they want things to be difficult and challenging. And that deep down they loved and wanted that challenge. They saw the higher ranked opponents as a challenge, not a threat. An opportunity to compete. They approached each match with no fear, but with excitement. I attribute our success to the unrelenting spirit on this team, and willingness to embrace challenges.”

The leadership of setter Drue Coberly was essential to the team’s qualification.

“Between every play, Drue would run to each of her teammates, giving them high fives and encouraging them,” Blocksom explained. “Despite playing every point for the 10 matches over three days, she did this tirelessly. She was not going to let her team slip or play below their very best. Every single time out she would be at the center of the huddle, powerfully encouraging her teammates to stay strong no matter the circumstance. She sparked belief in her team. She gave the other girls confidence because they could rest in knowing that Drue was not going to let her team lose.”

WAVE’s path to a bid started before the first point was served in Reno. Mai Plesk leads a brief players only meeting prior to each practice with a purpose of getting the team focused on practice and ready to work hard for that day. The week prior to the tournament the team started coming out of those meetings saying, “Get that bid!”

“That’s when I knew they were focused on the task and ready to win a bid,” coach Jaye Loyd said.

Loyd said that WAVE came to Reno with high hopes, but with a little uncertainty, as an injury forced lineup changes and she wasn’t sure how they’d hold up over three days.

Libero Makena Roberts was outstanding for WAVE and played her best volleyball of the year. But every player made a big contribution over the course of the tournament.

“We have been working on being versatile and the ability to hit on both the right and left with our pin hitters, Summer Parks, Christina Uebelhoer, Emily Terry and Brea Upton,” Loyd said. “All four demonstrated that they were able to do that and execute. Our setters, Nalani Muniz and Delaney Hughes ,worked hard to incorporate our middles, Emily Wygal and Avery Merson, which helped to spread out our offense. In the back row, Gabby Fowler’s defense gave us opportunities to stay in long rallies and win big points.”

Rancho Valley did not report. Hopefully next week we can talk about them!

• Finally, let’s not let an opportunity pass to make Open qualifier predictions. 15 Open at Northern Lights appears to be the only one on the docket in the age groups we cover. This is a stacked event, with eight already-qualified teams. The trickle goes eight deep, so there might be a team or two that qualifies here, but not three. Give me MAVS KC 15-1 and OT 15 O Isaac to punch tickets here, although Boiler Juniors 15 Gold and Colorado Juniors 15Sherri could find a way.


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