Daily Dots (May 13, 2021): Club or high school volleyball factoids, notions and ideas to impress your friends (or not)
• Hello and May the 13th be with you!
It doesn’t have quite the same impact as “May the 4th be with you,” does it? But did you know that, on May 13, back in 2018, I released PrepVolleyball.com’s “Dandy Lions,” those players who hit or set for their HS or club teams who were projected to be amazing back row contributors in college?
Several First Teamers have, indeed, been back row standouts, like Mackenzie Cole at Duke, Kenzie Knuckles at Nebraska, Taylor Kuper at Illinois, Allison Whitten at Morehead State and CC McGraw at Minnesota.
Two others, however, McKenna Melville of UCF and Brooke Nuneviller of Oregon, have gone on to become NCAA All-Americans as outside hitters!
• I am in the process of polling college coaches about their favorite national qualifiers. I asked college coaches on my list – if you’re a college coach, you may join the list using this link: http://eepurl.com/hn9wvf — to list their top three qualifiers to attend, in order, considering the recruiting talent, the tournament itself and the social and dining opportunities in the city.
I will have the results at the end of today’s Dots, but wanted to mention that several coaches have already broken the rules by listing non-qualifier Triple Crown NIT as their favorite event hands down. They cite the coaches room, barbeque in Kansas City, intense competition from the first match and that college coaches are important to the tournament’s organizers as primary reasons.
• Let’s gets back to recapping the Colorado Crossroads Qualifier.
We’ve already done 15 Open (Tuesday) and 17 USA, 17 American and 16 American (yesterday).
We start today with 17 Open, which had 36 teams, six with bids already secured. Here’s how the already-qualified teams fared, by final record and final placement:
Front Range 17 Black, 8-1 (2nd)
Premier Nebraska 17 Gold, 6-2 (T-3)
Houston Skyline 17 Black, 6-2 (T-5)
Northern Lights 17-1, 6-2 (T-5)
OT 17 T Jason, 3-4 (T-9)
Absolute 17 Black, 3-4 (T-15)
Arizona Storm Elite 17 Thunder qualified by winning the division, which was not a surprise. Team Indiana Voltage and MN Select 17-1 also qualified, although neither was a favorite to do so.
• AZ Storm was the highest ranked team in VolleyballMag.com’s rankings – No. 4 nationally – coming to Crossroads, but its largely in-state schedule so far caused Terri Spann’s team to be seeded only seventh in the field. Notwithstanding the seed, the team expected to win the whole thing. It was knocked for a loop when Dynasty 17 Black swept it on Day 1.
“The moment we lost to Dynasty on Day 1, we had an ah-ha moment in room 824 at the Embassy Suites,” Spann said. “It was a very low key reminder of expectations and reality check of what it takes to be considered the best.”
From that moment on, Storm played to its ranking and was able to win out, defeating three already-qualified teams in the process, including two wins over Premier Nebraska, the tournament’s top overall seed.
“The girls are always willing to battle for us and I love that about them!” Spann said. “We were proud of the girls and how well they played on Days 2 and 3.”
Jordan Middleton, who is widely considered the best attacker in the Class of 2022, led the way for Storm.
“She was unstoppable offensively in the front row and back row,” Spann said.
Spann also lauded the big and timely blocking of middles Kate Prior and Logan Blutreich; the outstanding and opponent-frustrating defense and passing by Tatum Thomas, MaKenna Douglas and Kylie Moran; and the work of setter Anita Babic, who, according to Spann, “did a great job feeding the beast and attacking where we needed to.”
• If you look in AES, you’ll find Team Indiana under the 17-1 name and not the Voltage name used at Crossroads.
“Each year the team comes up with a name,” coach Rich Coleman explained. “This one passed the coach veto!”
You’ll also find the team with a 34-19 record and finishes outside the top 10 at both Bluegrass and MEQ. That’s hardly a resume for a team hoping to go qualify at a tournament with so many elite teams.
But that’s exactly what happened.
“We had a few great weeks of practice and everyone was very locked in going out to Denver,” Coleman said.
Seeded 18th overall, TI won the matches it needed to on Day 1 and Day 2 to get to the Gold pools, the classic “survive and advance” strategy. The key moment, Coleman, said came on Saturday versus Dynasty, the team that defeated Storm the day before. Team Indiana found itself down 23-17 in the first, but benefited from two huge scramble plays that resulted in TI points and helped spark the comeback that resulted not only in winning the set but also the match in two.
On Sunday, Team Indiana found itself in a three-team Gold pool with two already-qualified squads, Houston Skyline 17 Black and OT 17 T Jason. Here’s how close the pool was:
Skyline d. OT, 25-17, 15-25, 15-13
TI d. OT 23-25, 25-19, 15-13
TI d. Skyline, 25-23, 19-25, 17-15
Winning the first match versus OT gave Team Indiana no worse than second place in the pool and entry into a bracket for a bid. Sneaking by Houston Skyline in the second match guaranteed the bid.
