Tawa’s Daily Dots: Paramount’s improbable qualifying story, Dynasty building one, the top 2021 recruiting class

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Daily Dots 5/5/2021-Paramount 15s
Paramount 15s

Daily Dots (May 5, 2021): Club or high school volleyball factoids, notions and ideas to impress your friends (or not)

• Hello. I start today with a very difficult subject for me to discuss: My future at VolleyballMag.com.

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  • Now, on to the fun stuff!

The 15s convened in Minneapolis last weekend, intent on conferring seven qualifying bids to the Junior National Championships in Las Vegas two months hence. One bid would be awarded in the 15 American division, which had 73 teams; and three each would be conferred in the 15 Open and 15 USA divisions, which had 28 and 34 teams, respectively. Just five teams left Minneapolis, however, with freshly punched tickets to Sin City. That’s because in the stacked 15 Open division, the top six finishers, and seven of the top eight, had previously won bids at other qualifiers. As bids trickle no further than eight positions, only one team competing in Open, unheralded Paramount VBC 15, from Virginia, was able to make it into the top eight.

We first wrote about Paramount early in April, after it qualified in the 15 USA division at the Northeast Qualifier. Coached by Jasmine Jackson, Paramount finished second, with an 8-2 record, losing in the championship match to TAV 15 Gold.

The same weekend Paramount was finish second at NEQ in the USA division, it was also receiving a reallocated National bid from its region. This prompted Paramount, a sixth year club that had never before earned an Open bid in any age group, to enter the Open division at Northern Lights.

“This was the first time this particular team had played in an Open Qualifier,” Jackson explained. “What better way to get your feet wet than in a tournament field with eight teams that already were Open qualified?!”

Ten teams in the field of 28 came to the qualifier ranked in the national top 25 according to VolleyballMag.com. Five were ranked among the top 10. What chance did a team like Paramount have realistically against this much firepower?

“Our expectations were simple,” Jackson explained. “We wanted to stay disciplined on the little things, get touches with our blocks and focus on what we could control.  It was also important for us to keep our opponents out of system as much as possible with aggressive serves.  Our coaching staff did an excellent job scouting and picking up the tendencies of our opponents to help prepare before each game.”

Seeded 20th overall, the first-day pool went as expected for Paramount. The team was swept in its opening match by the No. 6 seed, national No. 10 NKYVC 15 Tsunami; then battled once-ranked Boiler Juniors 15 Gold to three sets before losing. Facing the pool’s fourth seed, Sky High Adidas 15-1 NS, in its final pool play match of the day, Paramount avoided going 0-3 by eking out a 15-12 Game 3 win to finish third in the pool.

Most qualifiers halve the contending field every day. Typically, Paramount could have chalked up its first Open effort to a good experience and worked to finish at or near the top of the bottom half. At Northern Lights, however, the desire to have 16 teams in four contending pools of four on Day 2 meant “sudden life” for two, third-place teams. Paramount was one of the seven with a chance to play back into the first division.

Paramount’s four-team bracket included OVA 15 Black, Nebraska Elite 15 Raw and national No. 17 Colorado Juniors 15 Sherri. With outsides Mimi Mambu and Sidney Powell keeping errors to a minimum and finding open spots on the court, Paramount was able to get by Nebraska Elite, 25-21, in the single-set “matches;” then beat Juniors, 25-22.

“Winning those two playoff sets gave us just the kind of momentum we needed to carry over into an incredibly difficult second day pool that included Dynasty, MKE Sting and Boiler Jrs.,” Jackson said.

All eight previously-qualified teams were among the 16 to advance from Day 1, two in each of the Day 2 pools. That made the odds pretty high that any team finishing top two in its pool and making the top eight would have a bid by Saturday afternoon.

Paramount’s road to the top eight was daunting. National No. 2 Dynasty 15 Black, a recent victor at Lone Star; No. 20 Milwaukee Sting 15 Gold, which qualified third last week at Windy City; and Boiler Juniors, the team it lost to the day before; were in its pool.

“We knew that if we found a way to win two matches in this pool that we would have a really good chance of advancing into the gold pools and walking out of Northern Lights with an Open Bid,” Jackson said.

While that was easier said than done, Paramount actually did it! Paramount opened with a three-set win over Sting, then lost to Dynasty to even its record at 1-1. Paramount then took on Boiler Juniors, knowing that a win would essentially clinch its bid.

Paramount lost the first set, 25-21, but fought back to win the next two at deuce, 25-23, 17-15. Dynasty followed by trouncing Sting to cement Paramount’s second-place finish. When the dust settled, only Milwaukee Sting among the eight previously qualified did not advance to the Gold pools. Paramount had earned the Open bid!

