Daily Dots (May 19, 2021): Club or high school volleyball factoids, notions and ideas to impress your friends (or not)
• Let’s get started recapping the four qualifiers that took place last weekend in the age groups we cover. I counted and there were 21 divisions in action, between Windy City, Northern Lights, Red Rock Rave, and PNQ. For those divisions, we sent out 54 requests for input to the coaches of teams that won and/or qualified in the Open, USA and American divisions. That’s a lot. Let’s get after it, even if some coaches are going to be late sending in reports …
• The 38-team 17 Open division at Windy City in Indianapolis captures our attention first. As predicted, Circle City 17 Purple, the highest ranked team nationally in the field (No. 12), proved unbeatable. The Indy-area squad survived a 19-17 Game 3 semifinal versus No. 27 Academy Volleyball Cleveland 17 Rox Red to finish 10-0, with that dropped set to AVC its only blemish.
Circle came into Windy City having not played a tournament in more than a month. That might be considered a negative, but coach Makayla Ferguson said the team used the time off well.
“It left us a substantial amount of time to break skills down and make our play more disciplined, which I was wanting to see implemented in our play this weekend,” she said.
Circle City started play Friday with a 25-15, 25-19 sweep of Sky High 17 Adidas and did not let up.
“I think that the girls exceeded my expectations,” Ferguson observed. “They played very clean and disciplined volleyball throughout a majority of the weekend.”
The big moment of the weekend came when Circle City rallied from down 10-8 in Game 3 to defeat Academy Cleveland in the semifinals. Sophomore Chloe Chicoine played at a high level that match to help Circle pull out the win and was big time the entire weekend, especially on Day 3 when the team relied on her to take crucial swings and make in-system passes.
Tori Woods and Grace Reynolds also had big weekends for the victors. Woods, playing out of position in the middle, stepped up big and brought needed firepower to the court. Reynolds set with precision and intelligence and kept the other teams questioning at all times who was getting the next ball.
• There were three nationally-ranked teams without bids in the 17 Open field: No. 25 Academy 17 Diamond, No. 28 OT 17 O Roberto and No. 29 1st Alliance 17 Silver. All three left Indianapolis with tickets to Junior Nationals.
Academy Diamond came to Windy City on a five-match losing streak, courtesy of Colorado Crossroads, where the North Carolina squad won its first two matches only to see its tournament hopes fade after consecutive three-set heartbreakers to Club Ignit Select 17 Blue, OT 17 T Jason and Front Range 17 Black.
Many teams would have suffered a hangover after so many close losses. Not Academy, coach Jon Garner said.
“They were very motivated this week to get a bid,” he explained. “The team wanted to prove they belonged at Nationals. I think just they were kicking themselves for blowing some matches and just came in with an edge this week.”
Like Crossroads, Academy Diamond won its first two matches at Windy City. Unlike Crossroads, it also won its ensuing five, including a “15-13 in the third” opening Gold pool win over Michigan Elite 17 Mizuno. The eighth win, over a Team Indiana 17 Voltage team that qualified at Crossroads, clinched the bid and put the team into the semis.
“The team really played well each day,” Garner said.
Riley Buckley, one of the best setters in the country, played really well all weekend.
“She saved lot of out-of-system plays and spread the offense really well,” Garner said.
The team also got great play from Bailey Burgess and Kayla Burbage, especially during the first two days when Academy was establishing itself. Outstanding libero Laney Choboy made huge plays over the weekend and, together with a big block on Day 3, helped the team overcome some tense situations.
“We are looking forward to Triple Crown and Nationals!” Garner said. “Hopefully we can get 100% healthy and continue to improve over the next month.”
1st Alliance went into the tournament with “a qualify or bust mentality.” The team had a National bid in hand, but wanted to qualify in Open. It had come within one win of qualifying at NEQ early in April and was more determined than ever to get it done this time. 1st Alliance overcame a Day 1 loss to lower-seeded Michigan Elite to survive and advance. On Day 2, Danielle Mikos’ team overcame a devastating 15-13 Game 3 loss in its first match, versus eventual runner up MN Select 17-1, to win its next two matches to advance. This included a “win or else” match versus Roots 17 UA Green that also went three sets.
