Daily Dots (April 8, 2021): Club or high school volleyball factoids, notions and ideas to impress your friends (or not)
• Let’s start today’s Dots by recapping what went on at the Northeast Qualifier this past weekend. Back in February, I reported that NEQ would occur on three consecutive weekends, with this coming weekend being the third, and featuring the 15, 16 and 17 Open divisions. Now, upon looking, it turns out there is a fourth weekend. I may have missed it before or it may have moved, but there will be a national qualifier in Philly from April 30-May 2 for just the 17 American division. That’s weird, right?
• Last weekend’s NEQ was small, too, and included only one age group (two divisions) that we cover. A total of 63 teams completed in the 15 USA division in search of three bids to Junior Nationals. A total of 78 teams sought that one solo bid in the 15 American division.
In my experience, by the time teams get into the 17s and 18s age groups, the quality of the team is well determined. “We’re an Open team.” “We play club.”
Not in 15s. Players are still growing physically and in their games. It is not at all unusual for teams shining in USA or American at 15s to be qualifying in Open one year later and possibly even contending. In that light, let’s turn to what happened in the City of Brotherly Love last weekend.
• Only one team went undefeated last weekend in the 15 USA division: TAV 15 Gold. 15 Gold is ostensibly TAV’s fourth team at this age level, but that’s misleading. They were a previously formed team that TAV inherited from another club during the fall.
Seeded 22nd overall, head coach L.J. Sariego had modest expectations for the weekend.
“With such a low seed, I was hoping to get into the gold bracket of eight,” he said. “I thought that would be a nice weekend. We aren’t deep offensively so didn’t know how we would hold up for three days.”
TAV ended up losing just one set, in the semifinals versus VolleyFx 15 Chant.
“Our defense was so good; it was very impressive,” Sariego said. “We made it very difficult for other teams to score offensively against us.”
One match before edging VFX, TAV 15 Gold rallied from a 16-9 Game 2 deficit to nip Flyers 15 APX-Shawn, 25-23, 25-23.
“That turned our Sunday around,” Sariego explained. “We then had a slow start in the semis against VolleyFx, but stayed patient and put a nice run together at the end of the match and stayed emotionally strong.
The defense of Harley Krause, McKenzie Knudson, Jada Shepherd, and Jayden Swanzy was key to the team’s qualification. Krause and OH Molly Bush keyed a very potent offense on the tournament’s final day.
- Paramount VBC 15’s, from the Chesapeake Region; and Southern California’s Forza1 North 15 UA also won bids by finishing second and third respectively.Paramount, which is located in Leesburg, Virginia, just Northwest of D.C., won its first five matches and finished 8-2 on its way to runner up status. The team’s only loss other than to TAV Gold was to TAV Houston 15 Black on Day 2, after both teams had clinched advancement.Paramount head coach Jasmine Jackson said her team’s goal heading to Philly was to stay aggressive from the first match to the last.
“We expected to shake mistakes off in order to side out quickly,” she explained.
“Overall we met our expectations,” she added. “The girls did not offer up many chances for servers from the opposing team to get a run of points on us. The few times it did happen, the girls continued to fight and stay aggressive to get the ball back.”
Jackson said the key to qualifying in USA, after winning an American bid through its region earlier in the year, was how the team reacted after losing to TAV Houston to close its second pool.
“We had to play a challenge match to stay in Gold; that is when the girls really stepped up and carried that momentum into Day 3,” Jackson explained.
After winning that match, Paramount eked out a victory over Southwest 15N Joe, then swept Forza1 North to clinch the bid.
“All the girls stepped up,” Jackson said. “It really took the whole team in order to make all the pieces fit. The girls really came together and had high energy.”
MB Sarah Pose was particularly impressive as a blocker, while libero Dilara Vural did a terrific job leading the back row defensive effort.
Forza1 North started NEQ as the No. 4 seed overall. That gave the team an expectation to be in the hunt on the final day.
“With the original 4 seed, and how the girls had been playing in regional play in previous weekends, we felt very confident about our chances to qualify at NEQ,” coach Austin Meador said.
“NEQ turned out a little different from expectations,” Meador continued. “How we got to the bid is different than how we had drawn it up.”
