Tawa’s Daily Dots: What a Performance, Juniors recovers in a big way, the ’21 class is Fab

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Tawa's Daily Dots 5/11/2021-Texas Performance
Texas Performance

Daily Dots (May 11, 2021): Club or high school volleyball factoids, notions and ideas to impress your friends (or not)

 
• Let’s talk some today about the Colorado Crossroads qualifier, which took place in Denver over the weekend. Year in and year out, Crossroads is my favorite tournament to cover live, because it’s usually the first on the schedule and the energy in the convention center is unreal. Holding the tournament in May, because of the pandemic, stripped the tournament of its usual luster, we were told by folks who were there. We have no doubt that it will come back stronger than ever in 2022.

• Last Friday, I made predictions in the Open divisions. As usual, they were abysmal, which is terrible unless you’re Joey on Friends. At this point in the season, I should be nailing this predictions rather than the other way around.

In 17 Open, I did correctly predict that AZ Storm Elite 17 Thunder would overcome its poor seed to earn a bid AND win it all. So that’s good. But my other picks to click, Club Ignit Select 17 Blue and NORCO 17 Black, didn’t fare as well. Ignit started 4-0, but dropped its final three matches to fall into a tie for ninth when bids trickled to seven places. NORCO had a chance to snag the final bid, but lost in the seventh-place trickle down match in three to MN Select 17-1. Team Indiana 17-1, called “Voltage” in TM2Sign, finished T-3 to gain the other bid.

In 16 Open, I was on the mark saying that Alamo 16 Premier and Elevation 16 Butcher would qualify, but missed on my third choice, as I went with Revolution 16 Premier to gain the third bid and not surprising Colorado Juniors 16 Shannon. I also whiffed badly on my pick of previously-qualified Premier Nebraska 16 Gold to win it all. Premier went 5-4 and finished 14th. Instead, another already-qualified team, Aspire 16 UA Premier, ran through the field to win it all.

In 15 Open, my choice of Tstreet 15-Chris to win a second straight qualifier was looking sound through a 6-0 start. But the seventh match, a three-set loss to OT 15 T Randy, relegated the Orange County squad to a T-5. I did pick two of the three qualifiers correctly, though I did not guess that Colorado Juniors 15Sherri would also win it all. Alamo 15 Premier qualified as predicted, but, in order to do so, it had to knock out my third choice, Club V 15 Ren Matt, in their Gold pool. The third bid went to Texas Performance 15s, after a 7-1 weekend.

If you’re keeping track, and I know you are, I went 5-for-9 picking bid winners and 1-for-3 picking champions, which is as abysmal as Monica’s bouillabaisse.

• We begin our coverage of the results from Crossroads with a statistical anomaly in the 15 Open division. Over three days, a total of 23 pools were conducted, nine of the four-team variety and 14 more three-teamers. In none of them was there a three-way tie! No three-way 2-1 for first, with the tiebreak analysis loser the odd-team out. No three-way 1-2 for second, with one lucky team surviving the cut. No three-way 1-1 with a bid on the line and a hope that you won enough sets or points for Lady Luck to shine on you. None of that. It was straight scoreboard: did you win enough matches to advance?

• Thirty-three (33) teams made it to Denver to play in the 15 Open tournament. Only two, Tstreet and OT Randy, were previous qualifiers, meaning teams could not count on others to help them qualify; they actually needed to earn the bids.

One week before Crossroads, Colorado Juniors 15Sherri went to Omaha for Northern Lights and tied for 19th place out of 28 teams. Juniors was the victim of unfortunate seeding on Day 1, where it lost two close matches to already-qualified teams; then lost a set to Paramount 15s when a win would have allowed it to play back into contention.

So how did Sherri Hawkins’ team go from that to 8-0 and Crossroads champions one week later?

Hawkins said being eliminated early at Northern Lights lit a fire under her team.

“Not making it out of Day 1 was tough, but it certainly made the team much more focused on our goal, as Crossroads was our last opportunity of two to try to get that Open bid,” she said. “So our loss to Paramount in Omaha in the final crossover set really set us up for winning Crossroads.”

Juniors got off to a slow start to open the tournament. The team, whose players are still playing high school ball, lost its very first set, to DCVA/505 VBA 15N Ohana, and won the match’s tiebreaking set in extra points. After that, however, it started to roll. Juniors swept Arizona Storm Elite 15 Thunder to clinch its pool, then swept everyone else to win the Gold Ball.

“I hoped we would qualify,” Hawkins said. “Anything beyond that was just icing on the cake!”