On Day 3, with a bid clearly within reach, 1st Alliance outlasted Mintonette m. 71 in three sets to finish second for the third straight pool. The team then earned its bid by defeating OT, 25-23, 23-25, 15-11. Nothing came easily for 1st Alliance, but it found a way.
“The team fought hard and, at the end of the day, they put themselves in position to get the bid,” Mikos said. “We had to beat certain teams when our back was against the wall and rose to the occasion.”
“The key moment was when the team started to fully trust each other,” Mikos added. “The girls stopped trying to do it all themselves and stuck to the game plan. Each individual player was good and it allowed the team to be great.”
Mikos cited five players who stood out in particular.
“Liel Thomas came off the bench in high pressure moments and added the necessary sparks we needed when our backs were against the wall. Her blocking and offensive efficiency was a huge part to our success!
“Chelsea Thorpe was the most dominant presence our team had at the net with both attacking and blocking combined. Teams paid so much attention to her; it helped the others succeed.
“Jordan Walker was the work horse of our team! Between her amazing offensive performance and her ball control in the back court, Jordan’s consistent all-around play made this bid possible.
“Reeghan Boyer’s defensive efforts and excellent first contact put our team in the position to run a fast offense. She extended plays when we needed it the most! Reeghan led the team in aces and put a large amount of pressure on the opponent from the end line.
“Paige Pickering was the vocal leader of the team and brought a positive energy to the team when we needed it the most. Her overall ball control skills and ability to hit shots kept us in the big matches when it looked like we would lose the rally.”
We did not hear from OT Roberto but expect to before the week is out. The Orlando squad started very strongly, with seven straight wins, but saw its bid hopes imperiled in three-set losses to AVC and 1st Alliance. Fortunately for OT, PVA 17 Elite lost to Team Indiana in a match for a bid. That gave OT one more opportunity to qualify and it rose to the occasion to sweep PVA for seventh place overall and the final ticket to Vegas.
• The 17 USA division at Windy City had 42 teams, but everyone knew that top-seeded Houston Juniors 17 Elite was the team to beat. Jeff Ham’s team had been seeded first in USA at Lone Star, but finished sixth, one spot out of bid position.
“We wanted to finish the job.”
Finish it did! HJV went 9-0 without dropping a set. Only twice did a team score more than 19 points in any set.
“We exceeded expectations because we ended up not losing a set and played really well on Sunday, which has been a problem for us,” Ham said.
The key to qualifying and winning came in the first set of the first Gold bracket match versus Adversity G17 Purple Adidas.
“It was back and forth ‘til about 15 and we have struggled on Sundays, so to pull away from a good team really set the tone,” Ham said.
The entire team contributed to the win, Ham said. Setters Casey Batenhorst and Kam Scroggins ran a good offense. Batenhorst also stepped up her defensive play and served effectively. Scroggins voluntarily switched to DS for a Saturday match and helped tremendously with ball control. Sophie Agee continued to be the team’s go-to hitter and six-rotation asset. Maddie Morgan’s improvement hitting and blocking on the left has been critical since she moved from the right side three tournaments ago because of injuries. Lademi Ogunlana and Alexis Roberson, the team’s only available middles, played every point and dominated most matches offensively while displaying improved blocking. Natassia Baptiste did a great job playing on the right. She blocked well and added some smart offense to keep the other teams honest. Defensively, Nyla Raspberry and Kristen Saba were more than solid in serve-receive and on defense while also contributing good serves and secondary setting.
The other three teams in the final four all had previously qualified, either in USA or National. That meant the two final bids came down to extra matches involving teams losing in the Gold bracket quarterfinals. Adversity Purple and OT 17 T Justeen won those matches to earn the right to play USA in Las Vegas at Junior Nationals.
Adversity Purple came to Windy City fully expecting to qualify.
“We were coming off of a really good weekend in the Open division at Crossroads, beating a couple good Open teams,” coach Dan Fabry explained. “I felt like we were playing the best we’ve played all season, both energy/cohesion-wise and in our ability to make adjustments in-match.”