“It was a team effort in every sense,” Coleman said. “It would be a disservice to name just a few players, as each athlete made contributions for us over the course of the three days! Most importantly, the team worked together the entire time and even when things were difficult they worked collectively to find a way!”
MN Select is another team you wouldn’t immediately point to as a favorite to qualify. The team was 36-19 coming to Crossroads, finished 16th and 9th in two previous qualifiers and did not have a player currently committed to a Power 5 conference team on its roster.
“We added this tournament a month ago to our schedule to give us another chance to get a bid,” coach Drew Rongere said.
Select went 5-0 over the first two days, surviving three-set battles with Madfrog 17 Black and Dynasty, to reach Sunday’s three-team Gold pools. Rongere’s team opened Gold pool play with a sweep of Club V 17 Ren Reed, ensuring it of a top eight finish and the opportunity to contend for a bid.
It turned out that MN Select would get three chances to earn a bid. It ended up needing all three.
Select first took over Far Western winner Front Range 17 Black in its pool.
“We played one of our best matches of the season and lost a close one, 22-25, 25-22, 15-13,” Rongere said.
The loss gave Front Range the pool and a berth in the semifinals and moved MN Select into the four-team, fifth-place bracket. Two of the four teams, Houston Skyline and Northern Lights 17-1, already had bids.
Select drew Lights, another Minnesota team it was 1-2 against, and lost another close match, 23-25, 26-24, 15-11, so close to earning for a second straight match, yet so far.
The team then watched as the other fifth-place semifinal, between NORCO 17 Black and already-qualified Houston Skyline, went to a third set.
NORCO’s experienced had mirrored Select’s, in that it lost in three to Premier Nebraska 17 Gold in its Gold pool, when winning would have secured a bid; and now was going to three in a second match to win a bid.
Houston Skyline pulled out the win, 15-12, setting up a match between Select and NORCO for seventh place and the final bid.
“Both teams were exhausted after a long day, but we had just a little more juice left in the end and pulled out a win, 25-12, 21-25, 15-12,” Rongere said. “Our team’s energy went through the roof when NORCO lost to Skyline and we had another chance to earn a bid.”
Rongere felt that it was important to cite each of his players for their contributions to the qualifying effort.
“Elle Cotton (S) ran the offense beautifully all tournament and did a great job of establishing the middle. She had 222 assists and 18 kills. Brynn Reines (OH) played a key role on the outside. She had 12 kills and just 2 errors against NL and NORCO. Sierra Moore (OH) had her best tournament of the season as our 6-rotation OH. She stepped up big time in serve-receive, passing a 2.12, and got 51 digs and 42 kills. Adri Rhoda (OH) put up a big block for us, averaging nearly a block per set and adding 20 kills. Megan Wetter (MH) was tough to stop. We wanted to feed our middles the ball any chance we got. She was destroying the ball around the block with 82 kills, a .417 hitting %, and adding 30 blocks. Cara Cyr (MH) was also tough to stop. She hits the ball so hard and makes it tough for opposing back rows to defend her. She had 60 kills, a .427 hitting %, 28 blocks and led the team with 13 aces. Ashley Peltier (RH) was challenged with trying to slow down opposing OHs and did a great job with 23 blocks. She also added 25 kills. Ella Voegele (libero) was, in my opinion, one of the best liberos in the tournament. She is so fast and tracks down a ton of balls for us. She led the team with 79 digs. Kylie Stremmel (DS) plays middle back defense for us and did a phenomenal job of reading offenses. She is almost always in a position to dig and is a great leader on the court. She passed a 2.42 on serve receive and added 55 digs. Allie Kopp (DS) transitioned from a setter to a DS this year and looks like a natural DS. She had to dig so many hard shots down the line from OHs and ended with 48 digs. She also stepped up on serve receive passing a 2.27.”
“Every player on this team plays for each other,” Rongere added. “They love to compete and they just keep getting better.”
• The 16 Open division was strange start to finish, both because of teams dropping out and several initial seeding errors. I’ve written in a previous Dots article about the seeding here and why working hard to seed a tournament is important. Sometimes, because of results on the court, teams get an easier path to a bid. The path at the start, however, should always be the one you deserve.
Today, however, is not about seeding mistakes, but about celebrating the tournament champion, previously-qualified Aspire 16-UA Premier, as well as the three teams, Alamo 16 Premier, Colorado Juniors 16 Shannon and Elevation 16 Butcher, that left Crossroads with tickets to Open in Las Vegas.
