This is “Dots,” VolleyballMag.com’s weekly look at 10 things in club volleyball, past or present, that interest me and hopefully will interest you. Look for Dots every Tuesday through Junior Nationals this summer, with one exception: today’s Dots come to you on Wednesday!
• The club volleyball season started in earnest last weekend. Twenty-five years ago, when I first started covering club, President’s Day Weekend was considered the unofficial start to the year. After USA Volleyball decided to fast track the 18s club season, however, the unofficial start to club accelerated to MLK Weekend. Everything before that is a prequel. It’s go time now!
• The first two of 16 national 18s qualifiers took place last weekend in Chicago and Kansas City. There will be 18s qualifiers every weekend going forward through April 1.
• In Kansas City, the Asics Kansas City MLK Tournament saw three teams punch their tickets in the 18 Open division to 18s Nationals, which will be held April 26-28 in Baltimore. 18 Open is the most competitive of the USAV divisions. The others are National, USA, Liberty, American, Freedom and Patriot.
The three teams claiming 18 Open bids were KC Power 18 Black, Rockwood Thunder 18 Elite and Premier Nebraska 18 Gold.
Power ran through the tournament with a 9-0 record. Dave Johnson’s team dropped just three sets, but , in each match, won the deciding set at deuce.
“We passed and served at a really high level the whole weekend,” Johnson said. “We focused a lot on our energy and our communication especially when things got dicey.”
Libero Mya Bolton and setter Janelle Green were key to Power’s weekend. Being in system and distributing to the right people at the right times allowed pins Rachel Van Gorp, Alea Goolsby and Jillian Huckabee were in a great rhythm all weekend.
“We stayed in system a lot and when you’re in system life is good,” Johnson remarked.
Van Gorp had 13 aces on Day 3 to help the cause, while middles Julia Headley, Cy Rae Campbell and Zoe McDonald did a great job of working to close the block.
“It is wonderful to have our bid and to win MLK,” Johnson added. “I’m proud of my warriors for the time and work put into the start of this season.”
Rockwood reached the championship match with help from MN Select 18-1 in Gold Pool A. After Gretchen Moser’s team opened the pool with a sweep of Select, Premier defeated Rockwood in three. Premier was now in the driver’s seat to make the final and earn an early bid, but the Omaha club lost in three to Select. That gave Rockwood a bid and delayed Premier’s celebration one more match.
Rockwood claimed a bid despite being down two middles! The team lost its M1 for the season the weekend before in Gateway League play and lost another middle to an ankle sprain the first match of Day 2. Down to one middle, Moser had to reinvent a line up.
“The girls adapted extremely well and actually had fun with it at times,” Moser said. “Offensively we connected well with both setters and our serve and pass game kept us in the matches. Overall I could not have asked for a better outcome for the weekend and now the goal is to continue to improve!”
MAVS KC 18-1 defeated Premier in three on Day 1, but the outcome was different when the two teams met Monday for third place and the final bid. Premier won in straight sets to finish 5-3 overall and with a ticket to the Dance. Sometimes teams have a smooth run to a bid; at other times, it’s survive and advance. Premier lost a match every day, but won the critical ones to qualify.
“Going into the tournament we were ecstatic at having 12 healthy ready-to-play athletes,” said Premier Nebraska coach Sarah Lusk Hughbanks. “The return of Lauren Jones (Midland recruit), Josie Cleveringa (Washburn) and Tanith Roush (NDSU), and with the addition of Sydney Guthard and Quinn Groves (Morningside), the air was thick with anticipation.”
With only one previous tournament under their belts, Hughbanks said that the goals for her team were to “be consistent, control the chaos and keep the ball.”
They did just that.
Premier spent Day 1 shaking off the rust and got stronger as the tournament progressed.
“By the end of Day 3 they were playing like they haven’t missed a beat and let all their training take hold, improving every game,” Hughbanks said. “I’m excited to see what the rest of the season holds.”
MN Select lost only once, on Day 3 to Rockwood Thunder, to tie for fifth along with Six Pack 18, which features the Petersen twins.