Adversity’s only loss prior to losing to HJV Elite in the quarterfinals came versus eventual third-place finisher NYC Juniors 17-1 on Day 2, a match that finished in favor of the Big Applers, 15-13 in the third. Fabry said the NYC loss impacted his team early in its next match versus A5 17 Missy, but that Adversity was able to use a couple of serving runs to fight back into the match.
“If we had folded in that moment we would have been done, but the girls showed great resilience and belief that we deserved to be in Gold on Sunday,” Fabry said. “We were able to use that momentum in our first match win on Sunday, which got us into the quarterfinals.”
After losing to HJV in the quarters, Adversity earned its bid with a solid two-set win over Team D 17-Red.
“The work on serving accuracy and blocking in practice really paid off,” Fabry said. “Our service pressure was a big part of making other teams do things they’re not comfortable with and then our blocking really made them pay.”
Adversity’s qualification was achieved with only eight players in uniform for the weekend.
“Every single player had to show up and play well and they all definitely did,” Fabry said. “If I had to give a special shout out, it would be to one of our middles, Ivy Schoditsch. She’s been getting better and better, by the day it seems, and this weekend she really came full circle. Most of the middles we played had a few inches on her but nobody could stop her all weekend offensively and that really opened things up for the rest of our hitters.”
OT Justeen, a Tampa team, matched Adversity by winning a bid match versus ClevPRIME 17.1 after losing a heartbreaking quarterfinal, 18-16 in the third, to Circle City 17 Black. OT finished second in its pool on Day 1, then put itself in position to qualify by going 2-0 in its Saturday pool. One win came in two deuce sets against ClevPRIME. The second win PRIME, for the bid, also came in two sets, but was almost as close.
“We unfortunately had a few players coming off injuries and one of our middle blockers was unable to play due to an injury, so it was definitely a team effort,” assistant coach Laura Stegenga said. “Everyone stepped up! Defense and serve receive is what kept us alive.”
• Cleveland Volleyball Company 17 Black, the third overall seed, swept top-seeded Florida squad MVA 17 Black to win the 43-team 17 American division. Coached by Sherry Martin, CVC finished the weekend 9-0 without dropping a set. It was as dominating a performance as we’ve heard about in a qualifier this year, as only Net Force 17 Black scored more than 16 points against it in any set!
We have yet to hear from Martin about her team’s great effort but hope to soon. As usual, we’ll reserve a Dot for her if/when that happens.
• We turn next to the 16s at the Northern Lights qualifier, which this year was held in Omaha. The 35-team 16 Open division was loaded with top talent, including nine teams with bids, three teams in the national top five, four in the top 10 and five in the top 20.
Two of the elite teams, No. 1 KC Power 16-1 and No. 4 TAV 16 Black, made it to the finals unbeaten, although their paths were very different. TAV reached the championship match without losing a meaningful set (it dropped the third set to No Name 16 Sarah in a “a play three regardless” format after winning the first two in a three-team pool on Day 1). KC Power had to survive two 15-13 nail biters on Day 3 versus both MN Select 16-1 and OT 16 J Will just to reach the semifinals.
TAV eventually prevailed with a dominating finals win over Power, adding the Northern Lights title to the NEQ crown it captured last month.
OH Emily Simmons was very solid all around, but the team as a whole played very well, especially on Sunday during winning time. Head coach Jonathan Nasgowitz said that outstanding ball control and effective ball distribution were key to a dominating weekend.
• With so many previously-qualified teams, having three teams leave Omaha with bids seemed doubtful. It seemed even more doubtful when eight of the teams with bids made the four, three-team Gold pools (only Nebraska Elite 16 Top Gun did not get to Day 3 in contention; it was odd-team out in a three-way 1-1 on Day 2 with two already-qualified, national top 10 teams). OT, Dynasty 16 Black and Rockwood Thunder 16 Elite, however, pulled off the improbable by taking home newly-minted bids.
How did it happen?
For Dynasty, success happened because of failure in previous qualifying attempts. The team was beat up when it finished eighth at Show Me and 15th at Lone Star, but was rounding into health at Windy City at the end of April. Dynasty had a chance to qualify at that tournament, but dropped a tight third set to Nebraska Elite that knocked the team from contention and into a tie for seventh.
“It sparked the hardest three weeks of practice I have put a team through in an effort to minimize errors and work to play together with great energy,” coach Brian Tate said. “And the girls responded this weekend.”
