Daily Dots (May 20, 2021): Club or high school volleyball factoids, notions and ideas to impress your friends (or not)
• As we recap Red Rock Rave, which held competitions in the 15s to 17s age groups Saturday through Monday in Las Vegas, it is important to remember that teams attempting to qualify must usually play high-level volleyball for more than one day to achieve their goals.
Take the 17 Open division, for example, which boasted a strong field, including five-already qualified teams. On Day 1, AZ East Valley Juniors 17N1-Tempe stunned national No. 1 Sunshine 17-LA in three sets to complete a 3-0 opening pool. In Pool 5, Forza1 UA dominated national No. 14 Dallas Skyline 17 Royal, a motivated team still hunting a bid, to finish its pool unbeaten.
The next day, EVJ came out on the winning end of three, three-set marathons only once. Forza1, stuck in a pool with Sunshine and national No. 2 Houston Skyline 17 Royal, did not win a match. Both were eliminated from bid contention just one day after being on Cloud 9. One great day usually is not enough to get it done.
• Sunshine’s Day 1 loss to EVJ created a Day 2 showdown with Houston Skyline not only for pool supremacy but also perhaps for national supremacy. Houston Skyline prevailed in that match, 25-21, 25-20, and went on to take the pool. Sunshine finished second, also advancing.
They would meet again …
Houston Skyline’s roster at Red Rock included two Class of 2022 players, 6-4 RS Allie Sczech and libero Gaby Mansfield, who’d been with the 18s most of the club season. Joining the 17s, which won the Sunshine Classic without them, gave Jen Woods’ team two sides of the net in practice that can compete with anyone in the country. That increased level of competition in the gym, which was on display this weekend, probably makes Houston Skyline the team to beat come Junior Nationals.
Sunshine LA, meanwhile, was playing Red Rock with its full roster for the first time since November. The team had been without two key middles while winning Show Me and was incorporating them into the rotation in Las Vegas.
“The team was really trying to make the new adjustments and deal with the tough competition at the same time,” coach Cari Klein noted. “The coaches asked a lot of them and they have high volleyball IQ’s, so hopefully in a couple of weeks we are feeling more comfortable with the changes.”
Houston Skyline and Sunshine both won out after their first meeting and met again in the championship match. Sunshine actually had the easier path to the finals, as Houston Skyline had to get through Arizona Storm Elite 17 Thunder, which won Crossroads the weekend before, in its Gold pool. Houston Skyline yielded the last four points of Game 1 versus Storm to lose, 26-24, then turned it up a notch to win the next two sets to set up the rematch with Sunshine.
MB Kennedy Hill, a Sunshine standout playing for the first time this season, hit .333 in the championship match against Houston Skyline, finding her connection with setter Kelly Belardi. Houston Skyline, however, was the better team for the second time in as many days and won, 25-22, 20-25, 15-10.
“This weekend’s success was a very well-rounded team effort,” assistant coach Mitch Woods said. “Our ball control was very impactful, with excellent floor defense and fairly consistent serve receive. Middles Morgan Perkins and Kierstyn McFall were huge contributors, with strong blocking and high-level attacking. Opposite Logan Lednicky was nearly unstoppable. This strong offensive performance was all orchestrated by setter Maddie Waak.”
Coast 17-1, Tstreet 17-Naseri and Dallas Skyline all left Mandalay Bay with bids.
Coast had a meandering path to its bid, which included winning the only three-team pool on Day 1, coming out on the favorable side of a three-way 2-1 on Day 2 and prevailing in a three-way 1-2 analysis in the Gold pools on Day 3. Coach Rodrigo Suelotto promised a report tomorrow. We will tell Coast’s story at that time.
Tstreet’s qualification was equally fraught. On Day 2, the Orange County squad found itself down 14-12 in Game 3 versus East Valley Juniors. Tstreet was 1-1 at the time, having already lost to Dallas Skyline in three; and knew that a loss to EVJ would eliminate it from contention.
Kendra Duffey came up with a huge solo block to pull Tstreet within one. Duffey then teamed with Audrey Della Vedova with a tandem block to knot things at 14-14. An EVJ error, followed by a kill from the pipe by Sophie Reavis, completed a 4-0 run that put Tstreet into the final eight.
On the third day, Naseri Tumanuvao’s team knew, with four already-qualified teams in the Gold pools, that it would need to win one match for a bid and did just that by defeating Excel 17 National Red, 25-22, 25-21, with help from libero Caitlyn Lopez, OHs Reavis and Danika Wulf, setter Madeline Brown and RS Taylor Underwood.