• Seeded No. 1, Aspire, which qualified second at Far Western, expected to hold its seed and did just that, fashioning a 9-0 record over three days that included just three dropped sets.
“It’s tough having a target on your back throughout the tournament, but this group is resilient and got it done,” coach Sharon Vanis said. “I think the players know what level they need to play at … when they all get in the right mind set, they are a tough team to beat.”
Aspire rallied from down a set on Sunday to beat Club V 16 Ren Andrew and clinch a spot in the semifinals. The team then swept Colorado Juniors and Alamo to earn the Gold ball.
“We had a couple of lapses this weekend, but the players pulled together and always found a way to finish,” Vanis said.
Vanis said the team’s “big guns” – Kierstyn Barton, Avery Burks, Neomi Beach and Ella Lomigora – did their jobs, but that others, like setter Georgia Lee, MB Kate Phillips, libero Lauren Mullings and the rest of the defense also shined.
“It was a total team effort,” Vanis said. “I’m very proud of this group.”
• Alamo is a very talented team that has, at times, been slowed by COVID this season. But it came to Crossroads on the heels of a 7-0 showing at Regionals and determined to upgrade from a National bid to one of the Open variety. Coach Phil Jackson said the team had three objectives:
- “To continue building on our team efforts from having to reboot after an unfortunate February and March.
2) To earn a bid; and
3) To claim the championship.”
After roaring through Day 1, Alamo got stunned on Day 2, losing three consecutive sets. The first two, to Arizona Revolution 16 Premier, put the team, now 0-1, behind the 8-ball the rest of the way, especially with national No. 11 Premier Nebraska 16 Gold also in the pool. Alamo, No. 9 nationally, scraped by ARVC 16N1 Adidas to even its slate at 1-1, but then faced must-win against Premier Nebraska. That’s when fireworks happened, according to Jackson.
“We had a couple of BS calls and cards go against us and the players really responded well,” he said. “We were able to beat Premier Nebraska to advance and keep our goals alive.”
Alamo followed that win with three more, including an impressive sweep of No. Hive 16 Gold, which clinched its bid; before falling to Aspire in the championship match.
“I know it’s cliché but each set and match we had someone playing at high level,” Jackson said. “When our right sides, Nayeli Gonzales and Taylor Anderson, are right, we are a tough team to beat.”
National No. 19 Elevation 16 Butcher expected to qualify at Crossroads. The team did not expect to have to go through No. 12 AZ Revolution to get it done, however. Yet that was precisely the scenario when the team met for Gold Pool 3 on Sunday. Elevation won the first set, 25-20. Revolution took the second, 25-16. Revolution led the third, 10-9, five points from overcoming its unfortunate seeding in the lower half to earn its bid.
I asked Elevation coach Ali Butcher to tell me how her team was able to rally in that third set to come away with the bid. She said there were big swings, scrappy plays and soul sucking blocks on both sides of the net.
Two big kills from OH Kendal Murphy helped Revolution take that 10-9 lead and forced Elevation into a time out. Out of the stoppage, the Cincinnati club got a side out, courtesy of a huge swing down the line from RS Audrey Armbruster. MB Campbell Robinson then went back to serve and, aided by some big digs from Ava Wolfer, scored three straight to put Elevation up 13-10. After Murphy and Armbruster exchanged kills, Elevation had three bid points up 14-11.
A serving error gave Revolution a point, but Elevation made sure not to let Revolution think it was going to go on a run to win the match. Armbruster passed Murphy’s serve to Lindsey Green. Green, the team’s leader, set the ball to the pin to freshman Mya White, who’d been having a huge game using her entire repertoire. White tried a tip over the block that turned out to be a good call. The ball dropped and Elevation had its bid.
“We knew we would have to play at a high level to earn our bid and we executed,” Butcher said.
Besides Armbruster, Green and White, RS/S Audrey Wolfer came up big for Elevation in crucial moments with some critical swings. On defense, Ava Wolfer and Sydney Breissinger came up big with strong serving runs, strong serve-receive and defensive range.
The story behind Colorado Juniors qualifying is testament to never give up. Ever.
Coach Shannon Krug will tell you that Juniors had no business qualifying in Open at Crossroads.
“Our expectations going into Crossroads were to just compete and get better every day,” she said. “We weren’t sure what to expect, as all our kids are still in the middle of high school season, so we only had four true practices prior to the tournament and we hadn’t competed, even regionally, in over two months.”
No competition of any kind in two months before playing Open at Crossroads? No wonder CoJo started 0-2 on Saturday!
Now, an 0-2 start most times would have you out of contention on Day 1, but Krug’s team was in a three-team pool with a crossover, and it was able to sweep a match with Utah’s Elevate 16 Nike to stay alive. Juniors went 1-1 on Saturday to finish second in a three-team pool. That was enough to advance to the four, three-team Gold pools on the final day.