This weekend, for Dynasty, was about qualifying. That’s it.
“Whatever place we had to get in order to earn our bid was our goal,” Tate said. “We knew that we would have to beat several really good teams to do that.”
Dynasty’s path to a bid included a three-set win over national No. 8 A5 16 Gabe on Day 1 and two 15-13 Game 3 squeakers over Academy 16 Diamond and previously-qualified MAVS KC 16-1 in Gold pool play on Day 3.
For Tate, the win over A5 was the most significant.
“It signified for us the belief that we belonged with the top teams in the country,” he explained. “We knew our goals for the weekend were attainable at the level we were playing at.”
Dynasty’s Gold pool wins, amazingly, came by identical scores. Dynasty beat both Academy and MAVS, 25-14, in the first sets of their matches. They then lost, 25-17, in the second sets of both matches. Finally, they had to rally to win at deuce in both third sets.
“The girls performed under extreme pressure, seeing as this was the last qualifier,” Tate said. “We played our best volleyball of the season to make it to the final four and guarantee ourselves a bid and a top 3 finish!”
Tate said that his team had a lot of heroes last weekend.
“Earning a bid is a total team effort, always,” he explained. “Starting with our first contact in serve receive and defense, Heidi Devers, Abby Christian and Brynn McGhie made great play after great play to extend points and even earn a kill or two here and there. Ashley Mullen distributed the ball at a really high level with consistent location and tempo. Rylee Unruh and Chapel Dobbs each had great weekends scoring from the left, while Brooklyn Young shut down opposing outsides and scored when called upon. Of course, we cannot not mention our middles, whom we run our offense through. Calissa Minatee and Cy Rae Campbell did an amazing job of scoring often and efficiently while closing side to side on the pin while blocking.”
Since the beginning of the season, OT Will saw itself as one of the best 16s teams in the country. It played three qualifiers before Northern Lights and twice came close, finishing fifth at the Sunshine Classic and sixth at Big South.
“My expectations for this weekend were simple; compete hard and give ourselves a chance to get an open bid for GJNC,” coach Will Berdecia said. “Going in, I knew my players had put in the work, but I was excited to see how they would match up with a lot of these teams, as we had not yet played them this season.”
OT had some great battles to qualify. Rallying from a set down on Day 1 to defeat Nebraska Elite was a highlight and gave the team momentum. A Day 2 loss to Dynasty knocked the Jacksonville team into a tougher Gold pool, with two qualified teams, but it responded by taking national No. 1 KC Power to three sets before losing, and then swept MN Select to clinch its bid.
Berdecia said that setter Jessica Shattles keyed the team’s qualification. Sunday’s sets when the team was fighting for a bid were so clutch. He added that Sydney Lewis, Alani Salas-Garcia, Allison Green and Vivi Vasquez played tremendous defense all three days and that Haley Robinson, Zeta Washington, Allison Cavanaugh, Grace Albaugh and Madelyn Peterson all had overwhelming offensive power all three days of the tournament.
We haven’t yet received a report from Shane Weber of Rockwood Thunder, but he promised one tonight. We’re excited to hear how his team figured out a way. This was a group that went 1-2 on Day 1, survived a three-way tiebreaker analysis and then got key wins over Milwaukee Sting 16 Gold and Northern Lights 16-1 to qualify.
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• TAV 16 Blue went 9-1 to qualify third in 16 USA at NEQ. The team was even better at Northern Lights, going 9-0 to win the title. Only the semifinal and finals matches, wins over teams from OTVA, went more than two sets. We did not hear from TAV Blue for this report, but Scott Sandel’s team should be a favorite for a podium finish in Las Vegas in this division.
OT16 T Robin, OT 16 O Meg and Paramount 16 all qualified in Omaha, placing second, T-3 and T-3, respectively.
OT Robin’s attitude coming to Omaha was “get a bid. Last chance; nothing to lose.” The team responded by winning all the way to the championship match.
The key match was in the quarterfinals, one win short of a bid. OT hadn’t dropped a set in seven straight wins before losing the first to A5 16-Stephen. The second set went into extra points before OT pulled out the win, 27-25. Game 3 was also tight and ended with Robin on the right side of the ledger, 15-12.