Other teams in the field that underperformed in Kansas City but will likely qualify elsewhere included Pohaku 18-1 (7th), VCNebraska 18 Elite (8th), A5 18-1 Marc (11th), and Kairos 18 Alpha (13th).
VCNebraska 18 Elite has a roster of familiar, experienced standouts, like libero Paisley Douglas and setter Malayah Long,, sprinkled with players who are newer to the club. The team opened as the No. 12 seed and finished in the top 10. Maddie Rink starred on Day 2 for the club, which found itself on the wrong side of a three-way tie for second.
“While we didn’t qualify, this team exceeded all expectations for our first weekend getting back on the court and I’m proud of how they came together,” said coach Makayla Tepe. “They never let down regardless of the score or the opponent they were facing.”
Memphis VB Academy 18 Red won the 18 USA division without losing a match. KC Power 18 Red took 18 Liberty. VC Nebraska 18 Black prevailed in 18 American. VC Nebraska went 10-0 with only two sets dropped.
• Chicago’s 1st Alliance 18 Gold ruled the 18 Open division at the Windy City Qualifier in its home town, as expected. The biggest surprise was that Meghan Keck’s powerhouse team dropped a match, to Circle City 18 Purple.
1st Alliance handed CITY 18 Gold, from Southern California, its only loss in the final. NorCal’s Vision 18 Gold got back Team Pineapple 18 Black for the final bid.
The championship match went three sets, with 1st Alliance pulling away to win, 15-6, in Game 3 thanks to strong serving from Grace Nelson, Sam Falk, Ellie White and Ellery Rees.
“The serving allowed us to run our middles (Ellery Rees and Elise Sterling) in transition,” Keck noted.
1st Alliance’s dropped match, which happened first thing in the morning on Day 2, made its final two pool play matches that morning, versus Sky High Adidas 18 Elite and Legacy 18-1 Adidas, must-win. Keck’s team got the job done behind the hitting of Nelson, White, Calli Kenny and Katie Scherer on the pins and consistent setting from White, Kenny and Kinsey Smith and found ways to get better as the weekend wore on.
CITY secured its bid by defeating both Vision and Sky High on Day 3. The team had big performances from UCLA-bound setter Kate Duffey and UPenn-bound OH Jenna Garner. Powerful Kennedy Osunsanmi led the team in kills from the right side.
Vision, coached by Jon Wallace, qualified third by taking out Pineapple, coached by Lloy Ball.
“We’re not as physical as most teams, so we have to be super efficient passing and setting,” said Wallace. “We were opportunistic, converted well in transition, served well and exploited weaknesses.”
Setter Maya Baker was a Vision standout.
Morgan Gaerte and Mya Ball played well for Pineapple, as did lefty RS Gretchen Sigman, who was unstoppable on attack.
Metro 18 Travel (T-5), Milwaukee Sting 18 Gold (7th) and NPJ 18 Forefront (8th) are teams that did not qualify at Windy City, but should as qualifier season progresses.
TPV 18-Maverick won the 18 USA. Adrenaline 18 Deb/Brooke took first in 18 American.
• Club Fusion 18-1 National went undefeated to win 18 Liberty in Chicago. The key was a balanced attack ed by setter KK Dumpit, who ran a 5-1 and ended with 143 assists. Alayna Pierce had 50 kills to lead the attack, followed by Alex Bardouniotis (40), Claire Bickett and Charlotte Potvin, who each added 31.
Dumpit, who stands 5-5, dumped the ball 18 times with seven kills and no errors. Dumpit has always been a setter by the way. Guess you kind of have to be with that last name!
• The Nike Classic in Columbus, Ohio, was not a national qualifier, but attracted an elite field.
Circle City 17 Purple won the 17/18 Open division.
Legacy 17-1 Adidas took second in 17/18 Open, losing only to Circle City in the final, 15-13 in the ultimate set.
Setter Campbell Flynn, OH Marie Laurio, libero Devin Dzienny and middle Olivia Grenadier were Legacy standouts.
Mintonette m.61 took 16 Open.
Legacy 15-1 Adidas captured 15 Open. Tyler Strom’s team went 9-0, defeating Mintonette m.51 in the semis and Elevation 15 Tony in the finals.
