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 Tuesday until the last high school state championship in November:
• Can you feel the excitement? We are just three days away from the start of the 27th Durango Fall Classic in Las Vegas. Fielding 64 teams from 12 states, nine of which are ranked among the top 25 teams in the nation, there is no doubt that “Durango” is the top high school tournament in the nation.
Teams that want to win a national championship come here to prove they are the best of the best. If you can’t win Durango, don’t even bother trying to claim national supremacy!
• Who will win Durango?
Top-seeded Cathedral Catholic of San Diego (17-0) is the clear favorite. The Dons, however, are coming off successive tournament titles in Honolulu and Huntington Beach. Will a third week of travel prove too much?
Second-seeded Fayetteville (11-0) is the next best choice, but the Bulldogs also are road warriors. Last weekend, Fayetteville was in Tulsa, more than two hours from home, where it won the Bishop Kelley Tournament.
Funny side note about Fayetteville: the Bulldogs first traveled to Tulsa on Aug. 23 to face BK in a border war clash. Fayetteville won the first set and led 25-24 in the second when a fire alarm went off and did not stop. The match was suspended at the point, then resumed on Saturday after the tournament concluded. Fayetteville won the next point and the third set, 25-23, to complete the sweep some six hours after it defeated Bishop Kelley in four sets in the tournament semifinals!
• All told, there are eight teams in the field coming to Vegas that currently are unbeaten. Only four are No. 1 seeds. The other two unbeaten No. 1s, Timpview and Mountain View of Idaho, square off tonight!
The four unbeaten No. 2 seeds are Alemany of California (8-0), Queen Creek of Arizona (5-0), Madison of Idaho (5-0) and Lakeside of Washington. None is a legitimate threat to win Durango, but if I had to pick one to win a Friday pool it would be Madison. Alemany has to tangle with Mitty and that might be too big an ask. Queen Creek is in Redondo’s pool and Redondo, coming off yesterday’s five-set win over 2021 national champion Marymount, is hot. Lakeside is a bit of an unknown and might have trouble getting by 3-seed Clovis West, let alone Timpview.
Speaking of unknowns, there might be a ninth undefeated team in the field. Brooklyn’s Poly Prep is the 49th seed overall, but the only information I have about this team is it is coached by former Southern California club coaches and it placed 39th a year ago. That makes the Blue Devils a huge unknown. I know these coaches and they are capable, however. So if you’re looking for a massive sleeper team, this is it!
• Can a Hawaii team win Durango? Absolutely! Four of the Island’s five best are here, led by Punahou, which in the past week recorded wins over Kamehameha Kapalama and Iolani, the state’s top two pre-season teams.
More likely, however, the winner will come from among the 28 California teams in the field. In the most recent CIF State top 25 list, 13 programs will be in Vegas, including seven in the top 10. Virtually every team in the top 10 is capable of making a run to the championship match, especially given how, with the exception of Cathedral Catholic, they have been beating one another up this season.
• Omaha’s Millard West claimed the title in the Kearney Invite over the weekend. The Wildcats went 4-0 to move to 12-5. They sit at No. 2 in the Class A Lincoln Journal-Star Top 10.
The Wildcats were led on offense by Louisville recruit Alanna Bankston and junior Kaelin Pribyl, with the defense coming from sophomore sensation Sierra Pokharel.
• Corona del Sol of Tempe overcame a pool play loss to Sunnyslope to win the Westwood Tournament of Champions over the weekend. The Aztecs (13-1) avenged the loss in the championship match behind the play of MVP Kierstyn Barton. The outside hitter, a University of Washington commit, collected 90 kills over nine matches while hitting at a .343 clip. MB Ella Lomigora, a Long Beach State commit, also had an awesome tourney, tallying 58 kills, 33 blocks and eight aces while hitting a robust .450.
• Kelly Walsh of Casper, Wyoming has had a storied history, which includes eight 4A titles in the new millennium. It looks like Jeff Barkell has the makings of another all-time great team. The Cowboys have opened 2022 with a 12-0 record, which includes just one dropped set and a sweep to open the season of two-time defending state champion Laramie. Three All-State performers are back: setter CJ Eskew and outsides Peyton Carruth, a University of Wyoming recruit; and Abi Milby. Both Carruth and Milby are averaging almost four kills per set.
• When I think of volleyball in Virginia Beach, I think of Princess Anne, Frank Cox, Kellam and First Colonial. Imagine my surprise to see that the team atop the local rankings all year has been Grafton. The Clippers have followed their 27-2 2021 campaign, where they finished second in 4A to nine-time defending champion Loudoun County; with a 7-0 start with just one dropped set. Grafton is led by junior OH Alexis Keeter, who averages six kills and four digs per set; and senior setter Alondra Miranda-Pagan, who contributes nine assists per set.
• Caroline Jurevicius, a 6-2 senior OH from Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin, is the top player in volleyball-rich Ohio according to a list released in August. Jurevicius is a Nebraska recruit, a 2021 First Team All-Ohio pick in Division II and one of 25 underclassmen to watch in the VolleyballMag.com Fab 50.
Ohio State recruit Ella Brandewie, a 6-3 senior middle from Bishop Hartley, is No. 2, while No. 3 is Karis Willow of Liberty- Benton. The 6-3 senior pin, a Penn State recruit, was a freshman when I was last at the Ohio State Championships in 2019. She wowed the hell out of me with her 15 kills and six blocks from the right side in leading the Eagles to the Division III state title. Liberty-Benton also won state last year, when it went 30-0.
The top junior listed is 6-2 middle Alec Rothe of Dublin Scioto, who is in a tie for No. 6 overall.
The No. 21 player in Ohio is Newark Catholic senior attacker Ava Gummer. Chew on that …
• A similar player list also was released in Alabama, although it was only seniors. East Carolina recruit Ellie Pate, a 5-10 OH from Auburn HS, topped the list, though many coaches feel like the senior with the greatest upside is the No. 2 pick, Jorda Crook, from small-town Ohatchee HS. A stud athlete who doesn’t play club, Crook slammed home almost 600 kills last year. She’ll play next year at UAB, which is coached by Betsy [Smith] Freeburg, a University of Florida great I covered extensively when she was playing for Wesleyan HS (GA) and A5 VBC about 15 years ago
Coaches also mentioned a sophomore in the state, 6-1 OH Lauren Buchanan of Chelsea, as perhaps being the best player in the state regardless of grade. She has amassed 203 kills, 117 digs and 51 aces so far for the 19-5 Hornets.
Until next time …