Forza1 North lost its final pool play match on Saturday to Flyers, which made its Challenge match to get to Gold that much tougher. The team had to take down the original No. 3 seed, SA Xtreme 15U, which was 6-0 at the time with only one set dropped.
Meador said the execution versus SA Xtreme was key to qualifying.
“After a tight first set ending in 25-23, we won the set, 25-10, earning the girls the 3-seed overall and some much needed extra rest after a long day,” he explained.
Setter Jadyn Eleccion was a standout all weekend for Forza1 North.
“She is a consistent, vocal leader and tremendous competitor,” Meador said. “Rylie Klatt, Ashlee Sento, Ashley Rice, and Mckenna Sibley all performed offensively well throughout the tournament, with Mckenna ending Day 3 hitting .700 on the right side out of rotation 1. It was a much needed boost to our ability to side out in a rotation we have previously struggled in. Rylee Sengdara and Navaeh Livingston both contributed to our defense/receive throughout the weekend.”
• How impressive was Flyers 15 APX-Jeff in winning 15 American in Philadelphia? Jeff Dool’s team went 10-0 and not only didn’t drop a set; Flyers did not allow any team to score more than 21 points in any set! The average set score was 25 to 12ish.
Just three weeks before, Flyers had been almost as impressive at the Sunshine Classic, before dropping a heartbreaker to Miami Hype 15U Emilio, 17-15 in the third, in the finals to lose the bid. The motivated expected to do at least at well in Philly and were motivated to finish in order to clinch its trip to Las Vegas for Junior Nationals.
“The girls played amazing all weekend,” Dool said. “Their level of play was exciting to be a part of. “They were able to meet their goals and come away with a bid to Nationals.”
OHs Mary Jane McCurdy and Allie Duitsman carried the team with their hitting, defense, and serve receive, but play from the middle was equally important, as the Flyers continuously shut down opposing middles.
• Thirteen clubs convened at Show Me in Kansas City for 18 Open Saturday through Monday. With only two bids available, there was bound to be drama. Show Me did not disappoint in that arena.
National No. 7 MAV KC 18-1, which won Northern Lights earlier in the season, won its second qualifier, as expected, but not without a hiccup on the last day, which produced the drama. Beau Barnthson’s team, the only team in the final four already with a bid, lost its first Gold pool match to KC Power 18-1, in three sets. That put Power in the driver’s seat towards picking up one of the two available bids.
Northern Lights 18-1 defeated PVA 18 Elite in the pool’s second match and joined KC Power as favorites to qualify. MAVS then swept PVA, dropping it to 0-2, and in dire straits.
From that point on, both MAVS KC and PVA needed help to achieve their goals. MAVS, which intended to win the tournament while improving every day, needed KC Power to lose at least one match, probably two, to win it all. That’s precisely what happened. KC Power’s struggles gave MAVS KC an opening to win the pool and the tournament by defeating Northern Lights in the final pool play match of the day. It dominated that match, 25-17, 25-15.
“We had a really strong weekend of play,” Barnthson said. “We played our best match of the weekend in our final match against Northern Lights.”
“This was a complete team effort,” he added. “Everyone stepped up when they had to and made fantastic plays all weekend long.”
• Northern Lights finished second to earn the first bid.
Northern Lights head coach Dave Manka said that his team was confident, entering Show Me as the 2-seed, that it could qualify, but he also acknowledged that his team, which registered T-5s at both the Northern Lights and Crossroads qualifiers, “felt the pressure.”
“With this being our last opportunity for an Open bid, we knew all too well that the third day can be cruel,” he said.
Northern Lights handled the first two days, going 5-0, then started the Gold pool on Monday with a win over PVA. Lights, because of pool play machinations, needed MAVS to defeat PVA to clinch a bid. MAVS came through and, said Manka, “We were able to add a plus one finish by beating KC Power in a thriller of a three-set match.”
“Maddy Hornyak [AKA ‘Mad Dog’] had just an outstanding tournament,” Manka said. “While playing mostly back row, she was a highlight film for defense, scramble plays and passing. She embraced this role and was absolutely stellar.”
PVA lost to KC Power, its area rival, 25-18, 25-12, on Day 1. The team lost to MAVS KC on Day 2 and again in the Gold pool; and to Northern Lights in the Gold pool. It went into its match with KC Power 4-4, having won eight sets while losing 10. After Saturday’s thrashing at the hands of Power, and having already lost two matches by sweep on Monday, there was no reason to expect PVA to win.
