Daily Dots (April 2, 2021): Club or high school volleyball factoids, notions and ideas to impress your friends (or not)
• We put the 18s Red Rock Rave in our spotlight today.
For many years, the Southern California Volleyball Association has made the trip to the desert for the Las Vegas Classic. A few years ago, the SCVA National Qualifier, held in Anaheim and/or Los Angeles, rebranded and also moved to Vegas. The 167 teams that convened last weekend in Sin City to play 18 Open, USA and American had the opportunity to visit Hoover Dam and pose with the “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada” sign. But buffet dining, a Las Vegas staple? That has gone the way of the dinosaur. Thanks, COVID!
• Adversity G18 Adidas lived up to its club name by besting the 30-team field to win the 18 Open division at Red Rock and capture its second qualifier in as many weeks. The win, just seven days after taking MEQ in Louisville, came without a stitch of practice.
“With the girls currently playing high school and club at the same time, the team was unable to get any practice in heading into Red Rock; so we knew accomplishing the goal of winning would be tough,” assistant coach Melissa Masterson said. “The team faced some challenges on the weekend, such as losing a match to our 18 Purple team on Day 2. But the team responded well, refocused and battled to win some big matches.”
“Winning back-to-back qualifiers in a week is tough,” head coach Marco Quintana added. “It requires tremendous focus and vision. The team showed tremendous perseverance and focus in achieving the win. We overcame a tough Day 2 and came back with a renewed energy and focus on the prize.”
Adversity’s loss to its 18 Purple team to open Day 2 put its back to the wall, but the team, led by Rachel Muisenga, Gigi Barr and Amanda Rice, swept its final two matches to advance, then opened Gold pool play that evening against Mizuno Long Beach 18 Rockstar.
“The team came into that match with great energy,” Quintana said. “Every member of the team gave it everything they had. That was a turning point in the tournament.”
The next morning, facing another qualifier champion, MAVS KC 18-1, Adversity pulled off a three-set win, it’s second in three attempts this season in what has turned into a nice rivalry. After that, two sweeps were all the remained between the team and the title.
• MAVS KC finished Red Rock in third place, one behind OT 18 O Felix, which lost to Adversity in the finals for the second straight week. That allowed trickling of bids down to six places, with A4 18 Joaco, WD Nation 18 Adidas and Adversity Adidas 18 Purple snagging them.
I don’t know, if you asked A4 coach/director Joaquin Acosta whether he was surprised at this team’s performance in Vegas, what he would say. A4, which had played only regionally before the qualifier, had placed seventh and 13th in the Premier Volleyball League in its last two efforts, not exactly a formula to qualify in a strong field. But A4, seeded 14th to start, took over the No. 3 seed with a first day sweep of OT, and followed that up with a 3-0 second day, which included a tense win over qualified East Valley Juniors 18N1 Tempe. A4 tacked on two match wins the final day but really only needed one, given the good work it did over the tourney’s first two days.
“Our team is very good playing out of system,” Acosta said.
• Louisiana’s WD Nation 18 Adidas third qualifier of the year did not start well. The team was uncomfortable playing with masks on for the first time all year and at elevation no less. Danny Tullis’ squad went 1-1 in its three-team pool, then needed three sets to overcome Omni 18-1 in a crossover. A loss there would have eliminated WD from bid contention on Day 1 for the second straight qualifier.
WD opened Day 2 with a loss to A4, but rebounded to beat two Arizona teams to make it to Gold, including EVJ.
“We played great defense against AZ EVJ and got a big confidence building win,” Tullis said.
WD swept Mizuno Long Beach Monday morning in Gold pool play, which put it into the top six, good enough to secure the bid over a strange weekend in which it lost as many sets as it won.
“It was very exciting and a great accomplishment for my girls,” Tullis said.
“All weekend the consistent ball control, from outsides Taylor Pierce and Cicily Hidalgo, libero Maddie Martin, DS Lexi Gonzalez, and setter Gracie Duplechein, was key in our success,” Tullis added. “We got some crucial net points from India Bennett and Elise Doomes also to turn the tide. Rachel Hartmann continued to impress. She is an undersized middle who doesn’t play incredibly high, but is so intellectual and has a cannon for an arm. She is one of the only players I have had that not only can play every position on the court, but actually has. For this team alone she has played every front row position, as well as setter and libero.
• One week before Red Rock, Adversity 18 Purple was at MEQ with only seven athletes. The team did well, going 5-3 overall, made it to the Gold pools and tied for ninth. Coming into this weekend, head coach Nathan Erdal had no concerns about the capability of his team.
“The question was, ‘Is the team able to handle the physical and mental toll an Open Qualifier can put on a team?’ ” he queried. “At these Open-level qualifiers nothing is guaranteed. With only eight healthy players going into Red Rock, we expected each match to be a grind.”
And what a grind it was! The team played nine matches over three days and seven went to three sets. Four of those three-set affairs were decided by a scant two points. Sometimes, the margin between qualifying and being eliminated early can be just two points. The team showed true grit by fighting, time and again, through close match after close match.
Surprisingly, the only two-set win for 18 Purple all tourney long came against Adversity 18 Adidas, the eventual champs. Needless to say, that gave 18 Purple a huge boost.
“Starting off beating our own 18 Adidas in two sets sparked us to have a very successful Day 2, going 4-0 on the day,” Erdal said. “It’s never easy playing a team from your own club, especially one that had just won MEQ the weekend prior.”