“Even though this was this team’s first Open qualifier, the players were confident and were ready to embrace the competition,” Jackson said. “We emphasized discipline with the fundamentals (winning the serve-pass battle) and making sure we did all the little things right that were in our control, and that the rest would take care of itself. We really wanted to just test the waters, so causing an upset and finishing in Gold at the highest level was a really great accomplishment for us. To come out with a bid in what was arguably the toughest 15 Open qualifier field of the season was absolutely incredible, and I could not be more proud of our team.”

Paramount’s Sunday was not memorable: the team was swept by its three pool-play opponents, but it walked away with heads held high as the only new addition to the Junior National 15 Open field.

“This accomplishment was a total team effort,” Jackson said. “Because of how difficult earning an Open bid is, we knew that the only way we would be able to do so was with a complete team effort, with timely contributions from all of our players. Every day, every game, somebody did something special to help us move forward.”

Mambu, an eighth grader with an approach touch of 10-2, led the way by being terminal from the left side.

She swung high and hard all weekend, which allowed her to terminate at an unbelievably efficient rate even though the other team’s blockers started to key in on her,” Jackson said.

Another 10-2 toucher, MB Kiylah Presley, was a focal point of the offense and a momentum changer on defense with her big blocks. Setter Paige Ahakuelo ran a 5-1 offense with a deft touch and never wavered in her enthusiasm.  MB Sara Posz, who missed last year due to injury, provided consistent offense and was a steady blocking presence. Right sides Gabby Flamish and Kendall Washington supplied timely blocks and key kills, outsides Powell and Seliz Aktuglu sparked the team from the left side, Powell especially on Day 1 and Aktuglu on Days 2 and 3. Libero Dilara Vural and DSs Natalie Carlin, MacKenzie Gibson and Marla Scott helped keep Paramount in system and provided great energy. It was Gibson’s dig on match point versus the Boilers that gave Paramount that one additional swing it needed to win the point, the match and the bid.

Tawa's Daily Dots 5/5/2021-Dynasty 15 Black
Dynasty 15 Black

• In an Open field crowded with the best of the best, one team, Dynasty 15 Black, stood tallest. Brian Tate’s team went 10-0 over three days to win the event. Its last five wins came versus previously-qualified teams. Dynasty defeated TAV 15 Black, 25-20, 25-22, in the final and, with the win, stamped itself as the team to beat in Las Vegas, having completed qualifier season with two first-place finish, one second and one third in five tournaments.

“Our expectation this weekend was to focus on improvement,” Tate said. “There were areas of our game that we felt like we still could be better in and we needed to be in order to have success against the teams we would see. We knew we needed to be better defensively at the net and in the back row and we did a nice job of doing that. We also tried to be a little more creative with where we were running our hitters and we were able to improve in that area, which made us a little less predictable.”

Tate said that individual and team defense was the best it’s been all year in Minneapolis.

“Our blocking most of the weekend was what sparked us to our win,” he said. “We were able to end both sets against a super-talented TAV team with blocks. Our pins did a really good job setting the block and taking away space on the opposing hitters.”

While everyone contributed at a really high level, Tate said, OH Skyler Pierce had a dominant weekend attacking and blocking and showed why she’s one of the most elite players in the nation at this age level.

Dynasty also got strong efforts from six-rotation outside Carlie Cisneros, defender Ryan McAleer and front court players Abigail Mullen and Saida Jacobs.

Look for recaps from 15 USA and 15 American, as well as 17 American from NEQ, over the next couple of days as reports come in.

• Sometime this month, VolleyballMag.com’s Mike Miazga will give us his researched, considered recruiting class rankings for the Class of 2021. I can’t wait that long!!!! So I combed through the lists of commitments at www.richkern.com to come up with my unresearched, off-the-cuff view of what the top five might look like.

Let’s start with No. 1, Nebraska. This Cornhusker class isn’t just the best in 2021 by a long shot, it may be one of the best classes of all time. It is a class that will win championships. Not just Big 12 championships. NATIONAL championships.

John Cook’s class features the top setter in the nation, Kennedi Orr, the two top outside hitters in the nation, Lindsay Krause and Ally Batenhorst, and one of the top 2-3 liberos nationally, Lexi Rodriguez. That alone would be enough to make it No. 1. Add 6-4 middle Rylee Gray, who led Elkhorn South to a Nebraska Class A title in the fall, one month after contracting Covid; and Whitney Lauenstein, a first-team All-Nebraska hitter, and, well, the Husker cup just runneth over …

The ONLY question surrounding this class is health. Orr tore her ACL last fall. Krause has been dealing with a knee issue since January. Both should be fine and ready to go by the start of the 2021 fall season. If so, Nebraska, which returns its starting setter, libero, starting outside and middle, could win the natty as early as THIS YEAR.

