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Tawa’s HS Dots: Durango Fall Classic “a feast for volleyball fans”

Mater Dei avenged an early season loss to Mira Costa to take down the national No. 1 Mustangs in the final of the Durango Fall Classic on Saturday

This is “Dots,”’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:

• There was a lot of anticipation leading up to this year’s Durango Fall Classic, because of what tournament organizers considered the deepest field of elite teams ever since the DFC began in 1995.

The 64-team event in Las Vegas boasted nine teams ranked among the top 20 nationally and many, many others that were considered among the very best in their respective states.

In short, the tournament delivered a feast for volleyball fans, with high-level talent on every court showcasing the very best that the sport has to offer at the high school level.

• In the final analysis, the top-seeded teams did what they were supposed to do. Each of the teams seeded in the top 20 finished no worse than in the 20th position.

The teams that started out as top 10 seeds all finished in the top 10, with the exception of seventh-seeded Archbishop Mitty and ninth-seeded Torrey Pines, which tied for 15th.

Fourteen of the 16 teams on the 1-seed line for the opening four-team pools won their pools, the lone exceptions being 13th-seeded Marymount, which lost to the 20th seed, Lone Peak; and Kamehameha-Kapalama, the last top seed. The Warriors fell to Alemany, a team seeded one spot below them.

There were a few notable lower-seeded teams that far exceeded expectations. Palo Verde of Las Vegas, led by senior pin Lincoln Common, improved 32 spots to finish in 30th position. South Torrance and Rancho Cucamonga, both on the 4-seed line, improved 30 and 23 spots, respectively. Faith Lutheran of Las Vegas and La Canada, both initial 3-seeds, beat their seeds by 20 and 10 places, respectively. Faith Lutheran finished 22nd after starting as the 42nd seed, just three places behind Marymount, which started as seed No. 13.

• The championship match at Durango pitted two Southern California powers against one another: National No. 1 Mira Costa, the top overall seed; versus Mater Dei, a top five national team and the No. 3 seed overall.

The teams had played once before, on Aug. 29, with Costa winning, 25-21, 25-21, 25-19, at home.

Mater Dei got its revenge on Saturday, prevailing 18-25, 25-20, 25-21.

The key to the match — no surprise — was serving and passing. Mira Costa won in those areas in Game 1 and the result was decisive in its favor. Mater Dei dominated the last two sets, got its middle involved to balance the consistent offense it received from its dominant pins, and won convincingly. Indeed, the final point came on a first-ball swing from MB Sofia Walker against a flat-footed Mira Costa front line.

“Our middles really stepped up late,” said Mater Dei head coach Dan O’Dell. “We have been wanting to get them more involved in hopes of it opening our outsides more, and late in that Mira Costa match it really showed. Both Emma Kingston and Sofia Walker got big kills for us (and blocks) that helped push us to the finish line. Our pin hitters are so talented, but when we can make our opponents worry about the middles too, that’s when everything really clicks.”

• The title for Mater Dei was the fourth for the Monarchs in Durango tournament history, but the first since 2001, when lefty Breegan Mulligan was the star. The Monarchs won by rallying from one-set holes in the quarterfinals versus Assumption of Louisville, which got terrific play from Charlotte Moriarity, Chloe Smith and Bailey Blair; in the semifinals versus Sierra Canyon, which excelled behind libero Lauren Lynch, OHs Danica Rach and Halie McGinest, MB Maddie Way and setter Sade Ilowale; and in the championship match against a loaded Costa team featuring senior setter Charlie Fuerbringer, senior libero Taylor Deckert and sophomore outsides Audrey Flanagan and Simone Roslon.

“It just says we never give up and we have a lot of fight in us,” said senior OH Isabel Clark. “Maybe first sets aren’t our best but in the second and third we always have it.”

• Mira Costa got to the championship match by ousting a VERY impressive Alemany squad, featuring setter Kyla Firestone and jumping jack attackers Havyn Rolle and Alanah Clemente; in three sets in the qualifying round, before sweeping Huntington Beach in the quarters and defending champion Cathedral Catholic in the semis.