But that’s why they play the matches.
PVA swept, 25-13, 25-18, imperiling KC Power’s almost certain qualification.
Unfortunately, we received no report from PVA before publication (we do hope to be able to tell its qualification story at a later date), but we do know that PVA’s win over KC Power did not guarantee a bid. Indeed, had Northern Lights defeated MAVS KC in the pool’s final match, KC Power, not PVA, would have earned the bid in the three-way 1-2 tiebreaker analysis. That did not happen and PVA emerged with the bid. That’s great news for PVA, but heartbreaking for KC Power, which would have clinched a bid by beating either Northern Lights or PVA or if Lights beat MAVS. Three shots and not one came to light.
• Just 10 teams signed up for 18 USA in Kansas City. The USA division, which typically awards three bids, would only dole out one due to the small field size. It was win or else and Alliance 18 Ren won with an 8-1 record, the only team not to lose at least three times.
Alliance was one of the lowest seeds in the field, but expected better than that.
“The goal was to find ourselves in the finals, but one of our two middles has been suffering from severe back pain,” coach Abbey West noted. “I wasn’t quite sure how the weekend would play out for our group to be very honest.”
The Nashville-based squad went 3-1 in its five-team pool to finish first in a three-way tie, then won three times on Sunday, including an 18-16 Game 3 nail biter with Rockwood Thunder 18 Navy in the crossover match.
“Our key moment was actually on Day 2 and it came in the form of teammate accountability during our crossover match,” West said. “It was the defining moment that allowed us to capitalize on our team unity throughout the rest of the weekend.”
Two tough Monday wins allowed Alliance to close the deal, a three-set semifinal win over Iowa PowerPlex 18 Black, and a 25-21, 25-23 rematch win for the bid against Rockwood Thunder Navy.
“We fought through some competitive matches and ended up beating a talented Rockwood team in the finals, so I say we both matched AND exceeded our expectations,” West said.
Asked which players stepped up for her team, West said, “It was 100% a total team effort, so I’d have to list the entire roster… but Destiny Cherry’s performance and leadership throughout the weekend was the spark we needed to perform at the level we did.”
• The 18 American division was three times the size of USA. 1st Alliance 18 White was the top seed and expected to win and “get that bid in our hands,” coach Madisen Babich said.
“We have had a successful qualifier season,” she added. “This group has finished top 3 at all our qualifiers: 3rd in Atlanta at Beast of the Southeast, 2nd in Kentucky at MEQ, and now 1st in KC at Show Me! They earned it, a true Trifecta Team!”
1st Alliance’s journey to the title wasn’t without bumps. First, there’s COVID, which required this team to quarantine three separate times already. Add the fact that high school season is Illinois is happening concurrently and that on Day 1, the team lost its setter unexpectedly “to a health concern,” and the team had to adapt to a new lineup quickly.
“My other setter, Grace Reckamp, really turned it on this weekend running a consistent 5-1 and being a leader on the court,” Babich said. “My middle, Delaney Davis, stepped up this weekend for her team and played on the right side all weekend. She did an exceptional job for us!”
After going 3-0 on Day 1, every match on Sunday was a struggle.
“We went three in almost every match, and unexpectedly dropped a match to a team we shouldn’t have,” Babich said. “The girls woke up, and knew what they needed to do in order to make it out of Day 2 in Gold still. They understood the fact that coming in as the 1-seed for this qualifier, there is a big target on our back and every team is out to get us. Each team will show up and play their best against us and they realized they needed to be ready for everyone, each point, and not overlook any teams or look to the future.”
Taking every match one point at a time thereafter, 1st Alliance won three Gold bracket matches. None was easy, but the team figured out how to win. If the struggle makes the success feel that much better, 1st Alliance is feeling mighty good after Monday!
• Here now is suggestion No. 8 from Hall of Fame coach Terry Pettit’s “Ten Suggestions for Coaches,” which can be found, in full, at https://terrypettit.com/:
8. Getting the right people on the court in the right position may be the most important factor in a team’s success. When we bring bias about what a player can do and can’t do before the season begins, this becomes a more difficult task. Be open to what you see; not to what you thought you would see.