Dallas Skyline had fallen victim to tiebreakers in two previous qualifying tries. This was its final opportunity to qualify. Being so close previously, Kirk Perry’s team came to Vegas with confidence that, this time, it would get it done.
Skyline overcame its Day 1 loss to Forza1 by winning three matches on Sunday. That put the Dallas team in the “easier” Gold pool, away from Gold Pool 2, which had three qualified teams in it, including Houston Skyline and Arizona Storm.
Like Tstreet, Dallas Skyline knew it needed one win in all likelihood on Monday to secure its bid. The team started out its Gold pool with straight set losses to Sunshine and Coast, but took care of business by sweeping Club V 17 Ren Andrew. That win put Skyline, once again, into a three-way tie, with Coast and Club V. The difference, this time, was the sweep of Club V put Skyline ahead of Club V based on set percentage. Perry’s team finished third in the pool and T-5 overall, which was good enough for a bid. Had that final match gone three, even if Skyline had pulled it out, Skyline would have been the off-team out, not Club V.
Emily Hellmuth was solid and consistent on the outside and in the back row for Dallas Skyline. Bailey Miller led the team in hitting for the tournament. And both Emily Canaan and Ava Camacho were super solid in the back row.
• Rancho Valley 17 Premier, Coast 17-2 and AZ Sky 17 Gold finished 1-2-3 in the 56-team 17 USA division to qualify. Rancho lost only to Sky. Sky lost only to Coast. Coast lost only to Rancho. Tournaments can have a strange symmetry like that on occasion.
The only other team with just one loss in the entire division was Momentous VBC 17-Raul, which finished T-5 after losing to Coast in the quarters.
While we reached out to Rancho, Coast and AZ Sky for input into their qualifying stories, we have heard, so far, only from Rancho and Coast.
Rancho Valley coach Wayne White said that his team’s expectation was “to be at our best when our best was required.”
“We were able to handle high pressure moments with calm confidence,” he added. “The team played aggressively when in a pinch.”
The key moment came in the semifinals, when matched against tough NorCal 17 Black.
“The first game was a battle of wills,” White said. “They are an outstanding team. We ended up winning 32-30. We went on to win the second game and secure a bid. With the relief of collecting the bid, the team played relaxed and confidently and was able to earn the Gold Medal.”
White lauded each of his players for helping Rancho Valley win the tournament. Middle blockers Avery McIntyre, Vivian Lisboa and Maia Cicero patrolled the net with instinct and determination. Libero Kayla Uhlick set a personal record for digs per set and DS Lauren King passed very well.
Setters Makayla Hill, Christina Muller and Sophia Padilla played great defense and made good choices for attack. Pin attackers Katie Rapp, Haedyn Heyes, Logan Harris, Cheyanne Ybanez, and Savana Styles were successful in pressuring the opponents with great hit location.
Coast 17-2’s qualification story starts in Denver at Colorado Crossroads the weekend before last. Rachel Minton’s team went to the event without Savannah Johnson, its captain, most efficient attacker and blocker, after she sprained an ankle the weekend before that at a regional event. Without Johnson, the team was out of sorts, lost twice on Day 2 and finished in a tie for 17th.
Johnson also wouldn’t make the trip to the desert for Red Rock.
“In between Denver and Vegas, we had multiple team conversations surrounding the redistribution of leadership and pressure situations, since Savannah wouldn’t be traveling with us,” Minton said. “I would say we were confident in our ability to compete at a high level, as we compete in the top tier of the PVL division of SCVA and regularly face Southern California’s toughest teams, but we knew it would take everyone firing on all cylinders to be able to qualify without a top player and captain with us.”
Coast won its first four matches in straight sets, recovered from a Game 1 loss to SCVA rival Tstreet 17-Jess to win in three, then swept four more opponents, including then-undefeated Momentous and AZ Sky, to qualify and reach the championship match.
Beating AZ Sky for the bid was a key moment for Coast, Minton said.
“AZ Sky is was an extremely talented and well-coached team,” she explained. “We led considerably most of the first set, but made multiple errors at the end to let them back in, just as we had in crucial need-to-win matches in both Dallas and Denver. However, this match, we fought back to close out the set, 27-25. We needed that reminder that we could handle that pressure and we were good enough to really finish. In the second set, we were considerably more relaxed and flowed through the game easily, with our setters trusting all of our hitters to be effective, which made it hard for them to defend.”
