Tawa’s Dots (June 3, 2021): Club or high school volleyball factoids, notions and ideas to impress your friends (or not)
• Today we talk about the Triple Crown NIT, the much-anticipated, national-level tournament in Kansas City that, this year, had to move from February to Memorial Day Weekend because of COVID-19.
The date change effectively cratered the 18s tournament. Only nine teams played, highlighted by Pohaku 18-1 defeating Invasion 18 Black in an all-KC area final. The 18s played with the 17s on Day 1 before transitioning to their all-18s event the last two days.
The tournament had very little JVA representation and very little California representation.
The tournament occurred over an NCAA Division I and II quiet period; most college coaches with scholarships to give were barred from attending.
Nevertheless, despite all of the challenges, Triple Crown was a success, according to most coaches that we heard from.
• Triple Crown does not run like a traditional qualifier, as it has more brackets than pools and power pools many teams on Day 1 of the three-day get together.
This year, the tournament did something differently, in that it put only the top 16 seeded teams in Power Pools A-D, put the next grouping of teams in lesser power pools, put the next group in “challenge pools” and still others in regular pools. The 15s division was formatted a little differently from 16s and 17s, but the gist was this:
If you were in Power Pools A-D, you were guaranteed a spot in the 32-team Elite Division Championship Bracket even if you did not win a set in your first four matches.
If you were in another Power Pool, you needed to win a challenge match to make the championship bracket.
If you were in a challenge pool, you needed to win your pool and a challenge match to reach the final 32.
Bottom line: Everybody playing in a division had a chance to win. But the opportunity to fail (by losing) and still win it all increased if you’d had enough success earlier in the club season to merit a high seed.
• Here are the top 10 finishers in the 17s age group and their national rankings, according to VolleyballMag.com, as of April:
1. Houston Skyline 17 Royal – No. 2
2. OT 17T Jason – No. 8
3. AZ Storm Elite 17 Thunder – No. 4
3. Tri-State 17 Elite Blue – No. 15
5. TAV 17 Black – No. 13
6. Sunshine 17-LA – No. 1
7. Legacy 17-1 Adidas – not ranked
7. Rockwood Thunder 17 Elite – No. 30
9. MN Select 17-1 – not ranked
10. PVA 17 Elite – not ranked
• Four teams among the national top 10 did not make the top 10 at Triple Crown.
No. 3 Drive Nation 17-Red won Power Pool D, then dropped four of its final five matches. It was ousted from contention by Mintonette m.71 in the first round of the Elite Championship Bracket and finished T-27.
No. 5 Premier Nebraska 17 Gold went 3-4 and finished in a tie for 13th, but lost only to teams ranked among the top 15 nationally.
No. 6 Adversity G17 Adidas won only one match and finished T-21.
“We had a lot of players that were banged up from our seven-week high school season in March and April,” coach Kyle Masterson said. “They needed time off to rest their overuse injuries so they didn’t get worse. We had two starters on jump/swing counts during the tournament, so results aren’t surprising adding all of it up.
“Luckily we got through it healthy and can now get back to cleaning things up in our practice gym and can ramp back up for the JVA World Challenge and USAV.”
No. 7 Madfrog 17 National Green tied for 11th place. The Frogs were knocked from championship contention by runner up OT Jason, then missed out on a top 10 finish by being upset in the 9th place bracket by PVA, 20-18 in the third.
• Houston Skyline’s win at Triple Crown establishes it as the consensus No. 1 team nationally in the 17s age group. The win comes on the heels of a triumph at the Red Rock Rave qualifier, where it twice defeated No. 1 Sunshine 17-LA.
Houston Skyline finished with just one loss, to TAV 17 Black in a Day 1 power pool, a loss it later avenged. Houston Skyline also defeated A5, AZ Storm and twice knocked off OT Jason, including in the championship match. The team’s path was made more difficult by a few surprising results, which made the lower half of the bracket loaded; hence, having to go through A5, TAV and Storm to get to the finals. Jen Woods’ team expected to meet Sunshine in the final, but the No. 1 team was upset in the quarters by OT Jason.
“We couldn’t be more proud of how hard the team battled all weekend,” Woods said. “Our setter, Maddie Waak, distributed the ball extremely well all weekend and helped our team hit a .311 with a 46% kill percentage.”
OT Jason had an amazing weekend! The Tampa team lost to Sunshine in its opening power pool, then avenged it in a quarterfinal upset. The team’s only other losses came at the hands of the champion. Other notable wins came versus Adversity, Madfrog and Tri-State.
“We had a great experience at the Triple Crown,” coach Jason Partington said. “My team was very excited to play in this tournament because I really felt like this was a great tune up to play such a large group of incredible teams leading up to AAUs and JOs.
“As far as the team’s success, it was a total team effort. I have nine roster kids and each and every one played such a huge role in our success. They all had so much heart, fight, passion and tenacity; and the team chemistry was undeniable, which is what this team is all about. We knew going in that we weren’t the strongest, biggest or most athletic team there but had all the intangibles to compete at the highest level. We played great defense most of the tournament, served tough, made smart decisions and spread the offense around, all of which we discuss regularly. I’m very happy about our continued growth leading up to the Triple Crown, growth throughout the tournament and the tournament result.”