Qualifying was achieved as a team effort. Big blocks and kills from right side Camille McClendon were huge. Consistent passing and digs from libero Kiara Orbegoso and DS’s Tatum Pope and Taylor Sass were critical. Setter Jenn Rayburn connected great with her pins, Jordan Bunce and Kaley Kugler. And middles Chloe Danielson, Temple Jones and Jaliyah Cohnes worked hard all weekend in transition.
We did not hear from OT Meg, which also was undefeated without having dropped a set until the quarterfinals, when it rallied past EC Power LV 16-Carolina after dropping the first set.
We did hear from Paramount, a Virginia squad, which won its first eight matches in straight sets, including an impressive 25-13, 25-19 decision over already-qualified A5 16-Marc in the quarters to secure its bid.
Paramount’s goal coming to Northern Lights was to upgrade its American bid earned through its region.
“We had been in the Gold bracket of the USA Division at three other national qualifiers this season (top-10 finishes at Sunshine, Big South and NEQ), but we had failed to win the all-elusive bid game,” coach Nick DiClementi noted.
The key match, DiClementi emphasized, came versus A5, the team it lost to for the bid at Big South, 15-13 in the third.
“They are a really talented, physical and well-coached squad, so we knew that we would have to bring it,” the coach explained. “We ended up playing arguably our best match of the season, winning in straight sets. Since our semifinal loss at NEQ, the girls had been working tirelessly to improve on the things we needed to improve on to get over the hump. Their hard work paid off.”
A total team effort was required to secure Paramount’s bid and that’s precisely what happened.
Hannah Howard (OH) was terminal offensively. She dominated seemingly every aspect of the game. Rylah Robinson (OH) led and carried the team’s offense all weekend, and she provided tremendous leadership from her captain position. Despite twisting her ankle in the first match of the tournament, Natalie Lauer (setter) deftly ran Paramount’s 5-1 offense to perfection, combining great setting tempo and location with wise decision-making. Haley Gill (libero) performed all the libero duties at a very high level all weekend, with great consistency in serve receive, aggressive serving, and momentum-changing defensive plays. Laura Taylor and Carly Zimmet (DS’s) provided high-level play in the passing and defensive departments, helping keep the team in system and giving it a chance to score in transition. Along with consistent offensive output all weekend, Lauren Brown (RS) did a great job at the net of slowing down opponents’ outside hitters with timely blocks and quality touches. Sonja Meyer (RS/MH) took big swings and provided consistent offense all weekend, combined with timely serving runs that altered the trajectory of certain sets in Paramount’s favor. Anabelle Kluge (MB) was a consistent blocking presence at the net all weekend, providing the team with the physicality needed at the net to slow down opponents’ offenses. Along with some great serving, Cadence Collette (MB) provided the kind of endless enthusiasm and energy that the team needed to sustain its high level of play the entire tournament.
“Lastly, even though she has not played yet this season due to an injury, our star MB/RS, Helen Frankovich, has been as critical to our team’s success as any other player,” DiClementi noted. “Her love for the game, her kindness to her teammates and her selflessness, have all inspired our players to play for something bigger than themselves.”
“The competition was tremendous, with a ton of teams that already had bids,” DiClementi added. “We knew that we would have to play excellent volleyball to walk out of Omaha with a bid. They did just that. The team played their absolute best volleyball of the season.”
• In 16 American, Southwest Minnesota Juniors 16-1, perhaps the best “unknown” club in the country, went 9-1 to capture the 72-team division. Coached by Mike Dalager, the team declined the bid, however. Look for SWMNVB at AAU Nationals instead. Dalager said that families plan extended stays in Florida in June and he didn’t want them to have to change travel plans at this late date.
Because of Southwest Minnesota’s declination, Attack 16 White out of Texas will be going to Vegas. The team overcame a crushing defeat in its first match of the tournament, 25-15, 25-9, to Invasion 16 Blue, by winning its next eight matches in straight sets to reach the final.
We reached out to Attack for a report and hope to bring you one by the end of the week.