Cynthia Ockerman and Sophia Smith led the offense, hitting .347 and .305 respectively. Marlie Smith added 186 assists and 22 kills while Addison Stepp finished with 67 digs while passing a 2.05.
• The first stop of the Tour of Texas was this weekend in Dallas. Last year, A5 became the first club outside of Texas to commit to playing the Tour. This year, Wave, Club V, Dynasty, HP STL and a Canadian side made the trip to the Lone Star State. It appears that Tour of Texas may continue to attract more and more out-of-state clubs in the years to come.
By the way, the final day of ToT Dallas was canceled due to weather. The good folks at Austin Juniors, which runs the Tour, have yet to announce how they will handle the cancellation. The final Tour stop this year is in Houston in February.
• On Feb. 1, 2003, the same day that the space shuttle Columbia exploded upon re-entry, I was at El Camino College covering an SCVA Mandatory and trying to get folks to sign up for PrepVolleyball.com, which launched just a few days before.
I remember asking Alli Dillon, the setter for Cal Jrs., for an interview. She said that she was unable to, because her team’s head coach had barred players from talking to the media.
I was aghast, because I was the only media there.
The head coach of that Cal Jrs. team was Chris Gonzales, the current University of Idaho head coach under fire for his conduct towards his players. Read this story about the Idaho situation in the Orange County Register.
Dillon is now the wife of Dan O’Dell, the Mater Dei girls volleyball head coach. Mater Dei won both the California Open Division state title and the mythical national title this past fall.
• Curious to know when national qualifiers for younger players get started? Northern Lights will run its qualifier for 15s and 17s the last weekend in January, but that’s an outlier. The other qualifiers ramp up the first weekend of March and continue through the last weekend in April.
• The final Dot is my “news and notes” section on other tournaments and clubs from this past weekend.
KiVA was a big winner at MLK Houston, a Top Court event. The Louisville club won 18 Open, 16 Open and 15 Open. Tribe and FaR Out also did well across multiple divisions.
ID Crush and Kairos earned top dog status at Triple Crown Colorado.
Metro shined at the JVA Rock ‘N Rumble, as did Canadian club Leaside.
Sarasota, WP Waves and Ocala Power United took home championship trophies at the Nike Best in Show event in Orlando.
Spike and Serve, from Hawaii, had more than 20 teams competing at events in Hawaii, California and Texas.
SASVBC G 18 Lesli battled in the AAU Transpacific finals, and finished second, losing to another Island team, 17-15 in Game 3 of the championship match. 18 Lesli is a team to watch nationally, with Gatorade POY Adrianna Arquette (University of Hawai’i) setting, as well as hitters Tia Kapihe (Santa Clara), Sydney Cazimero, Haumea Marumoto, Kiana Cueto, and Larryn Alexis Joseph-Rodriguez. The defense is strong with Kody Wengler (UNLV), Reese Teves (LIU) and Alaina Valdez, and also boasts setter Ava Ahokovi, who contributes when Arquette is hitting.
SASVBC G 15 Henry won Gold in the U16 Division at the AAU Transpacific, going 10-0. This is a team with big expectations and a ton of young, talented athletes.
Libero Bella Tavares-Seda was a rock star for JJVA 16 Teal in the 16 Open division of the JJVA Tropical Ice Open tourney in Jacksonville. JJVA won the tournament.
Florida Gulfside 16 Prime went 9-0 to win 16 Open at the Florida USA MLK Showcase at Wireglass Ranch. The team played in honor of their coach, Tito Martinez, whose mother passed away unexpectedly the week before.
Outside hitters Olivia Znotens and Medeny Garraux led the way for Gulfside with explosive hitting. The team also played great all-around defense and served with aggression.
East Carolina Juniors 16 National finished second to Triangle 16 Black in the 16U division at the City of Oaks MLK tournament in Raleigh last weekend.
“The team was very strong up front with big time swings from all hitters and over 90 aces from the serving line,” noted ECJVC’s Kelley Kraniak .” It was a great start to the season. We have many offensive options and were very confident overall in serve receive. I am proud of the team for starting the season with such intensity; the girls brought high energy and stayed consistent even during the tough battles.”
Triangle squads also won the 18/17U and 15U divisions.