AZ Storm’s tournament started with a 16-14 Game 3 loss to Premier Nebraska and a 15-13 Game 3 win over Tri-State. The team defeated Madfrog, Drive Nation and Rockwood Thunder on its way to the semifinals.
“This tournament had the toughest competition,” coach Terri Spann exclaimed. “Never a dull moment!”
Five of the team’s eight matches went the distance.
“It’s great preparation going into nationals.” she said. “We lost to an amazing Houston Skyline team, which is who we lost to at Red Rock Rave. It was our first tournament back with all our players, so now we know what we need to do before Las Vegas at the end of the month.
“This past month was brutal on my players and us coaches with Arizona Regionals, Crossroads, Red Rock and TC! We’re taking a week off to allow time for rest and recovery before we get back at it.”
Being honest, Tri-State, one of the few JVA teams to play Triple Crown this year, did not have the challenging path to the semis that the other three teams did. Its best wins came on Day 1, in power pool play. Kevin Lucas’ squad defeated Northern Lights 17-1 in a Challenge match, then beat VC Nebraska 17-1, Legacy and PVA, all in two sets, to reach the semis, where it fell to OT Jason.
“17 Blue had a great team effort this weekend — obviously a lot has to go right to finish that well in a tournament of this caliber,” Lucas noted. Libero Cammy Niesen (Ole Miss commit) was rock solid all weekend. Maggie Butkovich (6-3 RS; uncommitted) had a breakout performance for us this weekend, blocking some of the opponent’s top outsides and playing great off blocker defense. Setter Sophia Hudepohl (uncommitted) ran a balanced offense and did a great job finding the hot hitter. MB Tessa Jones (Ole Miss) was on fire for our Sunday matches, leading the team in kills. DS Courtney Fitzgerald was nails in serve receive and had some important long runs at the service line.”
• Here are the top 10 finishers in the 16s age group and their national rankings, according to VolleyballMag.com, as of April:
1. A5 16-Gabe – No. 8
2. Legacy 16-1 Adidas — No. 3
3. Drive Nation 16-Red – No. 2
3. Madfrog 16 National Green – not ranked
5. KC Power 16-1 – No. 1
6. Alamo 16 Premier – No. 9
7. 1st Alliance 16 Silver – No. 5
7. Premier Nebraska 16 Gold – No. 11
9. MN Select 16-1 – not ranked
10. Northern Lights 16-1 – No. 16
Madfrog’s performance was the tourney’s most surprising. Matt Sipe’s team was 11th at the Sunshine qualifier, ninth at Red Rock and seventh at Lone Star, where it qualified. To finish tied for third against this field is the highlight of the season year to date.
• Only one team among the national top 10 did not make the top 10 at Triple Crown.
No. 4 TAV 16 Black started 5-0, with wins over Northern Lights, 1st Alliance, Sunshine 16-LA, MAVS KC 16-1 and Michigan Elite 16 Mizuno. But the team was shocked by Madfrog in the second round of the Elite Championship Bracket, then went 1-1 the rest of the way to finished in a tie for 11th.
• A5 winning Triple Crown in the 16s division was a surprise, not because A5 the club isn’t always a contender these days, not because coach Gabe Aramian isn’t a national championship winning coach, because he is; but because this A5 team is, relatively speaking, not as tall or as physical as other A5 teams or the other elite teams in this age group.
A5’s title run was characterized by three set matches. Two of its three power pool matches on Day 1 went the distance, with A5 both of them. The Sunday morning Challenge match, versus Alamo, also went three.
“It was one of the best of the year for us,” Aramian said, “as a point-for-point contest tested each team’s abilities down the stretch. We were down two match points and came back to win, 18-16, to the silver medalists in 2020.”
Sitting at 2-2 entering the 32-team Elite Championship Bracket, A5 was about to embark on what Aramian called “one of the more competitive, nail-biting runs in my coaching career.” A5’s last four matches all went to three sets.
“Mainly due to the fact that most of the top teams are simply more physical than us, to win we have to be solid in all areas of the game, shrug off poor play and respond with positive play, and never lose focus of the ultimate goal,” Aramian said.
Highlights included being down 8-4 in Game 3 to No. 1 KC Power in the quarterfinals before a resilient rally capped by a Logan Carr kill to end it; and a “one for the books” match versus No. 3 Legacy in the championship match.
Against Legacy, A5 was down 18-8 in the first before making the final set score respectable. It trailed in the second before rallying to knot the match, then started down 4-0 and 6-3 in the third.
Some long rallies and solid digs from Arya Jue, which countered Legacy outside Harper Murray’s pounding attack from the outside, produced many “ooh’s” and “ah’s” from the crowd.
“The final point was a covered ball from an outside attack and set to partly unstoppable Jayden Garcia on the RS,” Aramian said. “Other top performers were Sydney Bray, also RS, and Ashley Sterzoiu.”
