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November 28, 2023
September 20, 2023
This is “Dots,” VolleyballMag.com’s weekly look at 10 things in high school volleyball, past or present, that interest me and hopefully will interest you. Look for Dots every week until the last high school state championship in November:
• It’s finally here! The 64-team Durango Fall Classic convenes in Las Vegas starting Friday afternoon. Annually, “Durango” assembles the finest field of any high school tournament in the country and this year is no different.
At least nine teams in the field are ranked among the top 20 nationally on various lists. They include national No. 1 Mira Costa, the top overall seed; No. 2 Cornerstone Christian, which is seeded second; Mater Dei, the third seed; Cathedral Catholic, the 4-seed; Prestonwood Christian, the fifth seed; sixth-seeded Assumption; Archbishop Mitty, the seventh seed; eighth-seeded Huntington Beach and Sierra Canyon, the tenth seed. This is truly an elite field.
• Once again this year, I took on the challenge of seeding Durango. And it was a challenge, not only because I needed to assess the relative strengths of every team in the field, but also because at the DFC we always strive to create “balance.” What I mean by that is we try to keep common opponents away from each other in the Day 1 pools and qualifying rounds, all the day down to the 64th team; and we try to create interesting and unique matchups in the eight-team Championship Bracket, should seeds hold.
This means that you won’t find true seed order on any of the seed lines. Teams are routinely moved a few spots up or down to create this balance.
For instance, Cathedral Catholic should probably be the No. 3 overall seed over Mater Dei, because of a more recent win. But Mater Dei has already played fifth-seeded Prestonwood (finals at Volleypalooza). By moving Mater Dei to No. 3 overall, the Monarchs now will match up against Assumption in the quarterfinals (if seeds hold) and Cathedral will take on Prestonwood, both unique match ups this year.
• The past two seasons, not only has the No. 1 overall seed won Durango, the DFC champion has turned in an undefeated season that netted Marymount (2021) and Cathedral Catholic (2022) both state and consensus national championships.
That precise scenario cannot repeat again this year, because the top six seeds have all lost at least once. But there are undefeated teams in the field that could run the table here at Durango and then back home in their respective states. Those teams are Archbishop Mitty, the seventh overall seed; and the 14-seed, Xavier College Prep.
Mitty, coached by former Santa Clara head coach Jon Wallace, is 14-0 to start 2023, with wins over the likes of Saint Francis of Mountain View, the CIF State Open Division runner up in 2022; Branson, the CIF State defending Division I champion; and NorCal powers San Ramon Valley, Valley Christian, Saint Ignatius and Sacred Heart Prep. The team is led by Maya Baker, one of the top junior setters in the nation (averaging 11 assists per game); OH Makenna Crosson, one of the nation’s top sophomore attackers; and senior OH Katelyn Cook. Both Crosson and Cook average more than four kills per set.
XCP has started 7-0 this fall and is more of an unknown. After years as THE best team in Arizona bar none, the Gators have experienced lean years (for them) the past two seasons. An early sweep of 2022 6A state champion Corona del Sol suggests that coach Lamar-Renee Bryant may have a state contender this fall. XCP has a strong junior libero in Olivia Lenz, who is averaging five digs per set; and its balanced attack is less by 6-0 freshman OH Tessa Larkin.
• Looking at the Durango pools, which of the 16 1-seeds are vulnerable to being upset and why?
The first is Mitty, which is in a pool with Long Beach Wilson, Louisville Mercy Academy and Brooklyn Poly Prep. Wilson is a talented, state-ranked team that just got its Mater Dei transfer, 6-3 OH Babi Gubbins, a Stanford beach volleyball commit, eligible after a mandatory sit out period. The Bruins are 10-3 and tested and could give Mitty trouble, as could Mercy, which is young this year after graduating virtually everyone, but is used to winning at a high level as one of Kentucky’s “Big Four” powers year in and year out. Poly Prep is a huge unknown after graduating its best player (now at the University of Miami), but the Blue Devils have a high-level head coach in Ben Diaz, a former top club coach at SG Elite in Southern California.
