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.• It started in mid-January, when teams showed up in Kansas City, Nashville and Chicago to begin the 18s qualifier season.
Eight teams, headlined by Sunshine 18 LA and A5 Mizuno 18-Marc, punched their 18 Open tickets that weekend.
Twenty-nine (29) teams have since seen goals realized of playing at the highest level in the Girls 18s Junior National Championships in Phoenix April 22-24. That includes five teams that made it happen this past weekend between the Northeast Qualifier and Salt Lake City Showdown.
Only three 18s qualifiers remain; three shots left for teams to earn their way into the field. There’s the SCVA event in Anaheim this weekend. And both MEQ and PNQ next weekend. Who will get it done?
• In Philly, Academy Volleyball Cleveland Rox 18 Red (T-5) and Top Select 18 Elite Blue (8) qualified at NEQ from a top-heavy, 25-team field that had six teams already qualified.
Academy earned its bid on Day 2 after finishing second in its pool. Meredith Gromala’s team, which went 4-0 on Day1 in a five-team pool, defeated Top Select in three sets to start Day 2, then swept NC Academy 18 Diamond in two to go 2-0. A loss to powerful A5 18-Marc to close they day did not deny AVC its bid, as one of the top six teams with the other five already qualified.
For AVC, Caroline Jurevicius, a junior pin committed to Nebraska; had one of the most consistently elite performances all weekend, Gromala said. The coach also lauded the play of 6-3 RS Mia Soerenson, a Kent State commit; for her physicality and intimidation at the net. Middle blockers Mya Sopata and Cadence Shea also connected well with their setters this weekend, which had been a point of emphasis for the team.
• Top Select’s journey to a bid was a little more fraught. After missing out on the Gold brackets, Blake Rawlins’ team found itself in a six-team Silver Bracket on Sunday, with previously-qualified OT O 18 Felix and four teams, like it, still hunting for that bid.
With bids trickling no further than eighth place, the goal for the “hopeful five” was to make it to the Silver Bracket championship match. That’s where a bid would be waiting …
Academy Diamond and NORCO 18 Black went out first; they lost to OT and Houston Skyline 18 Black, respectively. That reduced the contenders to three: Houston Skyline 18 Black, and Top Select and Gainesville Juniors 18/17, both of which had byes. Gainesville lost out on its Open bid when OT swept two close sets from them, leaving all eyes on Houston Skyline and Top Select.
Top Select pulled the match out in three sets. The team was missing stud MB Sophie Green, but got terrific work from OH Ashley Bible, who passed a 2.3 and hit .303 for the weekend; and OH Bella Rujano, who hit .237.
“Our team played disciplined defense all weekend which kept us in long rallies versus bigger teams,” Rawlins said.
• Houston Skyline 18 Purple swept through the 18 Open field to capture NEQ. The team edged A5 Marc in a thrilling final that went 15-12 in the third. It was a match ups of 18s superpowers that went a combined 15-3 at Triple Crown, and did not disappoint.
Skyline, ranked fifth in the AES computer rankings, had its eye on national No. 1 A5 from the start. Skyline, which tied for fifth at Triple Crown in February, was hoping that its first contact work, as well as its blocking effort, would pay off in Philly.
Both 18 Royal and A5 won out to get to the championship match.
The teams were not unfamiliar to one another. They’d met over the years and again in January at Florida Fest, where A5 prevailed in two close sets.
I’ll let Skyline coach Alex Edwards summarize what happened next from her perspective:
“The team knew that we have been working towards this moment on the big stage. Maddie Waak controlled the offense from the start of the match with the help of her dominant front row in Brielle Warren, Morgan Perkins and Logan Lednicky. The team hit an impressive .370 in the three-set thriller and felt in control in sets 1 and 3. Defensively, Lednicky flourished in the backrow and came up with some momentum-changing digs. Warren was another standout in the match with her explosive kills and serve receive in the pressure moments. Avery Shimaitis also contributed in the front row, hitting .375 and three block assists. However, the key players of the match were the middles, Perkins and Kierstyn McFall, hitting .700 and .556. Their presence along the net allowed our offense to flourish and allowed for many one-on-one opportunities.