Legacy’s trip to the finals was eventful, as setter Erin Kline dealt with stomach distress on Day 1 and MB Abby Reck suffered a knee injury on Day 2, requiring OH Nina Horning to move to the middle. Reck was back for Day 3, but a stomach bug had her throwing up all day.
“She would leave the court and throw up in the garbage can, then go back on the court and play,” coach Jen Cottrill explained. “It was an impressive amount of grit and determination. She refused to let her team down and miss any of those matches. She threw up right before the finals.”
“We were so proud of our team for facing such adversity and staying focused on our goals,” Cottrill added. “We had lost to 1st Alliance and Drive Nation earlier in the season, so we very pleased with our improvement in order to beat both of those teams in two sets.”
Sipes could not have been prouder of his team’s performance in a tournament where the talent level compares to Junior Nationals.
“My girls are starting to come together for Nationals,” he said. “We’re blessed to go out and show how they can beat anyone in America. We are still waiting on 6-3 middle Natalie Hughes to come back before Nationals. The big takes from the last couple of months is how much better Blaire Bayless has become as our dominant six-rotation outside. She hit 370 over the tournament. Kea Whillock has stepped up in the libero jersey and had amazing digs all tournament. She kept us alive. Lyric Berry and Hannah Gonzalez were also huge for us in the middle. They each hit over 400. Hannah finally got her groove back after an eight-week injury recovery. And finally it was nice to prove to all the naysayers that we can best anyone … even TAV. The A5 match was awesome. Two points away from the championship match ain’t bad!”
• Here are the top 10 finishers in the 15s age group and their national rankings, according to VolleyballMag.com, as of April:
1. Madfrog 15 National Green – No. 3
2. Premier Nebraska 15 Gold — No. 14
3. NKYVC 15-1 Tsunami – No. 10
4. Dynasty 15 Black – No. 2
5. A5 15-Bob – No. 6
6. Tri-State Elite 15 Blue– No. 12
7. Alamo 15 Premier – not ranked
7. Lions 15-1 – No. 11
9. Rockwood Thunder 15 Elite – No. 7
10. Milwaukee Sting 15 Gold – No. 20
No teams among the national top 10 failed to make the top 10 at Triple Crown. No. 16 OT 15 T Randy was the only top 20 teams competing not to finish top 10, but it placed 13th, a more than respectable showing.
• Madfrog went 8-0 to win the 15s division, but needed to be resilient, as three-fourths of its matches went to three sets, including its power pool matches, the semifinals and final.
“It was good to be battle tested and rise to the occasion,” coach Nicky Bramschreiber said. “I’m super proud of the whole team and am looking forward to the National events.”
Madfrog battled through some injuries to win the event.
“We come here to compete and get a gauge for what we can do better,” Bramschreiber said. “The team has been dealing with injuries on and off this season and this weekend was no different. The girls chose resilience as their word of the weekend and they were. We typically run a 6-2; however, one of our setters suffered an untimely injury heading into the weekend. That allowed Carson Eikenloff an opportunity to showcase her 5-1 skill set and she owned it. She had 36 assists in the finals against Premier, had a rocket top spin serve on Day 1 of competition, and kept the flow of the offense consistent the entire weekend. Other key performers over the weekend were libero Avery Baughman leading the team in digs. Offensive standouts were Avery Jackson, Lillian Croshaw, and Lainee Pyles.”
NKYVC went 7-1 to finish third, including a win over Dynasty in the third-place match. 15 Tsunami has played with consistent excellence all season long.
“The NKYVC 15 Tsunami team is so successful because of talent but, more importantly, the team chemistry and how much they play for each other,” club director Jill Hunt noted. “We were missing a player this weekend and everyone stepped up to do their job and help each other out. Addison Roney contributed in the middle position and did a great job in her role. Abby Yoder ran a great, quick offense, as usual, which makes it hard to stop our big arms in Julia Hunt, Alivia Skidmore and Lilly Gillespie. I think the biggest key to our success was the defense. The ball control of Elizabeth Tabeling, Kaleigh Frietch and Audrey Leonard was excellent. Teams also really struggled with our aggressive serving. We had a huge win against a great Lions team, with a third game score of 22-20.”
Tri-State placed sixth with a 5-3 mark. The team started off on Day 1 with two wins over top 20 teams and a lone loss to Dynasty, Kelly Crowley’s squad won its way to the quarters before losing to Madfrog, then went 1-1 to earn its final placement. The team played A5 twice and split, but the loss came in the bid for fifth place. Those two teams are now 2-2 against one another for the season.
“What a team effort by 15 Blue this weekend!” Crowley shared. “Serve receive and defense were led by Kelsey Niesen, Lexi Woolf and Addy Brus. Maria Drapp led a great offense. MBs Faith Young and Molly Dorger were maximizing opportunities in the middle. Pins Reese Wuebker, Sophia Adkins and Kiana Dinn kept the pressure on defenses with their attacking.”