• Choosing classes two through five is a bit tougher. My final candidates were, in alphabetical order, Baylor, Creighton, Kentucky, Penn State and Stanford.

I’m going to put Creighton at No. 2. I just believe that setter Kendra Wait and OH Norah Sis are program changers for the Bluejays. They are winners and talented enough to put their stamps on any program in the country. Creighton, which also welcomes 6-5 OH Eve Magill, is lucky to have them.

 I’m going to go with Kentucky as my No. 3 class. The current national champions bring in two dynamic middles, Jordyn Williams and Erin Lamb (who also plays on the outside), its next great setter in Emma Grome and an outstanding defender in Eleanor Beavin. The Wildcats will graduate three impact starters who will be tough to replace. This class eases the pain and could help bring the team back to championship contention sooner than later.

• Speaking of Erin Lamb, that is she attacking for Northern Lights 18-1 in this clip from 18s Junior Nationals. You can see why Kentucky is excited to have her in the fold!

• Taking a look at some more non-qualifier highlights from the weekend that was, Mizuno Long Beach 15 Rockstar C, on the heels of qualifying at Far Western, won the Premier Volleyball League event for 15s, defeating Southern California powerhouses Wave 15 Juliana and Coast 15-1.

Charlie Fuerbringer, Ayden Ames and Hailey McGinest had a big impact offensively. And the team’s backcourt of Malyssa Cawa, Summer Suppik, Kaia Herweg and Taylor Mercado continued to out ball control all opponents.

“We are on the rise and we will only get better with the return of Isabel Clark and Isabel Jeffery,” coach Carlos Briceno said.

AVA 17 Adidas played at the Lone Star Regional Qualifier. Its fifth-place finish was good enough to earn an American bid.

Coach Marko Majstorovic said how his team earned the bid made for a remarkable story.

In the deciding match, AVA, ranked tenth in the region, played No. 3 Alamo 17 Premier and won in comeback fashion. After dropping the first set, AVA rallied from down 22-18 in the second to force a third set, then rallied again from down 13-9 with a 6-0 run to clinch the bid.

“It was one of the most amazing comebacks I witnessed, especially since we played a really good team that played really good,” he said. “It was 100% TEAM effort. Everyone stepped in, and made a contribution to this victory!”

Tstreet 16 Curtis won its third PVL Championship this past weekend. The team survived great battles with Sunshine 16-LA and A4 Volley 16 Juanchi to win. Both went three sets, with Tstreet’s win over A4 coming by a score of 23-25, 25-22, 16-14. Intense!

A huge part of our success was Lily Dwinell on the left side,” coach Curtis Yoder said. “Lily passed well and played great defense, and she was an unstoppable force as a hitter. Nicole Feliciano also had a great day, going six rotations as a setter/opposite and staying solid throughout. It was another great team effort with important contributions from everyone, which is a huge part of why this team has been so successful this season.”

Nationally ranked Alamo 16 Premier started its month with a “huge booster shot” by going undefeated at the Lone Star Regional Qualifier.

“We went 7-0 and beat a very talented Houston Skyline team in the finals,” coach Phil Jackson said. “It was a complete team effort with everyone contributing a great amount of energy. We head to Denver on Thursday to see if we can improve on the National bid by earning an Open bid.”

Kaitlyn Moran
  • Finally, here’s another version of “Three Contacts With … ,” featuring Kaitlyn Moran, a setter for 575 15 Kortney in Georgia.

Moran was an All-Star cheerleader before finding volleyball at age 11, when she went to a Georgia Tech/Michigan State match in which her cousin, Kristen Kelsay, was coaching.“I instantly fell in love,” she said. Here are the three questions Moran picked and her responses to them.

Q: What’s the single funniest thing you’ve ever seen in volleyball?

KM: We get some pretty funny fail videos from matches and practice that are really funny, but if you have not seen Gage Worsley, from Out of System, do his reaction video from the Hawaii vs BYU match you should. It is absolutely hilarious and I have watched it easily over a couple hundred times. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DPK2PlMV2a8

Q: Tell us about a specific failure and how you learned from it.

KM: When I made the decision to start playing volleyball as a rising 6th grader,  I tried out for my middle school B team and I got cut. I was devastated. I never forgot that feeling and immediately started practicing heavily to get better. Two years later I made the JV team as an 8th grader and have never stopped working since. I learned in every sport there is always someone better than you. You have to have a strong work ethic to be the best teammate you can be and grow in the sport.

Q: What kind of coach gets the best out of you as a player?

KM: One who can communicate well, sets high expectations up front and holds me and the team accountable to meet those expectations. I need a coach who knows when to be harsh when needed but also knows when to have fun. I also really like a coach who can tell me things I am doing wrong but then show me how to fix things technically when needed.  Most importantly as a setter, I need to feel that the coach trusts me and feels confident with me running the offense.

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