It appeared the Mustangs were going to sweep the final, too, after long serving runs from Chloe Hynes and Roslon turned around a 12-8 Game 1 deficit by scoring 14 of the next 15 points. 

But Mira Costa could not sustain the momentum despite surging to a 3-0 lead to start the second. Mater Dei picked it up in serve-receive, anchored by libero Malyssa Cawa; and the Monarchs’ ultra-physical pins — Clark, Layli Ostovar and Cymarrah Gordon – started to score and score and score, set up expertly by tournament MVP’s Julia Kakkis’ deep dishing.

Layli Ostovar used her whip of an arm to score at will for Durango champion Mater Dei/Matt Smith photo

“I just think they dialed it in,” O’Dell said. “We struggled to pass that first set against Costa. The passers made good adjustments. They took it upon themselves to take accountability for what they were doing and they made sure that that wasn’t going to be the reason why we won or lost the game. They did a phenomenal job.”

“I thought it was a great match,” said Mira Costa head coach Cam Green. “I knew it was going to be tough. Dan does such a good job and they have a ton of firepower so we already thought it was going to be a tough match even though we had beaten them prior. In the second and third set it was more a serve and pass battle. They were on point for everything, which opened up their middles. I wasn’t surprised because they passed perfectly. Was it a good loss? It’s a loss I can live with because they’re good and they were better that day. I’m looking forward to seeing them again.”

• Clark, a member of the All-Tournament Team, played on Saturday in jersey number 27 after playing the day before in her familiar No. 2.

“I lost my jersey yesterday,” she explained. “I think I left it at the other gym. I’m going to miss it but I think I’m going to stick with 27. I feel like it gave me a lot of confidence today.”

Audrey Flanagan cannot be stopped in her sophomore year. She sees the court so well and hitting hard angle is her speciality/Matt Smith photo

• Flanagan, along with Fuerbringer and Deckert, made the All-Tournament Team for Mira Costa. The sophomore has emerged as the team’s go-to hitter despite playing all of last year on the junior varsity team.

“It kind of blows my mind,” she admitted. “I never would have thought that I’d be doing this right now, from where I was last year. It’s really crazy. I think playing with these high-level players I had to step up my game.”

• Quick hits from Durango:

Maya Evens, who was ridiculous in the contrasting jersey; and RS Tianna Owens made the All-Tournament Team for Cathedral Catholic, which also got its usual dominating play from MB Jenna Hanes.

Prestonwood Christian Academy placed OH Cari Spears on the list. The Lions were VERY impressive in all but the Cathedral Catholic match and got by fellow Texas side Cornerstone Christian in three to finish fifth. Megan Fitch was recognized for her play for Cornerstone Christian.

Addison Williams of Huntington Beach, Sadie Snipes of Branson and Avery Jackson of The Hockaday School also made All-Tournament.


Branson won the Silver Bracket. The Bulls, who lost only to Cornerstone Christian, knocked off Lone Peak, Xavier College Prep and Archbishop Mitty in the Silver Division. The win over Mitty, a NorCal rival, came just one week after Branson lost to Mitty, 3-0.


Mitty was one of two teams to enter the tournament unbeaten, but the Monarchs lost three times. The final loss was especially painful, as it came against league rival Saint Francis of Mountain View, a team they had previously defeated.


Torrey Pines coach Brennan Dean left after his Falcons lost a tough three-set qualifying-round match to Huntington Beach to attend two Saturday weddings in San Diego of former players. Torrey Pines lost twice more, to Alemany and Redondo Union, despite dominant play from OH Finn Krystkowiak.


Hockaday, from Dallas, won the Competition Division to finish 25th overall.  That would not, ordinarily, merit a spot on the All-Tournament Team for its top player, but check out what Jackson, a Stanford beach volleyball commit, did over seven matches: the outside hitter hit .416 with 136 kills, while adding 62 digs, 13 aces, six blocks and 105 receptions while passing a 2.4, Incredible!