“Every single player had to step up in huge ways without Savannah, but that created opportunities to watch some players flourish,” Minton continued. “Kailyn Jager, our other captain, knew she was going to have to step up and lead the team on her own and also be our go-to in pressure situations. She was simply amazing and did what our team needed her to do without wanting any credit for it. Keely Larson was the middle who stepped into the right side role when Savannah was injured and had only trained as an opposite for one week before Vegas. If she had not risen to the occasion, we wouldn’t have a bid. Lauren Dumo, our libero, has been a foundational player for us every single tournament and comes consistent every match, so I have to recognize her as well.”
Georgia’s TK 17 Phoenix, seeded 23rd in the 86-team 17 American field, shook off an opening pool loss to WAVE 17-Chris to finish 9-1 overall and as champions in Las Vegas. TK twice defeated TGV 17 Adidas, the teem seeded third overall, including in a thrilling championship match, 22-25, 25-21, 15-13.
TK head coach Danny Eleutiza said that his team’s goal wasn’t necessarily to qualify, but to finish as high as it could.
“Going to Las Vegas and playing teams from the West Coast and Texas for your last qualifier is not the best option for a coach, regardless of what division,” he explained.
Eleutiza said that the turning point for his team came in losing to WAVE on Saturday.
“We had a player injured and we lost in three tight sets,” he said. “Our kids honestly got mad and decided to change their view of things in the tournament after that match. It opened their eyes and made them understand the goal ahead.”
The championship came with only eight of the team’s 12-player roster present and contributing in Las Vegas, making it a total team effort.
“If I have to talk about any individual players I will have to talk about Maya Sophia Walker (MB) and Emma Kiser (S),” Eleutiza said. “They were very important in changing the mentality of how the team performed after our loss to WAVE. Maya Sophia was a beast on the net, both on offense and defense. Emma set the perfect match after that loss against WAVE.”
The 26-team 16 Open division came down to the top two seeds, Tstreet 16-Curtis and WAVE 16-Alfee, teams ranked sixth and seventh, respectively, in the VolleyballMag.com mid-April national rankings, which came out right after Big South. In that tournament, both Tstreet and WAVE qualified, but Tstreet won the match between them. That’s why Tstreet was ranked one spot ahead of WAVE.
Those positions will have to be switched in the next rankings, because WAVE won Red Rock Rave, defeating Tstreet, 25-23, 25-23, in the fifth meeting between the teams this year. All have been close. WAVE now leads the series, three matches to two.
Both WAVE and Tstreet were undefeated going into the final. Each had lost just one set, WAVE to previously-qualified Coast 16-1 in a Gold pool match to get to the final; Tstreet in the same situation to previously-qualified Hive 16 Gold. All four of those teams will be among the medal favorites at Junior Nationals late next month.
WAVE assistant coach Kevin Hodge said the team expects to do two things going into a tournament: win and learn.
“Growth within a tournament has been a huge focus for this team so they can learn how to problem solve and make quick adjustments,” he explained. “We matched our expectations by winning the tournament. We also got to see gaps that are within our own game so we can work them out before Nationals.”
Hodge said that losing to Tstreet at Big South helped give his team just a bit more fire as it prepared to play Red Rock Rave and likely face “a fantastic” Tstreet team again.
“Julia Blyashov, Eva Rohrbach, Cayla Payne, and Kat Lutz were studs this weekend consistently,” Hodge said. “Big blocks, out-of-system attacking and great focus came out of these athletes all weekend. Kapi Coleman stepped up with some amazing hustle plays that saved some huge points and created major momentum for us. Tehya Maiva was a steadying force for us when we needed it as well.”
Austin Performance 16 Adidas, SynergyForce 16 James and Arizona Storm Elite 16 Thunder all earned Open bids at Red Rock. Those teams finished T-5, T-5 and seventh, respectively. Storm qualified by sweeping Club V 16 Ren Matt in its second opportunity to capture a bid. In its first, SynergyForce won in three to secure its own bid.
We heard from both AP and SynergyForce, both of which took similar paths to qualifying. On Day 2, AP needed to win over Madfrog 16 National Green to remain in contention and won in three sets. Likewise, SynergyForce faced elimination unless it defeated Club V Ren 16 Andrew and survived, 19-25, 26-24, 15-13. Both lost twice on Monday’s ultimate day, but won just enough to take home bids with fifth-place showings.
AP was seeded tenth to start but came to Red Rock expecting to qualify in Open.