After winning its pools on the first two days, CJ, one of the tallest teams in the nation in this age group, went into Sunday knowing it was one of 12 teams remaining, in four pools of three. The two teams already with bids, Tstreet and OT Randy, were in the same pool. In all likelihood, one of those two would win its pool. If that happened, the other three pool winners would earn bids before the semifinals. Juniors stayed hot and dominated its Gold pool, sweeping Arete Athletes 15 Navy Telos and Arizona Revolution 15 Premier to clinch its bid.

Mission accomplished!

After earning the bid, club director Judy Peer came over and told the team, in her Judy way, “Well, let’s just go win the damn thing.”

Juniors did just that, sweeping close matches with OT Randy and Alamo to finish on top.

Asked which players helped CJ qualify, Hawkins responded, “Oh gosh! We had to rely on many of our players to get to our goal!”

“Our two main middles, Marae Reilly and Grace Woodring, came up HUGE for us,” she continued. “They are two of our ‘smaller’ players, but both hit well for us and did a great job of keeping the ball on the other side of the net with their blocking. They worked their butts off to be up in transition all the time, which really helped open things up for our pins. Both of our setters, Ragen Kadel and Izzy Stark, did a great job of running the offense. They listened to our feedback and advice on what to run to keep pressure on the opposing middles, and led our team to a team kill percentage of an outstanding 48% on the weekend. 

“Our passing and defense, led by our team leader, Ella Vogel, obviously started the attack. Ella was amazing as she came up with dig after dig, chasing down balls, first ball contacts on serve receive, etc. Ella is going to be a ‘big time’ libero in college some day! And our pins, Peityn Chapman, Delaney Russell, Avah Armour and Stark, were also instrumental in our success. Delaney just gets after it, every ball, every transition, every swing. She is an undersized OH who possesses amazing court awareness, especially at such a young age. She knows when to go out and blast it or when to finesse the ball.  She is there on coverage for the other hitters, always calling out what shots are available. Peityn, Izzy and Avah are three of our bigger kids and have the ability to swing over most blocks.  Izzy is just about unstoppable on her ‘2.’ Avah has the ability to hit at both antennas and is also one of our leading blockers. In fact, there were several times when Avah came up with a HUGE block that catapulted us to a win!”

Alamo 15 Premier

Alamo came to Denver determined to leave qualified for Junior Nationals. The team had a couple of close calls, versus Arete on Day 1 and ARVC 15N1 Adidas on Day 2, but overcame each and was undefeated all the way to the championship match.

“Our players played hard and played with a purpose,” coach Debbie Gonzalez said.

A complete team effort produced the desired result, the coach added.

Gabby (Reeves) and Sami (Valadez) worked hard at giving their hitters what they needed,” Gonzalez explained. “Alysa Walker played at a high level, cutting shots at all angles. Emma Converse came in and offered more attacks to the team. Kalina Calvillo, with her heavy hand attacks, kept opponents busy. Bella Rodriguez and Preslie Yates played a steady game. Sofia Scheuerman came in when we needed fresh legs and did her part in the middle. Lola Davila and Carly Chavez played and controlled the backrow and made awesome plays.”

• If you want a Cinderella story, look no further than TX Performance 15s. The fledgling El Paso club played Open at the Windy City Qualifier and finished 20 out of 23 teams. In the Sun Country Region, it qualified for Junior Nationals with an American bid. This is not the resumé of a team that would contend for an Open bid.

Head coach Aaron Martinez and assistant Salvador Hernandez believed differently about their undersized team.

“We expected to compete hard and give ourselves the best shot to make it into Gold,” Martinez said. “We address all our teams that, while winning isn’t everything, wanting to win and be successful is. Our club quotes writer Jim Collins’ ‘Great by Choice’ on our apparel to remind our athletes that a mindset and your work ethic are choices.”

TX Performance’s hardest work came on Day 1, when it eked by UPVBC 15-Adidas National in three and then upset OT Randy, also in three, to finish up 3-0. But for those wins, we would not be talking about TX Performance and Cinderella today.

Performance swept through Day 2, including a win over Club V Matt, to make it to the Gold pools.

“We communicate having goals,” Martinez explained. “Getting into Gold was one of the team goals. After that they set a new goal: to make final four.”

Despite fielding a team whose tallest player is only 5-9, TX Performance was determined to take the fight to its opponents and to fight for that Open bid.

“Our team decided getting this far wasn’t enough,” Martinez said. “And we were going to make the other teams work exceptionally hard to score points on us. They’d have to pry victory out of our kids’ hands.”

