Tawa’s Dots: PNQ finishes up, volleyball’s thoroughbreds compete at Triple Crown

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Tawa's Dots 5/28/2021-Austin Juniors volleyball
Austin Juniors 15 Molten
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Tawa’s Dots (May 28, 2021): Club or high school volleyball factoids, notions and ideas to impress your friends (or not)
 
• Happy Friday! Let’s recap the last qualifier of the 2021 season, the 15s in Spokane at PNQ.

The tournament hosted teams in the 15 Open, 15 USA and 15 American divisions. There were only 12 teams in 15 Open. The USA Volleyball tournament manual specifies that a tournament of that size would award just one bid, unless more than that number was registered at the tournament entry deadline. We are told that more than twice as many originally registered, which is why PNQ was able to hand out three bids in a field of 12.

Likewise, 15 USA, with only 22 teams, was able to award three bids, even as it fell two teams short of the minimum for a three-bid division. 15 American, also with 22 teams, was fine, as it can give out its one bid so long as there are eight or more teams.

Vision 15 Gold

• In 15 Open, Vision 15 Gold was the top seed even though Mizuno Long Beach 15 Rockstar C had already double qualified and no other team in the field had a bid. Long Beach played like the top team in an 8-0 weekend that saw it go 5-0 against the teams that qualified. Long Beach defeated fourth-place Absolute Pink 15-2 twice, third-place Vision 15 Gold (in three) and second-place San Gabriel 15 RoShamBo twice (both in three).

• San Gabriel’s only two losses on the weekend were to Long Beach. Both times, SGE won the first set only to lose the next two. All seven of its wins were in straight sets.

Absolute 15-2 qualified with a 4-5 record. All five losses and no wins came versus teams that finished ahead of it. Two of its wins required three sets.

We did not hear from either San Gabriel or Absolute (or Long Beach, for that matter) before posting this. Dots will be reserved in case they want to tell their stories in the future.

Matt Hoffman’s Vision 15 Gold team won its first five matches at PNQ to clinch a bid on Day 2. The team went 1-2 on Sunday, with bid already in hand, to finish in third place.

Hoffman the expectation was to head home with a bid but that wasn’t the focus.

The phrase we focused on was, ‘Worry about what was right in front of us,’” he said. “From there we’d let the chips fall where they may.”

The key to qualifying was to play well on Day 2 when it counted, Hoffman said other pool winner, previously-qualified Long Beach.

“It was good to go 2-0 and secure (the bid) early in the day,” Hoffman said.

Sunday was about seeing how good Vision truly was, Hoffman said. San Gabriel beat Vision handily, but the team was very competitive versus Long Beach, taking the champions to three sets.

Hoffman said every player played and contributed the first two days to help Vision secure the bid.

“Throughout the weekend, OHs Katelyn Cook and Taylor Williams did a great job of being consistent and coming up with kills when we needed them,” he added. “Setter Lucy Rankin did a great job of running our offense.”

• In 15 USA, HJV 15 Premier had a great weekend, going 8-0 to win the tournament and qualify for Junior Nationals. We have not yet heard from the 15 Premier head coach, but observe this remarkable fact about the weekend: HJV 15 Premier dropped only two sets over three days. Both came to AJV 15 Molten. That’s not what’s remarkable, however. The scores were.

The first match of Day 2, HJV defeated AJV, 12-25, 28-26, 16-14.

In the championship match on Day 3, HJV defeated AJV, 14-25, 27-25, 16-14.

In 20+ years of covering the sport, I cannot recall another instance of a team getting blown out in the first set only to respond with two overtime set wins to take the match twice within a two-day span.

• AJV, aka Austin Juniors, and NorCal 15 Black finished 2-3 to join HJV, aka Houston Juniors, with tickets to the Junior Nationals dance.

AJV came to Spokane believing it had a good shot to qualify. But being seeded 12th in a field of 22 made Rachel Corbelli’s team’s path to a bid that much tougher. AJV had to play the two top seeds, NorCal and Rage-Westside 15 Nick, as well as HJV, in pool play over the first two days.