“Reflecting on the whole weekend, Houston Skyline 18 Royal progressively continued to improve in the details and aspects we have been focusing on in the gym. They are excited for several more weeks to continue to train and prepare for another great showing at Nationals.”
• At the inaugural Salt Lake City Showdown, the three 18 Open bids went to Mizuno Long Beach 18 Rockstar, Coast 18-1 and Arizona Storm Elite 18 Thunder. The teams finished 1-2-3 despite the presence of three already-qualified teams in the field.
Long Beach, Coast and Storm, plus the three already-qualified, WAVE 18 Kevin, Club V 18 Ren Reed and A4 Volley 18 Joaco; all won their opening-day pools. Each followed up a day later by finishing first or second in the Saturday pools. Six teams left in Gold with three already qualified meant automatic bids after Day 2 for the other three teams.
Long Beach and Coast emerged atop their Sunday pools to get to the championship match. Long Beach did it by coming from behind, first losing to A4 and then rallying from a set down to defeat Club V. Joy Fuerbringer’s team won the pool on points percentage after all three teams were 1-1 (3-3).
Coast went 2-0 but also had to rally to take first. Said Souikane’s team lost the first set of its first match to Storm, then rallied to win, 15-13 in the third.
Coast went into the championship match 5-0 against Long Beach this year, but Long Beach turned the rables to win, 15-13 in the third.
“Our team has been getting it done in training, with better focus,” Fuerbringer said. “One key is our bench and the energy they provided ever point of every match. They were a key part of our success.”
Standout players for Long Beach included RS Laura Williams, who returned to the court after a sprained ankle sidelined her for Triple Crown. Consistent passing and attacking from OH Mele Corral Blagovich and setter Natalia Hagopian making big plays and creating opportunities for her hitters also helped make winning possible.
Coast’s key to success was its middle transition. Getting good production from Bianca Lulic, a junior; and Fatima Sheriff opened up opportunities for junior RS Bella Rittenberg to have a monster tournament. Coast also had a standout in the back row in libero Gala Trubint.
AZ Storm’s only two losses for the weekend came versus the teams in the championship match and both were in three sets,
Storm was led by dominant senior OH Jordan Middleton, who showed off her power; senior libero Tatum Thomas, who wowed the crowd with her defensive prowess; and junior middle Ella Lomigora, who dominated along the net defensively and offensively.
• Meanwhile, back in Philadelphia, NEQ also was handing out three bids to Junior Nationals in Indianapolis to the top 17 Open finishers.
One went to the champion, Circle City 17 Purple, which did not drop a set on its way to the dominating win. Circle, which has won its past 37 matches and has first-place finishes at Central Zones, President’s Day in St. Louis, Bluegrass and now NEQ, is clearly the No. 1 team in the country in this age group. Interestingly, this was the first qualifier win ever for this group, with the exception of OH Chloe Chicoine, who had been playing up until this year.
Circle, which won Bluegrass last Sunday, only had two days to get ready for NEQ. Chris Due’s team focused on serve-receive, serving and blocking, and saw improvement in all three areas.
“I really felt that our back row players all stepped up and did good things with our first ball contact in serve receive, our scrappy defense, and relentless pursuit of the ball,” Due said. “Libero Molly Urban followed up Bluegrass with another great tourney. DS/libero Ella Hemmings was dialed in both in serve receive and defensively and continues to keep getting better every day. DS Macy Bruton kept great service pressure and made some solid plays defensively.”
Chicoine continued to do “Chloe things” and wowed the gym oer usual. Does she ever have an off day? Macy Hinshaw had a great rapport with her hitters and was solid defensively and serving.
“The great thing about Macy is if we get the ball up defensively, we know she will get there and put up a good ball for our hitters regardless of where the ball is on the court,” Due said. “OH Ava Smith had another solid weekend and really stepped up her blocking and passing. Quincy Thomas had a great tournament on the RS and was a big presence at the net both defensively and offensively. Faith Burch stepped up and did some good things on the right side and also kept great service pressure on the other teams. I thought middles Ella Chapman and Emily Waddell had great tournaments as well and were solid at the net blocking and were doing good things offensively as well. I thought overall it was a great team effort and everyone really stepped up this weekend.”