“I knew we had a decent chance, but it would require some luck and playing more consistently in big matches, which is something we haven’t done as good of a job of over the course of the season,” coach Mark Herrin noted.
Herrin said that two difficult Day 2 three setters, the win over the previously-qualified Frogs and a loss to Hive in the first match of Gold pool play later that evening, helped spark his team’s qualification. In the Hive match, after winning the first set, AP led 17-9 in the second, let it get away and ended up losing in three.
“That loss hurt … A LOT,” Herrin said. “We all agreed we never wanted to feel this way again!”
He told his team that night, “We can still define our season tomorrow!” And it did. By sweeping Storm on Monday morning, it clinched its bid and a return trip to Vegas in Open.
“Our entire team stepped up on Day 2 and 3,” Herrin said. “We had a key injury in Set 2 versus Madfrog, so a few players played out of position and some players who haven’t played as much stepped up and thrived when it mattered most. One of the most rewarding experiences is to see the kids thrive when it matters the most!!”
SynergyForce also expected the Open bid that it eventually earned.
“I had no doubt in my mind that if our ladies executed we had enough horses to get it done,” coach James Todd said. “There were some very talented teams here and it was an honor to compete versus these talented teams and coaches.”
Todd said the key moment for his team, which arrived in Vegas with only nine players, came on Day 1 versus Vegas Velocity 16 Black. Both teams were in three-team pools and had to play a crossover against one another, with only the winner advancing. Vegas Velocity won the first set, requiring SynergyForce to rally to win in three. It was the first of three key three-set wins for the Sacramento-area squad. It finished 5-4 overall, which underscores how critical each of those three-set wins was.
“We stayed steady all the way through, stuck together, trusted the process and set a goal just to always focus on that next point,” Todd said. “We knew, with five teams previously qualified that if they continued to advance and we continued to do our job, we would get it done. Hats off to my players for playing their hearts out this weekend. With this being our last qualifier, we had to make it happen here. We are extremely happy to get it done and go compete versus the best teams in the nation.”
Texas Fury 16 Legacy, Epic 16-GD and WAVE 16-Nick qualified 1-2-4 in the 67-team 16 USA division. Fury, seeded fifth overall to start, lost on Day 2 to Forza1 16 UA, but still retained its seed heading into the Gold bracket. The team’s last four wins all came against teams seeded among the top 10 teams in the field.
We heard back only from Epic, which went 8-1 in finishing third. The team needed three sets only in one of those wins, a Day 2 triumph over Rancho Valley 16Premier, the tournament’s second seed to start.
Epic’s Danielle Lamb said that the team goal heading into the weekend was “individual and team growth.” The San Diego-area squad left Vegas with that and a little hardware, too!
“We played tough and fought in every match,” Lamb said. “We saw the items we have been focusing on in the practice gym get applied in stressful moments.”
Lamb said that the Sunday night sweep of Dallas Skyline 16 Black was key to its qualification.
“The girls came in focused and driven,” she said.
Lamb stressed that Epic could not have qualified without a full team effort.
“Every player contributed at key moments throughout the weekend,” she explained. “Our offense was anchored by Julianna VanOmmering and Breeze Czapinski. Our setters, Clarie Nordeen and Hannah Damn, did a fantastic job of running the offense, and our defense was anchored by Annalise Gagliano and Gracie Bielby.”
• El Paso Stars 16’s Gold won the 138-team 16 American division. The team overcame a match loss, to SF Tremors 16 Tigers on Day 2, and dropped only two more sets the rest of the way. It dominated the championship match versus A4 Volley 16 Torrey.
Hopefully El Paso Stars, like TX Fury, WAVE Nick and AZ Storm, will submit reports eventually so that we can more properly highlight their achievements.
• WAVE 15 Juliana dropped just two sets on its way to winning the 29-team 15 Open division. Ranked fourth nationally by VolleyballMag.com, WAVE added Red Rock Rave’s title to the Gold Ball it won earlier at Big South.
In Las Vegas, WAVE over Vegas Aces 15 UnderArmour, 15-10 in the third, in Gold pool play, before eventually winning that pool to make the championship match. WAVE then overcame its San Diego rival, Coast 15-1, 16-14 in the third, to take home the first place trophy.
“Going into Red Rock, we wanted to implement some new things we have been working on, compete at a high level, and focus on playing one point at a time,” head coach Juliana Evens noted. “We achieved our goals and we are very happy with the way our team played throughout the tournament.”
