Daily Dots (May 3, 2021): Club or high school volleyball factoids, notions and ideas to impress your friends (or not)

• It’s May! I love May in Oregon! Everything’s growing like mad, including my strawberries, blueberries and cherries; and the days are long and getting longer.

This week, Dots returns to the shorter bullet points contemplated when these daily articles first began. We are selling our home and clearing things out for the remodel before sale is taking every waking hour! You accumulate a lot of stuff, and a lot of memories, spending 18-plus years in one place!


• Let’s start today’s Dots with a couple of recaps from last week’s jam-packed action.

A2 18 Green, an Ohio-based club, started 18 American at 18s Junior Nationals as the No. 2 seed in Pool 11 (the 22nd seed overall). An unexpected loss to Slainte 18-1, the 4-seed on Day 1, put A2 behind the 8-ball going into its final match of the pool. Brenden Pence’s team came away with a three-set win over top-seeded Topeka Saints 18-1 to actually win the pool.

On Day 2, A2 went 2-1 again, its lone loss to eventual runner-up Siesta Key Jrs 18 Charlie, but the team had advanced to the Challenge round. One win and A2 would achieve its goal of making the Gold bracket!

A2 won in revenge against Madfrog 18 National Black, a team it lost to earlier in the year in three sets, then defeated Austin Skyline 18 Royal in two to clinch a Bronze Medal. A2 couldn’t make it 2-for-2 versus Frogs and lost to the eventual champs in two, but left very happy with its effort and the tournament.

“It truly did feel like Nationals in a ‘normal’ time,” Pence remarked. “We thought the staff and city did a great job of providing a great and safe Nationals. We were very happy with our team performance and felt that we finished the season (and many players’ careers) on a very positive note.”

When asked who shined for the team, Pence was quick to praise everyone.

“Every single member stepped up and made huge contributions,” Pence said. “We effectively utilized our middles and opposites, and controlled serve and serve receive well. The two players who were on the All-Tournament team were our outsides, Sophie Sparks and Bella Weiler. Both were great outlets offensively and played strong in the back row. Other standouts included our libero, Alex Slote, who did an amazing job defensively; as well as our setter, Abby Leonard, who did a great job leading her hitters and running a solid flow to the offense.”

That wraps up 18s Junior Nationals, sort of. We haven’t heard from 18 Open Bronze Medalists Union 18-UA or 18 American Silver Medalist Siesta Key Jrs. Perhaps we’ll hear back this week!

• At the Windy City qualifier last week, Lions 15-1 overcame a Day 2 loss to Flyers 15 APX Bill, 25-22, 21-25, 16-14, to defeat the same Frisco, Texas squad in the championship match of 15 Open, 28-26, 25-23. I would have LOVED to be courtside for both of those matches.

“WCQ was so much fun for us,” Lions coach Laura Baetzel said. “We saw some great competition which we were expecting. The girls have been working so hard and deserved this win and the chance to play with the best in Vegas at the end of June.”

On Day 3, Lions found itself in a three-team Gold pool with one already-qualified team, Six Pack 15, from Iowa; and another, Milwaukee Sting 15 Gold, from Wisconsin, trying to earn its way in. Both Sting and Lions won fun matches with Six Pack, setting up a showdown for the pool and a bid. Win and you’re in the championship and assured of a trip to Junior Nationals. Lose and you’ll need to win the third-place match to assure your qualification.

Lions won, 15-13 in the third.

“It was a great match,” Baetzel said. “Sting is a great team I’m sure we will be seeing again in Vegas!”

With qualification assured, Lions was able to be laser-focused to win the title because the team’s opponent had already once defeated it in this tournament.

“That team has incredible defense!” Baetzel said. “We knew we needed to switch some things up and find different ways to win! Our girls were so focused and we were so excited knowing that we just earned our bid but we were ready to prove that we could win the whole thing! They have spent months building chemistry and trust and it all just came together for them this weekend.”

Attackers Grace Nelson and Ellie White were unstoppable all weekend long. Ellie White and Kinsey Smith were so smooth running the offense and both played great defense to boot. Gabi Williams and Keira Ohse worked so hard all weekend putting up their big block and scoring big points in crucial times out of the middle. Elizabeth Sessa (RS) and Marin Johnson (OH) were blocking machines and set such good pin blocking all weekend as well as being weapons with their swing. Finally, Sam Falk and Kiley Mahoney played such solid defense in each match and set the tone with their serve receive at the start of every set.

“Coach Jocelynn Birks and I are so proud of them and know they still have so much more to prove!” Baetzel said.

• There were two national qualifiers this weekend, but both were relatively small. The 17 American division completed a several-week run for the Northeast Qualifier in Philadelphia with Maryland Juniors 17 Elite Black winning the title.