Dynasty 17 Black qualified second. Brian Tate’s team dropped its first match to Academy 17E Tsunami, but the team won its next eight to clinch a bid, before losing in the final.
Dynasty’s qualifying should not be a surprise – this is an immensely talented, athletic team — but it came just three weeks after the Kansas squad went into Triple Crown as a top 20 seed and left with a shocking 0-7 record. That’s not a typo.
“In order to qualify we had to refocus,” Tate said. “Our refocus over the course of a couple weeks was realizing that those results weren’t what we wanted, but we were still a good volleyball team and we just needed to get back to having fun, supporting each other and not trying to be perfect. It also helped that we had Rylee Unruh back on the outside for us (missed TC due to injury). She does a lot for our team offensively and in serve-receive.”
Dynasty’s success in Philly was the result of being spot on in the serve and pass game.
“Our passers did a great job keeping us in system, which is key to get our three middles the ball,” Tate said. “Once in system, Ashley Mullen was able to move the ball around efficiently and effectively.”
Dynasty’s serve game consistently took teams out of system, allowing the block to slow down attacks and set up Heidi Devers to be ridiculously good in the back row.
“Having five kids who have libero experience in the back makes getting the ball to the ground on us difficult,” Tate observed.
“This weekend was a collective effort,” he added. “All 12 players contributed to our success, with everyone playing a role in at least one important match throughout the weekend.”
OT J 17 John qualified third, becoming the first Jacksonville team from the OT satellite to qualify in Open. This team formed when they were eighth graders, but got on my radar one year later, because of the huge fall seasons setter Jessica Shattles and MB Zeta Washington had as freshmen. I’ve been following this team, which also features veterans Grace Albaugh (OH), Allison Cavanaugh (RS), Sydney Lewis (libero) and Vivi Vasquez (DS) ever since.
OT had a terrific showing at Triple Crown, going 6-2 and tying for third, and was ready to show off its stuff in Philly.
The bid happened because the team passed and played solid defense all weekend, and its blocking started becoming impactful. Lewis, Vasquez and Shattles were defensive standouts, while Washington dominated the net, with help from Albaugh, Cavanaugh and Maddie Peterson.
Head coach John Goings praised everyone for this achievement, from the club owner to his assistants, but he reserved the most praise for his players.
“These girls never stopped working out, coming to open gyms, getting private lessons and, most of all, they held each other accountable to come in the gym and work together,” he said. “To say they kept me in the gym all summer is an understatement. When the official season came around, we set goals for the team. Not my goals; their own for the team! They have lived by them at each tournament. After each tournament, we reviewed our tape and went back to work on those elements at practice and have just kept improving as a team.”
• In Salt Lake City, three teams each punched Open tickets in the 17s, 16s and 15s.
In 17 Open, Club V 17 Ren Reed, Alamo 17 Premier and AZ Revolution 17 Premier all qualified.
It’s funny: when I think of the current junior class, OH Jordyn Harvey, MB Hannah Wittingstall and OH Kendal Murphy are three of the top five talents that come to mind. All three were on qualifying teams this weekend at the Showdown.
In the 32-team field, the eight that reached the two, four-team Gold pools were all formidable. They all played well and like teams hungry for bids.
In Pool 1, four of the six matches went the full thee sets. The first two required extra points in the third sets to determine winners. Coast 17-1 got by Idaho Crush 17 Bower and Club V squeezed by AZ Revolution. Eventually, with ID Crush sitting at 0-3 (two losses in three sets), the other three teams were all 2-1. Coast was eliminated on set percentage, after needing three sets to beat Club V. A two-set win would have eliminated Club V. Instead, Club V ended up winning the pool over Revolution on points percentage.