In Pool 11, Saint Francis is the top seed and currently sits 9-1, with its lone losses, over the past two years, to Cathedral Catholic in the Open Division championship match last November; and to Mitty in four sets at the end of August. The Lancers are very talented, especially on the outside and in the back row, but have a young, but white hot Long Beach Poly in their pool. The Jackrabbits have won 11 matches in a row and just young and athletic enough to pull off an upset.
In Pool 12, top-seeded Redondo Union looks vulnerable after losing yesterday to Palos Verdes in five. The Sea Hawks are a good, deep team but lack superstars and could fall victim to Kamehameha Hawaii, which is 9-1 and owns a win over Otay Ranch, a state-ranked California team.
Xavier College Prep, topping pool 14, will surely be tested in its pool by all three opponents. The biggest threat is athletic Bishop Gorman, which is almost certainly the best team in Nevada; but Harvard-Westlake and surging Bakersfield Christian also could pose problems.
In Pool 15, Branson is 9-3 with some good wins on its schedule, but the Bulls have not been able to defeat elite teams like Mitty, Saint Francis and Foothill of Pleasanton. Another such test awaits in 14-1 Corner Canyon of Utah, which boasts 6-2 OH Elina Mortensen, a BYU recruit.
Finally, in Pool 16, Kamehameha of Honolulu comes to Durango 13-1 on the year, which includes a recent win over defending Div. I champion Iolani; but the Warriors will have to contend with 15-1 Alemany, which just outlasted Marymount in five on Monday, a stunning result since Alemany was thought to be down somewhat after superstar hitter London Wijay graduated early to attend USC, where she is averaging 2.5 kills and 1.6 digs per set.
• Who can win? Obviously Mira Costa (16-1), which suffered its only loss AND defeated Cornerstone Christian (23-1) and Sierra Canyon at the Ann Kang Invitational in Hawaii in early August playing without All-American setter Charlie Fuerbringer. Fuerbringer was setting the US Women’s U19 National Team to Gold in the World Championships.
Cornerstone, which won the Nike ToC Southeast and has superstar pins Megan Fitch and Grace Carroll; also could win, as could Mater Dei, with its standout setter Julia Kakkis and strong outsides; Cathedral Catholic, with talented setter Amanda Saeger, bulldog libero Maya Evens and unstoppable middle Jenna Hanes; and Prestonwood, which has taken some curious losses, but has a roster described as the best ever in the history of talent-rich Dallas.
Indeed, any of the top 11 teams could put together a run to the title. Assumption recently won the LIVT and, more recently, avenged its only loss on the year. Huntington Beach is senior laden and is 11-1 over the past month, losing only to Cathedral Catholic. Torrey Pines, the 10th seed, is a bit of an unknown after graduating so many impact players last year. But the Falcons boast talented outsides Finn Krystkowiak and Layla Williams and have an exceptional freshman setter, Emery Gonzales, directing the offense.
That brings us to Sierra Canyon, the 10th overall seed. The Trailblazers are 16-3 heading into today’s showdown versus Alemany and haven’t lost on the Mainland after suffering defeats to Costa, Cornerstone and Huntington Beach at the Ann Kang. Stefanie Wigfall’s team also is finally at full strength, with OH Danica Rach recovered from shoulder surgery and transfer pins Taylor Treahy and Halie McGinest now eligible. Put those three together with libero Lauren Lynch, setter Sade Ilawole, middle Madeline Way and freshman OH Hanna McGinest and Sierra Canyon’s roster can match up physically with anyone. This could be the sleeper team of the tournament if the players can mesh quickly…
• Durango predictions: Will win it all? Prestonwood. The Lions have taken a couple of head-scratching losses this year but you can bet that their championship-level coach Ryan Mitchell will be reminding his immensely talented team about playing hard and disciplined in every match from here on out.