The highlight of the tournament came on championship point versus Coast. Charlee Ellena subbed in on game point and had a stuff block to win it!
“Our win at Red Rock was definitely a team effort,” Evens said. “Every player contributed in many ways and our team chemistry helped carry us through the tournament. Amanda Sager led our offense and did an amazing job all weekend. She had a great connection with our middles. Jenna Hanes led the team in kills and Camden Bolane led the team in stuff blocks. Maya Evens controlled the back court the entire weekend.
Coast, Vegas Aces and Viper 16 Mauro all captured Open bids, representing the Southern California Volleyball Association well. Coast, a top 10 national team, recovered from a tough Day 3 at Far Western, where it was fourth in a four-team pool and only three bids available, to play well throughout to bid here. Viper lost to San Gabriel Elite 15 RoShamBo, 25-19, 25-18, on Day 2, then came back to beat SGE, 26-24, 25-23, in the head-to-head for the final bid. Vegas Aces went 8-2, losing only to the top two finishers.
Vegas Aces was the only team to respond as of press time.
“I knew this team would be a hard out because they are tough and play great defense but really didn’t have any expectations,” coach Ruben Herrera said. “So, honestly, winning the bronze and qualifying for Nationals was truly surprising, especially with so many talented teams from SoCal competing. This team has been up and down all season, but it seemed to all come together at the right time and I credit that to our serving and ball handling.”
The key moment, Herrera said, was a loss to WAVE on Day 3. Vegas Aces extended that match to three sets.
“Even though we lost, we knew we belonged because they had pummeled us at the beginning of the season in the Premier Volleyball League,” Herrera explained. “I know that gave them confidence for the rest of the matches.”
“As I mentioned before, our ball handling was tremendous and our libero, Tatum Thompson, led the way,” Herrera added. “Everyone served well but our two standouts for this tournament were Tova Craig (DS) and Kiana Toledo-McMahon (MB). Our two OHs, Abbi Paulson and Leilia Toailoa, carried the brunt of the team’s swings and I’m sure their arms are sore. Lindsey Burke (DS) came in and gave Abbi a few breaks and played an important role with her defense. Ashley Duckworth was outstanding with her blocking and middle attacks. Chloe Poort made a huge difference with helping to stop the opposing team’s OH with her RS blocking. And finally, our offense was orchestrated by our two setters, Taylor Treadwell and Hannah Pemberton. Taylor was also part of the offense with her tremendous attacks on the right side. Total team effort for sure.”
• In the 65-team 15 USA division, A4 Volleyball 15 Tyler, HJV 15 Elite and SF Tremors 15 Wolverines finished 1-2-4 to qualify. A4 lost its first match of the tournament, to Epic 15 Pat, then won out, enduring four three-set battles along the way. SF Tremors won its first nine matches before losing its final two, but still qualified. HJV went 9-1, losing only to champion A4, 18-16 in the third.
We have heard so far only from Houston Juniors.
“We set pretty high goals and expectations going into the weekend,” coach Courtnee Rhodes said. “It was our first qualifier to have our entire team (mostly) healthy, so we went into the weekend with the determination of bringing home a bid so we could return to Vegas this summer. We certainly met our expectations. I was (and am) so proud of the relentless fight our girls showed.”
Rhodes said that the Gold quarterfinal match versus FH 15 Ikaika-Annette helped spark HJV’s qualification.
“In the first set, between HJV points 18 to 23, we had a string of great back-to-back hustle plays that we won with some great defense (on both sides) and super aggressive out of system swings to end the rallies from HJV pins,” she said. “After that string of points it was ‘no looking back’ for the remainder of the match. With the win versus FH 15 Ikaika- Annette plus the win vs SF Tremors, we secured a third place finish and our bid to Nationals.”
Rhodes added that everyone contributed to the win.
“We were solid across the board,” she explained. “Our first contact was consistent. Our middles were involved early and often, which created holes for both pins. We were extremely disciplined defensively. All attackers worked hard in transition and our setters made great decisions. That’s a lethal combination and we executed extremely well.”
- Texas Legacy 15 Elite captured the 126-team 15 American division. The team lost to Arsenal 15 Gold on Day 2, but dropped just one more set on its way to the title and the lone available bid to Junior Nationals. The championship match featured a dominant performance by Legacy over AP 15 Baden. The tournament had a Texas feel to it, with six of the top eight finishers hailing from the Lone Star State.We have not yet heard from Texas Legacy, but like so many other teams that had success this past weekend, we are saving a Dot for the team in case it wants its qualification story told.