In Pool 2, Alamo went 3-0 to take the pool, but was extended to three sets twice. Sunshine 17 LA, Madfrog 17’s National Green and Colorado Juniors 17Kevin all went 1-2, with CJ getting the chance to play for a bid based on set percentage. Sunshine, playing shorthanded, had a chance to win the pool and a bid in its final match versus Alamo, but fell, 15-11 in the third, and ended up in third place.
The first set of the Club V versus Alamo championship match was everything you would hope for in an Open final. There were several lead changes and tons of emotion. The set went to extras before a big block sealed it for V. Club V rolled in the second set to clinch the title.
Harvey, her little sis, Taylor Harvey; and Club V’s libero, Kambree Rodriguez, were among the many Club V standouts.
Alamo went 9-0 before falling in the championship match, showing the kind of mental toughness that coach Scott Mattera has been preaching.
“I’m really proud of the way our kids performed this weekend,” said Mattera. “We’ve shown flashes, as evidenced by our win over Drive Nation at the Tour of Texas finals, but keeping an even keel and showing consistency with what we are doing is definitely a work in progress. This has been a group that has seen great results in previous years, so I’m more than a little grateful that they have bought in to all of the new stuff we are asking them to do and the different style we are asking them to play. I’m so excited to see where we can be by the end of the season!”
Mattera said that Alamo qualified because it served exceptionally and took risks behind the service line to try to keep up with all the talent at this age level.
“Rylee Busse had an incredible weekend from the serve line and really sparked a lot of our separating runs!” Mattera said.
Defense and passing, led by libero Alyssa Manitzas (Notre Dame); also keyed Alamo’s success. Finally, Alamo showed a lot of offensive balance.
“Iowa State commit Nayeli Gonzalez was a force in system/out of system, from outside, right side, back row and even up the middle on crossing plays,” Mattera explained. “But we were able to get great contributions from our other hitters as well, highlighted by our slide connection with SMU commit Hannah Whittingstall. Purdue commit Taylor Anderson had her best weekend of the year by making bolder decisions and showing some very savvy attacks.”
AZ Revolution checked in third to get the final bid. Carl DeFriez’ team lost that 19-17 marathon Game 3 to Club V — “One of the most intense three-set matches I’ve ever coached, DeFriez said — making every match thereafter a must win. Revolution came through, beating Coast, ID Crush and Colorado Juniors to qualify.
“I think we fought really hard all weekend and stayed unified as a team,” DeFriez said. “The team never gave up or got frustrated and battled through a lot of three-set matches to keep us on track. It was definitely not the typical path to qualification: we finished second in all three of our pools. We knew that despite losing a couple of close matches to some really good teams (Sunshine and Club V), there was still a really good path for us to qualify, so we never gave up and kept battling. I’m really proud of this team and look forward to continuing our journey this season.”
• The Salt Lake City Showdown was the first National Qualifier for 16s and 15s. In the 16s, Colorado Juniors 16 Sherri, Club V 16 Ren Wayne and Coast 16-1 battled through a brutal 32-team qualifier to earn bids. Colorado Juniors finished 10-0 and was the clear class of the field this past weekend. No other team left SLC with fewer than two losses.
Juniors’ 10-0 weekend included just one dropped set.
“We had a number of people step up in big ways all weekend,” noted coach Sherri Hawkins. “It was truly a team win, which I think is one thing that sets this team apart from others. Teams cannot focus on just one hitter, as we have someone able to attack from literally anywhere on the court. For our size, we also have outstanding back row defense, led by one of the best liberos in the country for her 2024 class.”
Hawkins said the team reassessed itself after the Triple Crown NIT, where it went 4-3 with a couple of close losses.
“We analyzed what happened in those losses, I spoke with a few of my close coaching mentors, and our team went to work to try to solve some of our issues in preparation for the SLC Showdown,” Hawkins explained. “There were a few timeouts during the weekend in which I reminded the team about some of the things we worked on, sent them out on their way, and we were able to push through to the end. We were without our normal assistant coach but Sarah Reilly, one of our 14’s coaches, stepped in to help us all weekend. In the end, we had the support of all of the rest of our CJ teams and parents cheering us on!”
Among the players who stood out on the weekend were S/OH Izzy Starck and libero Ella Vogel.
