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.
• Columbus, Ohio, was the setting for the Ohio Valley 18s qualifier, the sixth of 16 national qualifiers under the USA Volleyball umbrella. What are teams trying to qualify for? The 18s Junior National Championships, April 26-28, in Baltimore. Great news! The Orioles are in town on those dates!!!
Twenty-one (21) teams – 19 still hunting bids – participated in the 18 Open division. Three punched their tickets: Coast 18-1, from the West Coast; Metro 18 Travel in the east and Academy 18E Rage from Middle America. Girls volleyball truly is a national sport!
• Coast, from San Diego, made its second trip out of state pay off, with a 9-0 weekend and the title at Ohio Valley. Ozhan Bahrambeygui’s team dropped just three sets, but prevailed every team. A few weeks before, at Lone Star in Austin, Coast was only 1-3 in matches that went the distance (4-0 in sweeps), a prime factor in the team’s falling short of its first attempt to bid.
“It was nice to see the team get healthy after a bad flu tore through the entire team during the Lone Star Qualifier two weeks earlier,” Ozh said. “What stood out about the Ohio experience was that most of our players hit rough patches in parts of their game and still found a way to contribute in different ways.”
Coast had a great weekend thanks to big production from our middles Hayley Ogden and Mackenzie Parson. OH Tiana Owens teamed with the outstanding libero platoon of Ximena Cordero and Paulina Bailee to impose suffocating defensive pressure on all opponents. OH Madison Triplett entertained the spectators watching the final match versus previously-qualified Mintonette m. 81 with her best play of the weekend, both on offense and behind the service line. Lastly, Jaidyn Jager, a junior, reinforced that she’s one of the best nationally in her class with exceptional play at the net blocking and attacking and as a defender in the back row.
“A personal thanks to Ron (Mahlerwein) and the great kids at Mintonette .81,” Ozhan said. “Our team had played back-to-back three gamers leading right up to the finals. M. 81, playing without two starters, still held the No. 1 seed, dispatching both of their Day 3 Gold Pool opponents in 2. They had earned an abundance of rest and had the option to force us to play right away, but their team graciously allowed us rest time, a chance to eat and, in my mind, may have prevented a fatigue-related injury. Their group was not only the most efficient team in the tournament; they were classy.”
• Academy 18E Rage, from Indianapolis, qualified by placing third. Steve Hawthorne’s team lost on Day 1 to North Pacific Juniors 18 Forefront, but avenged the loss when it mattered most, winning a nail biter over the Oregon squad, 15-13, in Gold Pool play. The win, coupled with Mintonette’s prevailing in the other Gold Pool, clinched the Open bid.
“While the three pins, Lauren Harden (Florida), Alaleh Tolliver (Butler), and Taylor Lewis (Villanova), provided outstanding play at many big moments throughout the weekend, the consistent and exceptional play by libero Sophie Ledbetter (Ball State) and setter Leah Richmond (Western Michigan) provided great stability in both offense and defense throughout the weekend,” Hawthorne said. “These players, and more, had big performances in their win over NPJ 18 Forefront to clinch their bid, a team they lost to in the opening day of play.”
• Metro went 6-2 in Columbus, dropping close matches only to the tournament champion and runner up. The Washington, D.C. squad clinched its Open bid by defeating Ohio’s Rock City 18-1 in the opening match of Sunday’s Gold Pool 1.
“Got it done! Phew!” exclaimed Metro coach and director Silvia Johnson.
The reason for Johnson’s relief is that Metro had this season been in Gold twice previously only to fall short.
Metro started fast in Columbus and dominated for much of the first two days, losing only to Coast, which played clean in that match.
“Day 3 we came in with the determination to get the bid and were able to pull it out against Rock City,” Johnson said.
Standouts included OH Mimi Mambu, who averaged 5.4 kills per set while hitting .305; OH Alexis Ewing, who hit close to .400; and libero Malihn Godschall, who dug up 107 balls over 16 tournament sets.