• Finally, let’s close with a couple of more perspectives from female coaches about the nursing babies controversy at Crossroads last week:
“This is a female sport,” Meredith Rice Gromala of Academy Volleyball Cleveland said. “Not enough women coach it because of stuff like this, as well as there not being enough women ‘doing it all,’ so that these younger women have examples and proof that they, too, can work and be a mom versus choosing.
“When I was pregnant, parents immediately were concerned about me not coming back or me missing a lot of time. That’s the first thought they had. Many coaches assumed I’d pull back or not return. Their concerns were legitimate. This world doesn’t make it easy for us to do it all, so we often end up choosing. I had my baby and was at practice five days later.
“She was at her first tournament at four weeks old. I fed her in between matches. You were there when we took second at Northern Lights and she was 4.5 months old in her stroller five feet from me.
“I never missed a day. It was important for me to figure out a way to do it all, both for my athletes and for my daughter and for my own mental health. I wasn’t going to choose one or the other because of the way the system was or the culture of working moms … If I was going to choose it was because I ultimately wanted to.
“If it were during the year of Covid, I would probably have the same reaction. The tournament didn’t even think about babies who are breastfeeding when they made their spectator rules. They are absolutely in the wrong for not thinking about this scenario … IN A FEMALE SPORT! They may not have actively discriminated against nursing mothers, but they ended up doing just that by not even considering this situation during the planning phases.
“No doubt planning/running a tournament is difficult, but this is part of the deal and absolutely their responsibility to consider. We need to be seeking ways to improve our parental leave in this country and to make it easier for nursing mothers to take care of their babies (which is technically a temporary stage of motherhood). We need to find ways to keep women in this profession, period.”
“I have a 17-month-old with a second on the way,” noted Surfside director Hayley Blanchard. “I breastfed my son until 14 months, and consider myself lucky that he happily took a bottle and my body supplied extra milk to pump and give him. I plan to breastfeed my second for at least a year as well.
“Along with being a club director and coach, I have been the head varsity coach of a SoCal CIF Division 1 High School team for the past 8 years. This year I had to make the very tough decision to resign because of my growing family.
“As I went back and forth on what I would do with a due date that fell on our first match of the season, one of the things I thought about most was, ‘What does this look like to the young women I coach who I want to view me as a strong independent woman?’ Does it say I am weak because I can’t do my job and be a mom at the same time? Does it say I’m ‘old fashioned’ for putting my family first?’
“Ultimately, I decided I could not do my job and be the mom I wanted to be without significantly sacrificing either my team or my family, and that is not fair to either. But the moms in Colorado did not have to choose, or I should say, should not have had to choose. They could have both done their job, and then feed their children in between matches courtside.
“I imagine they already made sacrifices to even have the ability to do both at a travel tournament, both emotional and tangible. Bringing your infant through travel hubs and into a crowded convention center in the middle of a pandemic adds considerable stress to the constant inner dialogue of ‘Am I doing the right thing? Am I being a “good mom?’
“I’ve read the comments of, ‘Well, I don’t get to bring my kids to work so why should they feel they do?’ or ‘The rules clearly stated no one under 16, so why should they feel they get an exception?’ But is that the message we want to give our next generation of mothers? Shouldn’t we promote how you can do both in situations when it really does work? Having to breastfeed an infant at a hotel, which I can only imagine would take 15-20 minutes to walk from the court, is just not feasible in between matches.
“My son was 2.5 months old at Triple Crown last season. My husband took time off work to travel with us to help me (and of course there is nothing like the moms of angsty teenagers who wish for the sweet baby phase again to help hold baby on the court). I was able to make it work without sacrificing either my child or teams’ needs.
“Could I have pumped enough milk to leave my baby at home? Maybe, but I was lucky in that sense. Many women don’t have that luxury. But even if you do, then what about all the milk I would have needed to pump, store, and transport home while away from my baby without risking the four-hour window you can leave milk out of the fridge before it spoils? That also doesn’t take into account the emotional toll of being away from your infant for four days at such a young age.
“Could the issue have been resolved faster or without conflict with better communication on both sides? Probably. But rather than fight about right and wrong in a situation that has passed, why can’t we change the narrative to how to promote to our players that if you want to, the world will allow you to do be a working mom? Or maybe, even ENCOURAGE you to be a working mom by making tiny adjustments here and there that can have a huge impact on your ability to do both?”