Club V, which placed second, is a team I watched quite a bit at Triple Crown. This team is super athletic and so fun to watch. Led by 6-2 MB Zoey Burgess, it is one team I want to watch more and more!
Club V was rolling right along, with only a Day 2 loss to Colorado Juniors to fret over until the last match of Gold Pool play. The team was 2-0 at that point and facing a Coast team desperate to win to keep its bid hopes alive. Coast dominated in two sets to go to 2-1.
The last match of pool play, between Mizuno Long Beach 16 Rockstar and OT 16 J Will, would determine everything.
An OT win would send Coast to the finals and a Long Beach win would send Club V to the finals. Both Club V and Coast were watching intensely.
Long Beach, playing clean, dominated the first set. OT took the second, thanks to some incredible defensive plays at the end. The third set was tied at 13-13 when Long Beach got a huge block and ace to win, sending Club V to the finals with a bid in hand. Colorado Juniors won in two again.
Coast did not lament the missed opportunity to be in the championship match. Rodrigo Suelotto’s team swept past Arizona Storm Elite 16 Thunder in the third-place match to capture the final bid.
Suelotto said that the emphasis the past few weeks for his team has been “mental skills” and “team culture.”
“I have no doubt that this was vital to our success,” he said.
The goals, he explained, were to support teammates no matter what and to remember that “All that matters is the next ball.”
“This helped us a lot to bounce back after two tough losses,” he added.
Because “unity” was the team mantra, Suelotto was reluctant to name individual standouts. But OH Jaidyn Jager was so good that it was hard not to mention the freshman.
“She was extremely efficient offensively, great in serve-receive, served aggressively, and most important, was a great leader on the court,” Suelotto said.
Suelotto did mention another player, Charli Sutphen, who was instrumental to the team’s success.
“Charli Sutphen had a back injury and she could not play this weekend,” he said. “However, she did an outstanding job as a ‘team culture guardian’ and assistant coach. She did it all! Stats, scouting reports, supporting kids before, during, and after matches, she helped me with schedule, and much more. Her contribution on and off the court was crucial to our success.”
• The first three 15 Open bids of 2022 went to Arizona Storm 15 Thunder, Mizuno Long Beach 15 Rockstar C and Austin Skyline 15 Royal.
Storm, the reigning age group USAV national champion, went 10-0 over three days to capture the title.
“I truly felt this past weekend was a total team effort,” said coach Jamie Rolfes. “I couldn’t be more proud of each and every one of these girls! During the weeks leading up to SLC we had three players recovering from concussions. Players stepped up when needed and we were able to get it done. I think we did a fantastic job pursuing balls and just played with a lot of ‘grit.’”
OH Teraya Sigler was solid at both the net and in the back row for Storm. In the middle McKenna Rumple had a phenomenal weekend of blocking, while Kenna Cogill took care of business offensively. Devyn Weist had some clutch moments both offensively and defensively.
Long Beach, with 6-4 MB Kalyssa Blackshear dominant, went undefeated until the final to take home the second bid.
Austin Skyline had a bit of tougher path, but punched its ticket just the same. Jenny Luke’s team went 2-1 on the first day, losing to Excel 15 National Red, 15-13 in the third. The team lost to Long Beach on Day 2 and to Storm in the Gold Pool. To win a bid, it would need to win the third-place match again … Excel.
Excel is a well-trained team made up of competitive athletes. They have crafty attackers; meaning revenge was going to be a tall order for Skyline.
“We managed to play extremely well in the Bronze match,” Luke said.
Austin Skyline won, 25-21, 25-12.
“Our team passed so well in serve receive and we were able to establish our middles early and keep them involved throughout the final match,” Luke said.
Libero Callie Krueger passing a 2.83 on 11 pass attempts and DS Mallory Wey passed a 2.25 and had some incredible digs. This allowed for an outstanding performance by MB Amelia Robinson, who hit .400; and OHs Lily Davis and Riley Certain, who hit .333 and .250, respectively. MB Eloise Roffers helped out with a 10-point service run and setters Jacy Carrejo and Coral Verico ran the offense to perfection.