• The 20-team 18 USA division saw Dallas Skyline 18 Black qualify first without dropping a set. Revolution PGH 18 White, from Western Pennsylvania, was almost as dominant. It qualified by winning every match until the finals.
“Dallas Skyline 18Black came into the tournament hungry and wanted to show everyone why they should be at 18s National,” noted coach David Huynh. “We went 8-0 without breaking a set and weathered some onslaught from strong opponents. Every time their opponent would put up a run there was one teammate that would do something extra with either a great dig, pass, set, or kill that would change the momentum back to our side. This was an all-out team effort from all 10 players that we have on this team. Everyone contributed at key points of the game.”
Revolution’s first qualifying attempt included a 6-0 start over the first two days, as legendary high school coach Heidi Miller’s team used a balanced attack that came from great passing from the defensive duo of Kara Pasquale and Avery Koontz and awesome set distribution, along with big swings and aggressive jump serving from right side attacker Emmy Schrom.
The match for the bid pitted Rev PGH against Rev 18-1 Avengers from Indy.
“That contest boiled down to a few gritty and exciting points earned by outside hitters Elysia Smith and Chloe List,” Miller noted, as her team won, 17-15, in the third.
“Shout out to the Dallas Skyline team that beat us in the finals,” Miller added. “Very smooth performance by that team.”
• Two more bids emanated from the play in the 22-team 18 Liberty division. KeAloha 18-1 Nazare and OT 18O Semei each lost just once in securing passage to Junior Nationals.
KeAloha head coach Craig Cromwell attributed not qualifying over MLK Weekend at Windy City to a “mental lapse.”
“After two great weeks of practice, the girls came into OVR really locked in and determined,” he shared. “All phases of play got better each match as the competition increased each day. Our front and back pin production from Gwen Clifford, Ava Holtz and Emalee Maesch was outstanding all weekend. Marissa Roe and Kate Buckley patrolled the middle of the net with numerous solo blocks. The solid serve receive and backrow defensive play of Riley Treece, Izzy Freese, Kylie Campbell and Lindley Martin was the steadying force that guided our success over the weekend. Bella Maier kept our offense in tempo with great location and decision making from the setter spot.
“The weekend was also dedicated to one of our long time volleyball friends that recently passed away from a two year bout with cancer. We know he was watching over us.”
“I am proud of my team fighting through adversity to qualify this weekend,” said OT head coach Semei Tello Ponce. “Many of them have been fighting illness and one player was unable to travel due to being sick.”
The team saw Melany Salazar, a 5-4 setter, step up and play all the way around in a 5:1 offense. MB Austin Knight was another big key to team success.
“Both of our outsides, Avery Schwieger (UNC Asheville commit) and Emily Schellenberg (Washington and Lee Commit), battled on different days not feeling well but pushed through for their team to make it to the finals on the final day,” Tello Ponce said. “We also had solid play from libero Gwenivere Schoenthaler. We had the smaller roster ( in numbers — 8 players) and also the shortest overall roster (in height in our division). The team showed heart, fighting through all adversity that was thrown at them, and handled it like champions!”
TAV Houston 18 Molten took home the lone bid in the 20-team 18 American division. The team did not drop a set.
We reached out to TAV Houston for comment, but did not hear back by press time.
• The Central Zone Invitational, held in Indianapolis, is annually one of the most competitive events nationally before President’s Day Weekend.
This year’s event was no exception, with KiVA 17 Red, NKYVC 16 Tsunami and Legacy 15-1 Adidas claiming titles in 17 Open, 16 Open and 15 Open, respectively.
KiVA, the No. 3 seed to start, overcame a Power Pool loss to Legacy 17-1 Adidas, 16-14 in the third, to avenge the loss in the 17 Open championship match the next day, 25-23, 25-23. Anne Kordes’ team also scored big wins over Circle City 17 Purple and Michigan Elite 17 Mizuno in Gold Bracket matches.
NKYVC’s run to the title included going three in three Gold Bracket wins, including over Elevation 16 Goller in the 16 Open final.