In Minneapolis, the Northern Lights National Qualifier continued with the 15s divisions. Dynasty 15 Black won its second straight 15 Open title in a division where seven of the final eight teams had previously qualified. Only Paramount VBC 15 was able to leave town with a 15 Open bid in hand. The Virginia club got it done in unusual fashion. We hope to tell its story later in the week…

In 15 USA, Premier Nebraska 15 Red, a previous winner in 15 American at Show Me, won again to upgrade its bid. Club Ignit Select 15 Blue and Rockwood Thunder 15 Navy also earned USA bids.

In 15 American, Missouri Juniors 15-1 authored a 10-0 weekend to snag the lone American bid from the 73-team field.

If you saw the last Dot on Friday, then you know I made predictions about what would happen in 15 Open at Northern Lights. Predictably, I was dead wrong, even though I had two rounds of Day 1 pool play results to consume before making said predictions. I said that two teams would emerge from the stacked field with bids when there was only one. And I said the two would be MAVS KC 15-1 and OT 15 O Isaac and, if not them, then Boiler Juniors 15 Gold or Colorado Juniors 15Sherri.

Colorado Juniors got knocked out on Day 1, when it had two chances to advance from its pool and another in a third-place bracket to play back in. MAVS and OT were in the same Day 2 pool. Both fell to two previously-qualified teams. Paramount beat Boilers, 17-15 in the third on Day 2; otherwise, my Boiler pick would have come through.

• Let’s look at some non-qualifier action from the weekend.

Arizona Storm Elite 17 Thunder continued its control over the 17s division in Arizona by going 5-0 without dropping a set in the Arizona regional championship. Notable matches was against Aspire 17-1 and EVJ 17N1 Tempe in the final.

“With both pins (Jordan Middleton and Kylie Moran) firing, we were able to keep consistent pressure on opposing teams,” assistant coach Aaron Payne said. “Hailee Hooks added two big blocks in the finals and Kate Prior kept opposing middles busy all day with her speed and ability to spread the offense. It was a good test for us as we head into a big month of travel and qualifiers.”

AVA 16 Adidas participated at Lone Star Regionals and qualified this past weekend, while battling from waaaay behind to punch its ticket to Vegas.

“It was pretty amazing,” Coach Haley Jacob said. “Carissa Young and Ashley Richardson made some huge plays for us offensively and defensively to get us back in the match then, Ashley went on a serving run. It was overall a huge team effort that will forever be remembered. This group of kids has never qualified for Nationals so it means everything to them.”

Ozark Juniors

Ozark Juniors 16 National, the club’ second team at this age level, won the Delta Region Bid Qualifier this past weekend to qualify for Junior Nationals. The team won its bid by defeating a team in the finals it had twice lost to previously.

“It was a total team effort with key defensive contributions from libero Madison Rhea and DS Mia Baedke and key offensive contributions from Maddie Lee and Ryan Russell, including the match-winning kill,” coach Angie Baker said. “Meg Gebhart and Rylee Kallesen were clutch from the service line and Bessie Swoboda had four straight blocks in the third set.”

• For the final four Dots, let’s include some tips on how to be a better passer. This morning, I asked my college coach friends to respond with 1-2 sentences only on this subject: “What’s the best advice you can give on how to improve in serve-receive?”

I have received 21 responses so far! I LOVE college coaches!!!!

I’ll include two per Dot today, for a total of eight, as many say essentially the same thing.

“Keep those shoulders loose with your angle out early. Work your feet to stay behind the ball and allow it to come down to your platform.” — Dave Butler, Oregon

“Serve-receive is about focus and confidence.  Have one process thought while you’re preparing to pass and complete confidence that your body knows how to get the ball to target.” — Chad Willis, Davidson

•  “Face the server, create an early angle with your platform and hold it just a little long than you think you should. Don’t be afraid to take the ball outside your midline and aim to pass the ball high and about 6-8 feet off the net.  A high pass off the net is better than a tight pass on the net every time.” – Josh Lauer, Troy

“The ball is dumb. It only does what you tell it to. See it early, create your angle early, and tell the darn thing where you want it to go.” — Zach Weinberg, Tennessee Tech

• “To be great in serve-receive, I would stress to first study the servers and their tendencies. For example, how is the ball tracking? I would also add that keeping your head level and being balanced are keys to quickly see improvements.” – John Hawks, UCLA

“Be balanced, keep your shoulders down, and make a positive step in the direction of where the ball is going to end up.” – Jason Kennedy, Boston College

• “Be intentional about working on technique in how you take deep serves over each shoulder and short serves on each side.  Make sure these are done from each serve receive position on the court, taking serves from each serving spot.” – Paul Dill, M.I.T.

“Stay fresh and as relaxed as possible. Waiting to go into ‘ready’ position until right before the server makes her toss will help prevent muscles from having prolonged tension.” – Ken Ko, Long Island University


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