During the tournament, 6-4 RS Addison Gaido used her dominant serve to score points in bunches for the team and hit nearly .400. DS Adali Santos contributed some amazing digs.Luke shared more about her team. It is comprised of 10 athletes, three of whom play defense.
“The beauty of 10 athletes means we have to play through our errors and find a way to produce or manage our game without depth in any position except for defense. As a team we focus on the serve and pass game, as well as the out-of-system game in practice. We know we can win at a high level as long as we can out serve and pass our opponents and dominate the out-of-system game.”
“We allow our attackers to work through tempos and connections during live play at almost every practice,” Luke added. “We are big believers in live play every practice so we can see if our training is transferring to live play.”
“We have a team made up of very unselfish athletes and their families who support the staff and all members of the team regardless of playtime. The number one reason for our success is our team culture and the ability to have a growth mindset from every match we play with total support from all. It sure helps to have the talent we have, but there is no way we could have qualified if we didn’t have the support and commitment we have to growing and learning the game and the commitment to one another as teammates.”
• I’ll use my final Dot to tell you about three completely independent things.
For the second year in a row, Florida Gulfside 18U Prime received a bid to 18s Nationals. This year’s version received the first-ever Liberty bid offered at the NEQ.
Last year’s 18s won a National bid and finished T-3 at Junior Nationals in Columbus.
Coaching club volleyball since 2017, Jeff Motluck will be taking his first team to Nationals. The team went 8-0 (16-1 in sets) to win the event, and was led by setter Brayden Hipp, a Tulsa commit. Albany commit OH Cassidy Bloom, Ferris State commit RS Logyn Geren, Florida Tech commit MB Hope Demerest and MB Kendyl Bryson, OH Kelly Franklin, and libero Bella Velazquez all were instrumental to team success.
Nancy Dorsey, a multi-time national high school championship-winning head coach and someone who does it the right way, is coaching her daughter’s 12s team for Pohaku. Her team played at MEQ in St. Louis this past weekend. She witnessed upsetting behavior, not from a parent or player, but a coach, and had to jump on Facebook to share:
“I’ve watched, coached and played a lot of volleyball in my life but I’ve never seen a more upsetting thing in all my years. I do believe there are A LOT of problems with youth sports (one day I’ll write that book too) but among them is this … this weekend I saw a coach scream at, belittle and purposely embarrass her 11- and 12-year-old girls. She did so much yelling refs from other courts came over to our court to tell our ref to card her for her behavior. I have never been more uncomfortable or more sad watching these little girls be abused by this woman and I witnessed it firsthand because I reffed 2 of their matches. Her behavior literally kept me up at night and at times during the day brought me to tears.
“So, here are my thoughts … if you are a coach and you feel the need to do any of these things to little kids … please check yourself and leave the game because your presence is going to make these kids all leave instead. Also, get an actual grip. These are little girls, not women, though I’d argue her behavior isn’t appropriate at ANY level.
“If you are a parent and someone treats your kid or any kid for that matter this way, take them and exit stage left … immediately. I actually heard her yell at one of them ‘what the hell are you doing, don’t ever set her.’ While the ‘her’ (an 11-year-old girl I might add) she was referring to and all of her teammates listened in. If anyone yelled at one of my kids the way this woman did ALL weekend we’d hit the road and never return. The winning at all costs mentality is extremely problematic, especially at such a developmental stage of the game. I talked to several other coaches who witnessed this woman coach and all of them plan to report her behavior, as any responsible adult who watched that should do.
“In the two games I reffed that she coached in I did not one time hear her say anything positive or encouraging to one of these young ladies. Not one time. Youth sports should be about learning the game, learning how to compete, having fun and developing confidence. Everyone develops at a different pace, especially at this age. If you only care about your own ego and winning STOP coaching little human beings. Please. I cannot watch that ever again.”
Lastly, yesterday, Rick and Cheryl Butler announced Monday that they will retire from the vaunted Sports Performance club at the conclusion of the 2022 season after 41 years in the business.
Until next time …