I spent time at both Durango and Palo Verde on Friday. Here are some other players I enjoyed watching:

OH Angelina Guerrro, Durango HS – big arm
S/MB Logan Tusher, Branson – controls the court
Brooke Stauffer, Corner Canyon – smooth
OH  Chloe Pravednikov, Wilson — terminal
MB Savanna Brotherson, Mountain View – undersized but springy middle
MB Kensley Hennessy, Bishop Manogue – good off of one or two feet
Libero Madisyn Green, Mercy Academy – all over the court
OH Desirae Noble, Shadow Ridge — thumper
OH Sydney Metcalf, Queen Creek – tall attacker on a tall team with great potential
MB Zoey Burgess, Lone Peak – Active, physical middle on a Knights team that also had Mckynzee Beddes, Cami Christiansen and freshman Ava Burgess also stand out
OH Bellamie Buess, Skyview – Knows how to score
MB Willow Watson, Arbor View – fast arm out of the middle
OH Emma Klett, Ironwood Ridge – long hitter with range
OH Jadyn Livings, Prestonwood Christian – look out below when she hits!


Finally, shout out to the Las Vegas teams. Over the past 10-15 years, they have been easy pickings for teams seeded above them, but were much more competitive this year, even in defeat.

• News from outside of Durango…

Sophomore middle Kinley Soiney recorded kills No. 1,000 over the weekend for Mabel-Canton at the Class A Showcase in Minnesota. She is hitting .524 on the season with 337 kills for the Cougars, who suffered their first defeat of the season against 25 wins in the final versus Minneota, the No. 1 ranked Class A team in the state…


North Myrtle Beach (21-1) got 23 kills combined from Olivia Borgman and Clara Cloninger, 28 assists from Bella Loeswick and 17 digs from Kendal Scanlin in turning back Dorman in an exciting championship match at the Dorman Tournament of Champions on Saturday. Set scores were 27-29, 26-24, 15-13, as close as a match can get! Carly O’Brien and Kayla O’Brien were Dorman standouts. Carly had 83 kills and 59 digs for the weekend. Kayla passed exceptionally and led the Cavaliers with 81 digs. Dorman is now 23-2 on the year.


Camryn Chatellier notched her 1,000th career kill as part of a 7-0 week for 16-1 Dominican of New Orleans. The fun started Tuesday with a four-set win over Archbishop Hannan, which avenged Dominican’s only loss on the year; and continued through the Red-Hot Sticker Classic in Baton Rouge on the weekend, where Dominican went 5-0 to take the title, with wins over highly-ranked St. Thomas More and Parkview Baptist. Chatellier had 11 kills and four aces in the championship match. Lauren Pipitone added 18 digs, Noelie Haddad had six kills and five digs and Gabby Marcello had 19 assists and five digs…


Lakewood lost its first four matches at Durango this weekend, but won its last three, one of them career win No. 500 for coach Mike Wadley, who is retiring this year…


Matt Guzman notched career coaching win No. 250 on Tuesday as James Logan swept Moreau Catholic. Guzman started at Logan back in 2013.

“To be part of this milestone for my coach is a huge accomplishment for himself and the team,” said senior setter and team captain Kaitlyn Anderson. “It shows how dedicated he is to us in our development as student athletes to reach our fullest potential.”

• Finally, all eyes this weekend will be on Phoenix, where the Nike Tournament of Champions – Southwest will host 77 teams.

It’s not a great field to be honest.

California state-ranked Sierra Canyon, Beckman, Saint Francis of Mountain View and Marymount will represent the Golden State. The ToC also will feature Cornerstone Christian of San Antonio, South Carolina’s Dorman, Louisville Sacred Heart Academy and many of the best of Arizona, including Xavier College Prep, Millennium, Queen Creek, Casteel, Notre Dame Prep, Corona del Sol, Sunnyslope and Horizon.

This feels like Sierra Canyon and Cornerstone in the final. Sierra Canyon won when they faced off this past Saturday in two straight. I’ll take the Trailblazers again in this one. This is a team that is starting to become the best version of themselves…

Until next time …

Mira Costa libero Taylor Deckert made the All-Tournament Team at Durango, because of plays like this/Matt Smith photo