Great work on the first contact, anchored by libero Milana Mosio, highlighted 18 Purple’s work on Day 1. RS Esma Ajanovic’s strong work against 18 Adidas sparked a strong offensive showing on Day 2, which included a three-set win over Pohaku 18-1 open Gold pool play. It was 18 Purple’s only win in Gold, but was enough to punch that coveted ticket.
• It is safe to say that Vegas Aces 18 UnderArmour felt right at home in the 18 USA division at Red Rock. The local squad played nine and won nine while dropping only two sets to overcome a good, 55-team field.
Head coach Ruben Herrera said that his team was originally slated to play Open, but when his superior starting setter, Caroline Edgeworth, suffered an ankle injury that would prevent her playing, he asked the SCVA to consider moving his team to USA.
“They graciously did and seeded us 43rd overall,” he said. “We were just grateful to have the opportunity.”
“Our goal was to go in to the tournament and serve tough, pass and be relentless on defense,” he added. “Wherever that took us, we’d be ok with it. That thought process seemed to work out just fine in the end!”
Vegas Aces dropped its first set, to Unity 18 Mike, on Day 2 after both teams had already secured spots in the Gold bracket. Its only other dropped set, to Momentous 18-Dan to open the finals, allowed Herrera’s team to cap off the weekend with a winning rally.
“Being at home was the biggest key to our success,” Herrera said. “Instead of going early to the Mandalay Bay and waiting around (COVID protocols) to be let in to the convention center to warm up, we arrived at our own facility a couple of hours early every day and had serve/pass warmup. We then took a break, ate some fruit and relaxed and finally got game dressed into our uniforms and had our official hitting warmup in our own gym.
“We then drove over to Mandalay Bay and were ready to play. Instead of warming up the traditional way in the convention center, we just showed up and played. It was a risk but in my humble opinion it really gave us a true home court advantage.”
The two players Herrera said who had the greatest influence on his team’s win were setter Brooklyn Stone and RS Sophia Parlanti.
“Brooklyn was the backup setter who stepped in for the injured setter and overachieved in my opinion,” he said. “I just wanted her to give us a hittable ball at the beginning of the tournament and, by the end, she was running an offense! Sophia is a very unassuming RS player, but all weekend she took on the other team’s best hitters and consistently disrupted them with her block.
“But more importantly, she was truly unstoppable with her attacks and Brooklyn recognized that and kept setting her. Having that right side threat both blocking and hitting was a crucial reason why we won the gold medal. Reni Ajayi subbed in the back row for Sophia and provided great passing and right back defense.”
“I always expect 6-0 OH Kamry Bailey to be solid and deliver and she did not disappoint,” Herrera continued. “She’s a true six-rotation player who contributed in every aspect of the game to help us win the gold. We also received consistent passing and serving from our libero, Sidra Wohlwend. Our middles, Julianne Carlat and Jen Soha, played a significant role in blocking, which allowed our defense to succeed around them. One of our newcomers to the team, OH Taylor Jefferson, has really come a long way learning and adapting to our culture and style of play and made some really crucial plays at the right times to help us win some tough games.”
• Momentous went 9-0 to get into the final, where it fell to Vegas Aces in three. Dan O’Dell’s team qualified with a semifinal sweep of Coast 18-2. This is a Momentous team led by setter Cassie Smith, OH Mia Jerue and libero Katie Day.
• Coast 18-2 knew going into Red Rock just how important this event was to the team’s fortunes. Despite coming off back to back tournaments between the PVL and a top eight finish at Crossroads, 18-2 had to fight off fatigue and injury if it hoped to achieve its goals.
Five straight sweeps put Halle Aiken’s team in position to get to the Day 3 Gold bracket. The team then faced significant adversity. It got swept in its final pool play match on Day 2, then lost Game 1 in its first Gold bracket match. Coast 18-2 battled back to win two deuce sets, then upended NorCal 18 Black in the quarterfinals and Seal Beach 18 Black in the bid match to punch its ticket.
“With limited depth throughout the tournament, all of the girls on our team really had to step up and understood what they had to do for their team to win,” Aiken said. “One of those players was Gabi Bath from La Jolla High School. Gabi is a setter/DS for our team and, on Day 2, she went out with a sprained ankle. On Day 3, she came in to the NorCal match to DS and let nothing drop on the floor. She also helped us defeat Seal Beach by being our second setter in the 6-2. She inspired the team when we were worn out and made the team believe they were as tough as she was.”
• NIVA 17 BB4, from picturesque Northern Indiana, won the 82-team 18 American event by going 10-0. Yes, this is a 17s team.
“NIVA 17 BB4 was originally signed up for the regular 17s USA Division at the Red Rock Rave and, when that got canceled due to COVID restrictions, asked to play in any 18s division since we already had our travel plans,” head coach Adria Anderson explained.
Behind junior outsides Emma Hickey and Abby Weaver and sophomore setter Macy Hatkevich, NIVA’s first match was its toughest, a 26-24, 23-25, 15-11 win over Rise 18 National. The team continued to win, all the way to the finals. The team that stood between it and the title was – surprise! – Rise 18 National. This time, NIVA took care of matters in two sets, 25-16, 25-11.
“We lost our starting RS last week due to an ankle injury so weren’t quite sure how the new lineup would perform, but we know our core group of kids is solid,” Anderson said. “Our focus was to go get some good competition and exposure. Our team goal was to get to gold and our 10-0 finish definitely exceeded our expectations.”
• My final Dot of the week is a video of a sophomore named Ella Swindle, who has definitely stolen the secret to delivering buttery sets. Watch the ball come out of her hands! The KC Power 16-1 setter reminds me of another Midwest Ella, Ella May Powell, an Arkansan now setting up top 10 University of Washington.