Who will beat their seed? Vista Murrieta, La Canada, The Hockaday School, Lakewood, Torrance and Centennial of Las Vegas, a 4-seed that just knocked off a 2-seed, defending Nevada 45 champion Coronado, in five.
• Benet won its 10th Wheaton Classic title on Saturday knocking rival Marist from the unbeaten ranks in the championship match. Lynney Tarnow, a 6-5 sophomore middle, had nine kills to lead the victorious Redwings, who are now 15-1 on the season. Libero Aniya Warren was named tourney MVP.
IC Catholic (14-2) finished third in the loaded event. After losing to York to open the season, the Knights had won 13 matches in a row before falling to Marist in the tournament semis.
The tournament also made headlines on Wednesday during pool play when Bill Schreier, longtime head coach at Wheaton Warrenville South, won career match No. 500.
• Redwood, of Larkspur, California, won the inaugural Bishop O’Dowd Invitational on Saturday. The Giants defeated Amador Valley in the semifinals and Mercy of Burlingame in the championship match.
This championship for Redwood might not ordinarily have made Dots but for the way the Giants won.
On the day of the event, the team’s top hitter, Jaden Hendrickson, woke up with a 102 fever and did not travel with the team. She showed up just before Redwood’s last pool play match, saying her fever had broken, and talked her way onto the court. Hendrickson had 38 kills over the next three matches, hitting .400.
Primary libero Ella Moran, described by coach Loren Anderson as the “glue of the team,” suffered a nasty ankle sprain in Game 2 of the semifinal versus Amador Valley. She subbed out, “walked it off” and was back on the court for Game 3 and ended up being a pivotal part of the three-set win, as well as the finals sweep.
• Last year, Tippecanoe won its conference and compiled a 23-2 record. The Red Devils, however, were senior heavy, with seven in the nine-player rotation. Coach Howard Garcia felt certain that his team, from Tipp City, Ohio, would be rebuilding in 2023, but the team has started the season 15-0 with a roster that includes two freshman, three sophomores and only three with any varsity experience prior to this season.
“Many say we are young, but in our program that is just an age thing, not a mental and physical trait,” the coach said.
Tippecanoe is thriving because freshman libero Faith Siefring has taken full control in serve receive, freshman middle Lexi Lugenbuhl and sophomore middle Courtney Post are generating a lot of heat and outsides Savannah Clawson (Soph.) and Emily Aselage (Jr.) are excelling as terminators and back row players.
“You may ask why are we surprising many?” Garcia said. “No secret sauce, just the willingness to play for each other, work hard at every moment, accepting the challenges the coaching staff and matches throw at them and the ability to learn on how to reset after every play while enjoying the adventure.”
• Bonneville of Idaho is 21-1 so far in 2023. The Bees lost their first match of the year but have dropped just three sets since. On Saturday, Chantal McMurtrey’s team won the 31st Annual Bonneville Classic. Kaylie Kofe, a Utah State recruit; had 10 aces in a two-set match in the tournament and finished the week with 204 assists, 45 digs, 45 kills, 25 aces and 12 blocks.
Westborough (MA) played perennial powerhouse Barnstable on Sept. 14, winning a five-set thriller behind a career-high 39 kills from reigning Gatorade POY Quinn Anderson. Anderson also had 14 digs, seven aces, two blocks and hit .449. The Rangers are 4-0 to start the season.
Plainfield North (IL) setter Ella Strausberger, a Northern Illinois recruit, has gone over 2,000 career assists.
Jordan Czajkowski, a junior setter at 21-0 Divine Savior Holy Angels of Milwaukee, eclipsed 1,000 career assists on Sept. 15. She has committed to Belmont. DHSA is ranked No. 1 in Division 1 in Wisconsin.
A school bus carrying members and coaches of the Hatton-Northwood volleyball team was involved in a deadly crash south of Petersburg, North Dakota on Thursday. The accident claimed the life of a 68-year-old man in a pickup truck. A team coach was among those injured on the bus. Several players also were hurt, none seriously according to reports.
Our thoughts are with all of them.
Until next time …