“The confidence just kept building as the tournament went on,” Krug said. “The girls stepped up in the matches that they had to.”
On Sunday, Juniors was in a pool with Gainesville Juniors 16-1, the pre-tournament No. 5 seed; and Circle City 16 Purple, a team it lost to in three on Day 1. Krug’s team started by flipping the script on Circle in three sets, then edged Gainesville, 27-25, in Game 1 on its way to a sweep and the bid.
“Qualifying was definitely unexpected and awesome,” said Krug, whose team was registered to play USA this week at Northern Lights. “This was a team win, as everyone contributed to their fullest. “These girls pulled off something that was unexpected and surprised everyone in the best way!”
Three key players this weekend for Juniors included Haley Glunz, who stepped up her blocking game in a major way and was unstoppable offensively; Annika Sokol, who did a great job distributing the ball to the right players at the right time, and also scored well herself when she hit; and Dani Cranford, who had some big swings on the outside and terminated the ball in some tough situations.”
• Iowa Rockets 16R swept everyone to win the 67-team 16 USA division. The team previously qualified third in 16 USA at Windy City. We did not hear from the Rockets nor second place Academy Volleyball 16 High Performance, from California, but will reserve future Dots for each for when they want their winning/qualification stories told.
16 Blue and New Wave 16 Tsunami went 15-4 combined to join Academy in earning bids in Denver.
The last time at a qualifier, Dynasty Blue watched as teams it played, in the Gold bracket semifinal and third-place match, emerged with bids after beating it. The team learned that fourth place wasn’t good enough.
“Our team used that as motivation going into the tournament,” coach Tessa Brophy said.
Dynasty Blue earned its bid with a bittersweet quarterfinal sweep of fellow club team Dynasty 16 Gray. 16 Blue was not going to be denied its bid no matter which team was on the other side of the net, and overcame a 22-21 Game 2 deficit with four straight points to sweep to the bid.
“The girls’ fight to not give up that set showed their grit and desire to get a bid!” Brophy said.
Every girl on the team stepped up to help the cause, Brophy emphasized.
“Every single one of them wanted to achieve our goal of qualifying and we couldn’t have done it without playing together,” she added. “In our quarterfinal match, libero Jadyn Padilla had her best game of the season. Physically, mentally, and emotionally, she brought her ‘A’ game. She did not miss a single serve the whole tournament, her passing helped our setters run an amazing offense, and her covering and calling shots gave our hitters confidence to swing away.”
Illinois’ New Wave Tsunami was 5-1 on Sunday, its first time ever playing Crossroads, and knew that with Iowa Rockets having already qualified, just two wins would fulfill a major team goal of playing Junior Nationals in Vegas.
“We missed an opportunity to get a bid in the region due to not having a healthy team with a few illnesses (COVID) and other injuries,” coach Deidre Dunbar said. “We finished in Gold at MEQ, but had a slip on Day 2 of the Windy City Qualifier, so we knew we had to bounce back and play like we knew we could.”
Twice on Sunday, Tsunami faced third sets and the prospect of being eliminated prior to earning a bid. Twice the team dug deep and prevailed.
“All the players were super focused and determined to get the job done,” Dunbar. “I felt confident that we would put ourselves in a position to be there in the end, and we did it.”
The team had a lot of heroes. Anja Kelly, a 5-11 MB/pin, had a team high 12 kills in the three-set victory that solidified the bid in the quarterfinals. She continues to improve with only 2-3 years of volleyball experience, Dunbar said.
Kaitlyn Thick, a 6-2 OH, had a break out tournament and put the ball away to finish off the quarterfinal win. Setter Kat Cox continued her exceptional all-around play.
“She scores points behind the service line, plays great defense and dishes out sets,” Dunbar commented.
Finally, Ava Falduto, who is heavily touted as one of the top liberos in the country, averaging 17 digs per match.
• We made it to the 10th Dot. Here are the top four qualifiers as voted on by college coaches:
2. Lone Star
3. Mideast Qualifier
4. Big South
Crossroads was lauded for its easy flights, train to downtown from the airport, abundant nearby places to eat and congregate and the full, diverse, high-level fields.
Lone Star was a favorite because of the big time competition due to all the Texas teams, the weather and the size of the venue.
MEQ received mention because of the good Midwest competition, a well-spaced out venue and, of course, St. Elmo Steakhouse.
The comments about Atlanta’s Big South were interesting. Here’s a sample: “Sometimes I debate if this is the best or the worst. My reason is the same. It’s so damn big. We can see plenty of kids that weekend, but sometimes we have to walk a mile to get from one hall to another. Love the proximity of the hotels and the weather. Lots to see and eat in town.”