“Led by standout performers like Emma Fritch, Grace Portwood and Audrey Dyas, NKYVC 16 Tsunami showcased exceptional teamwork, perseverance, and resiliency against elite clubs at the Central Zone Invitational,” said head coach Tyler Collins.
Legacy rallied from a power pool lost to Tri-State Elite 15 Blue to sweep four Gold Bracket opponents, including Elevation 15 Tony in the 15 Open championship match.
“I thought our serving was really solid this weekend,” noted Legacy coach Tyler Strom. “Keeping teams off the net allows us to score in transition at a much higher clip than a lot of our competition. We got beat handily Saturday night by a really nice Tri-State team. I think that was actually a net positive as it took the pressure off the girls. It allowed them to refocus and process that we: 1. Weren’t going undefeated this year. 2. Are still very capable of losing against a good team if we lose our identity.”
On Sunday, Legacy, which finish ninth in 14 Open at Junior Nationals last summer, was able beat two teams – KiVA 15 Red and Munciana 15 Blue, that this group had never beaten before.
Kate Kalczynski had an absolutely incredible weekend and led the team in kills, passer rating, hitting percentage and solo blocks. Outside Callie Leferve was injured in the KiVA match and Olivia Berishaj came off the bench to hit .304 with some timely kills along the stretch in the semis and finals.
• A few more takeaways from the Central Zone Invitational:
Legacy 16-1 Adidas has some of the best personnel nationally in this age group. The team tied in 15 Open for fifth at Junior Nationals last year and was the top team in 16 Open heading into bracket play at Central Zones. Toledo Volleyball Club 16 Black, which tied for fifth last year in the 15 National division at Junior Nationals, knocked Legacy from contention in a match that could not have been closer, 23-25, 26-24, 15-13. TVC then defeated SPVB 16 Elite before falling in the semis to the eventual champions, NKYVC.
Mintonette M. 61, which has finished first and third the past couple of years in Open at Junior Nationals (14 Open in 2022; 15 Open last year), lost to Legacy in a power pool, but won twice to reach the semifinals to eventual runner up Elevation, a fellow Ohio club that was 22nd in 15 Open at Junior Nationals last summer.
Carolina Rogue 17 Black finished ninth and in the 17 Open Gold Bracket at Central Zones, improving seven spots from its original seed.
Shutdown blocking from 6-2 Blakely Johnson on the right side and a well-oiled offense run by Sydney Fischer, were keys to Rogue’ success, as was Drew Page scoring early and often on the outside.
“We got bumped by #1 seed Michigan Elite before battling NKYVC,” noted coach Adam Speight. “We won that in two sets, thanks again to terminal hitting from Johnson, Page and Jordan Hunt, while Fischer kept the opposing blockers in check by spreading out the offense with tempo. Several key blocks from Hunt contributed to a great win, finishing 4-2, to set the tone for lofty expectations moving forward.”
• Metro 17 Travel won the 17 Open division at JVA Charm City Challenge in Baltimore. The team went 6-0 without dropping a set, facing good competition from across the Atlantic Coast.
“After falling short at MAPL Hampton last weekend, the team rebounded in high fashion with contributions from all positions,” said coach Jenna McGann. “Libero Sadie Gladhill (Buffalo commit) averaged 3.25 digs per set and libero Evie Huang (class of ’26) averaged 4 digs per set. 6-3 setter Isabelle Bardin (uncommitted) averaged over 9 assists per set and led the team in blocks.”
Triangle won both the 15 Open and 16 Open divisions at Charm City. The 15 Black and 16 Black teams went a combined 12-0 with only four dropped sets.
East Coast Power KOP 18-R won the 18 Open division.
• Spike & Serve had a great weekend at the Aloha Region’s Feb 3-4 “President’s and Girls Bid” Tournament. The 14s through 18s team all won bids to Junior Nationals.
These same five teams will competing next week at the Triple Crown NIT, the first time SASVBC teams will be represented in all five age groups.