TX Performance swept its Gold pool matches, versus SynergyForce 15 Addie and Aspire 15 UA Premier, to clinch a bid and a spot in the semifinals. Alamo ended Performance’s tournament run in a competitive match, but not before Performance exceeded all expectations.

“We proved size isn’t everything if you can control the ball and find ways to score and defend around a clear height disadvantage our team has on the field in Open nationally,” Martinez said.

The key to qualifying, Martinez added, was all-around hard work and players getting better at their craft as matches went on.

“Our setter, Tylee Parham, chases balls and betters them, giving us the best opportunity to attack,” Martinez said. “Our defense made huge athletic moves to balls … often having to defend around a shorter block or open net at times. Our offense mixed up both conventional and unconventional methods to score. Staying patient but physical at the net, regardless of size, is important to us. The team stepped up to serve and pass well all weekend! Ball control is the name of the game with this group! Ashlee Macias and Nadia Peña are very dexterous, six-rotation players who contribute immensely offensively and defensively. Our libero, Victoria Leyva, is probably the life of our defense. Her fearless mentality and ability to keep us in points is beyond anything a coach can teach and watching her battle really sets the overall tone of the way we defend.”

• Did you see that the VolleyballMag Fab 50 came out on Saturday? You can find Mike Miazga’s list of the top 50 players in the Class of 2021 here: https://volleyballmag.com/2021-girls-fab-50-050821/.

On Dec. 30, 2019, 17 months before the Fab 50, PrepVolleyball.com came out with its Top 50 Juniors list. It was the last recruiting list I did for Prep. Forty-two (42) of the players on the Top 50 Juniors list made the Fab 50. Five others made the “Just Missed” listing of 13 additional talents in the class.

That leaves three who made the Fab 50 but were not included among the Top 50 juniors. Who are those three and what did they do over the past 17 months to fight their way into national recognition?

Sydney Taylor, an Ohio State signee and the libero for Mintonette m.81 (T-5 at 18s Junior Nationals), has been a prominent player for many years and was part of the USA Youth National team that won medals in 2018 and 2019. She’s been an outstanding player since we started covering her as a high school freshman; it’s just that the college panel we used at Prep didn’t value defensive players as highly as point scorers. As a result, only the most elite defenders were evaluated as top 50 recruits by Prep.

Brooke Mosher, an Illinois recruit and setter for FC Elite 18 Elite (T-5 at 18s Junior Nationals), was one of the final cuts from the “Just Missed” list. Because I don’t have access to the emails that flowed back and forth in connection with the Top 50 Juniors list, I do not know why. I can tell you that Mosher, a three-time All-Area pick and the Waterloo HS record holder in kills and aces, was on my initial list of 53 players that I sent to college coaches for consideration a month before the final list was published.

Erika Williams, a Penn State signee and middle for HJV 18 Elite, was a state champion for Kingwood Park and 5A Texas POY as a high school freshman. Standing just 6-0 tall, however, she wasn’t considered an elite recruit until she blew up at the Triple Crown NIT two months after the Top 50 Juniors list came out. Now touching 10-6 and committed to working to be her absolute best, Williams has a chance to make an immediate impact in Happy Valley in the fall.

• Look for the Gatorade National Player of the Year to be announced tomorrow. I can guarantee it will be one of VolleyballMag.com’s Fab 50 …

• On the same day the Fab 50 was released, Miazga also put out his “25 Underclassmen to Watch” list. You can find that here: https://volleyballmag.com/2021-25-underclassmen-050821/.

I have only seen eight of these young ladies play in person (Thanks COVID and management at PrepVolleyball.com). I’ve seen Averi Carlson, Alexis Stucky and Riley Buckley because they played on 15s teams as eighth graders and were outstanding athletes and top-level setters. I saw Claire Little, Julia Blyashov, Elia Rubin and Devin Kahahawai at the Durango Fall Classic when they were young impact performers. I watched Carly Hendrickson dominate the left at the Ohio high school state tournament. All are outstanding, as are the rest of the players on that list.

• Finally, there’s this from Triple Crown:

“Triple Crown is excited to host the NIT in Kansas City over Memorial Day Weekend, after having to postpone from its normal President’s Day Weekend due to COVID. Although on a recruiting dead period, we still have an incredibly strong field, many of which stayed with the event for the coast-to-coast competition heading into Nationals. Catch all the action live on www.MVPCast.com.”

Triple Crown also is debuting a new event in Salt Lake City for June 4-6, the West Coast Invitational.

“We still have room for those teams looking for an end of season event or prep for Nationals,” Zach Colston, Director of Events, said. You may contact Zach@TripleCrownSports.com for more info.

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