“Things could have ended differently if we weren’t on top of our game throughout the whole tournament,” Corbelli explained.

15 Molten made it to the Gold bracket with a 3-3 record, then thumped Sudden Impact 15 Typhoon to get within one win of a bid. Standing in the way was NorCal. AJV played NorCal in its first match on Friday and lost, 25-22, 25-17. How would it do in this second chance?

NorCal won the first set, 26-24, and led the second, 19-13.

Corbelli called time. In the huddle, the players were saying, “Why not us? Why can’t we be the ones to finish this match with a bid?”

“Our team has had the talent and discipline all season to win big matches, but we tended to doubt ourselves and make errors when the match got tight or if we found ourselves in a hole,” Corbelli added.

The players reminded one another of the strengths of the team. They left the huddle with clearer heads and a renewed confidence and played fearlessly the rest of the way. AJV rallied to win the set and never trailed in Game 3!

“I am still in awe of how my team was able to play under those circumstances,” Corbelli explained.

Asked to name the players who stepped up this weekend for 15 Molten, Corbelli responded like this:

“I think each of the girls below had a special match, but I can’t stress enough how much of a team effort reaching this goal was. Qualifying for us was not just winning the right match — it was season-long battle of trusting the process and learning from our past. We can’t do that at this level without the efforts of all 11 athletes. That being said …

Outside hitter Lainey McGeHee was our quadruple threat workhorse — she hit .409, passed a 2.35, and added four aces and six digs. She sparked the run to bring us back in the second set and had the match-winning ace!

Setter Calissa Allison ran our offense beautifully against a block that far outsized our attackers. She also added 11 digs and two kills of her own.

Our libero/DS pair of Cami Haynes and Emerson Pannell not only did an excellent job of covering our attackers and keeping us in plays, but they have been our leaders all season. They give everything they have every match, and they accept no less from their teammates.”

NorCal was cruising along with six straight sweeps until running into AJV in the semis. The loss meant playing for third place, and the final bid, versus NCVC  Asics 15-1, in a do-or-die match. The first time NorCal played its NCVA rival, on Saturday, Emerson Salonga’s team won easily. NCVC was more motivated this time around and took the first set, 26-24. NorCal regrouped to take the final two, 25-11, 15-4, to clinch its bid.

Victory 15 Elite Green claimed victory in the 15 American division. Brian Meyer’s team lost a tight match on Day 2, but still qualified for the Gold pools, where it won three straight matches, the first two in three sets, to finish atop the podium.

We hope to hear from Victory next week to celebrate its achievement.

• The Triple Crown NIT gets underway tomorrow in Kansas City. Triple Crown has quickly established itself as one of the premier events nationally and that’s no different in 2021, even as the tournament had to move off of its original President’s Day Weekend date because of Covid.

• The Triple Crown format is always interesting — there are seeding matches the first day, including power pools; followed by tournament play for the next two days for the top 32 teams that qualify. The others play in “alternate pools.”

• The move from President’s Day Weekend to Memorial Day Weekend robbed Triple Crown of a massive 18s presence. Many 18s teams have concluded their seasons and, for those still playing, this is a huge graduation weekend for members of the senior class. As a result, only nine 18s teams are in KC for the tournament. They will play with the 17s to establish their seeding, then play for the 18s title the final two days.

The 15s through 17s fields are very strong, as we have come to expect for this Triple Crown event. The top eight 17s nationally, according to VolleyballMag.com’s latest rankings, are in the field, as are seven of the top 10 16s and five of the top 10 15s.

There isn’t a heavy Southern California presence this year – WAVE, Tstreet and Coast all are absent – nor are there many traditional JVA teams, like Munciana, KiVA, Sports Performance, FaR Out or Tri-State.

KiVA director Ron Kordes said the timing wasn’t right this year with other obligations, but that the club expected to attend again in 2022 when Triple Crown returns to its regular dates.

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