Last week, the coach of Premier Nebraska 15 Black observed that two pins on the Oklahoma Charge 15 UA team they played at Northern Lights were virtually unstoppable. I asked the Charge head coach, former Oklahoma Sooner boss man Santiago Restrepo, to tell me about them.
He said that Stella Wishon is a 6-2 outside with a very heavy arm and a great attack from the back row. Olivia Carter is a dynamic 6-0 player on the right who is very physical and a great blocker.
Restrepo also lauded the play of 5-10 S/RS Amelia Mullen, who delivers the rock from the back row and rockets the rock on the right side.
Last weekend in Minneapolis, Jacksonville Skyline 17 Royal qualified first in the 17 USA division.
“It was an overall great team performance,” said coach Emma Roberson. “We have added a few new pieces to this team coming into this season and every single kid played their role to make us successful. We had great offensive performances by Mari King and Brooke Forkum, obviously, but every single player bought it and we could not have won without each piece. Erica Duffy was an excellent quarterback, while all three DS/ Libs made huge plays for us to keep us alive at the end of the PVA match and the Iowa PowerPlex game. We did have three players with injured fingers (Vivian Scuteri, Amaria King, and Ariel Ross) and one with a cold, but they rallied each set. On day two we lost to a very scrappy Texas Storm team which could have derailed us; but, instead, our girls came back even stronger against Dallas Premier. allowing us to take first in the pool. From the Dallas Premier game on, our team took each ‘break’ in play as just a time out. We were not done until we came home with that gold ball, and that mindset allowed them to see it come to fruition.”
Last week in Minneapolis, a team from Fort Worth, Peak 15 Black Bryar, won its first six matches in 15 Open at Northern Lights and threatened to qualify out of the gate. We wanted to know more about this team and how it seemed to be thriving despite playing in the same area as several clubs that seem to have had a stranglehold on the talent in the Dallas Metroplex over the past several years.
“Peak Volleyball Academy faced a challenging start of its career during the Covid pandemic, but four years later, our growth has been nothing short of remarkable,” club director and coach of 15 Black Bryar Nevills said. .
“Our recent performance at the Northern Lights Qualifier did not come as a surprise to me,” he added. “In all honesty, I had high expectations for our team—to emerge victorious in the qualifier. Despite facing setbacks with four athletes down due to sickness and injury, we refused to make excuses. Instead, we found ways to respond and persevere. I am fortunate to lead a team of highly competitive athletes who hate losing.”
Nevills said that trying to be successful in the highly competitive landscape that is the North Texas Region has not been easy.
“We have strived to create a culture of relentless effort and a never-outworked mentality,” he said. “Emphasizing hands-on training for both the physical and mental aspects of the game, we aim to be more than just another club—we aspire to be a year-round family. Attending athletes’ high school games, engaging in team-building activities throughout the year, and maintaining a commitment to honesty are crucial aspects of our approach. Despite feelings, we believe in being open and transparent about the athletes’ current status and the areas where improvement is needed.”
Nevills said that the roster of 13 is star-studded, with the entire roster more than capable of starring at any time.
This season has been one of the most rewarding coaching experiences because every player on this team is a standout player. Peak’s offense runs through the middle, where tall, springy Keegan Flowres patrols along with high I.Q. Ameila Morrison. On the right side, both Rylin Otto and Toree Rayford are strong, physical and athletic. Brooklyn Peoples is a powerful attacker on the left, complemented by the ball control of Savannah Sterna. Peak expects to get injured Libby Tedder back in the coming weeks. She will add to the team’s potency with her competitiveness, explosiveness and versatility. At the setter position, Peak’s trio all get the job done in different ways. Reese Seaton is a fast and athletic lefty. Mallory Hockaday and her smooth hands will soon make a return to the court after a prolonged injury absence. Reagan Pennington is a hard worker who turns challenging passes into successful plays. Finally, Peak’s back row of Kyler Shirley, Gabby Garcia, and Kalee Wilcox are committed, fearless defenders. Shirley is faster than fast and instinctive as the team’s libero, while Garcia and Wilcox are reckless in their unyielding pursuit.