AZ Sky is the 18 National National Champion

This is “Dots,” VolleyballMag’s weekly look at 10 things in club volleyball, past or present, that interest me and hopefully will interest you. Look for Dots through Junior Nationals this summer.

• Junior OH Suli Davis delivered the final swing on Sunday, completing top-seeded TAV 18 Black’s domination of the 48-team 18 Open division at USA Volleyball’s18s Junior Nationals in Baltimore. The Dallas-area squad lost only two sets over three days and swept a very strong 1st Alliance 18 Gold team in the championship match.

1st Alliance played with a different roster and still took second in 18 Open

The national championship completed a championship season for 18 Black, which won three national qualifiers and finished second, barely, at the Triple Crown NIT, while losing just two matches all season long.

• At the start of the club season, after learning what TAV’s roster looked like, I thought that 18 Black would be pretty much unstoppable. With three incredible pins in Davis, Macaria Spears and Jadyn Livings, a National Team-level middle in Favor Anyanwu and great complementary pieces, like libero Gillian Pitts and setter Carson Eickenloff, this was a roster built for prolific winning.

My first impression of the team, however, was very different. It was the first match at Triple Crown, and TAV was going through the motions versus KC Power 18 Black. The team lacked fire. They played like they knew how good they were and just expected to win.

Granted, this was a 7:30 a.m. match, but I wondered whether I’d misjudged this team.

It turns out that my first thought was the correct one. Not only did TAV outlast KC Power in three that morning, it also beat Munciana 18 Samurai, Triangle 18 Black and Club V 18 Ren Reed at Triple Crown to make the final, where it played hard, and well, in a 24-26, 25-23, 17-15 loss to a Coast 18-1 team playing at the top of its game.

As the season progressed, TAV played better and better, capped by successive weekends late in March where Carlos Ramos’ team went 10-0 to win both Music City and Red Rock Rave.

TAV 18 Black wore the favorite’s cloak like a champion

• TAV 18 Black came to Baltimore as the No. 1 seed and played like it from the start.

“The girls showed up and performed at a high level,” Ramos noted.

18 Black dominated pool play without dropping a set. The team passed well, put up a big block and scored both in and out of system. That’s a formula for domination, especially when you have four of the best scorers in the country on your roster.

The team had two hiccups on the way to the championship match. On Saturday night, seven hours after polishing off a 5-0 pool, TAV had to take on tough Club V in a “win or go home” match versus Club V.

“One of the hardest things in coaching at these events is leaving the gym and having to come back to play again,” Ramos explained. “It’s something we don’t do all year, so we aren’t prepared to take a seven-hour break and come back and play the biggest match of the event at that point.”

After splitting the first two sets, a strong start in Game 3 helped TAV move on to the eight-team Gold Bracket. The first match Sunday morning at 8 a.m. was against AZ Revolution 18 Premier, the team 18 Black swept, 20 and 17, in the finals at Red Rock Rave.

This one would play out differently.

Ramos said that his girls were loose and feeling good vibes walking into the gym Sunday morning but the mood quickly shifted when AZ Rev took it to 18 Black in Game 1. Ramos said that was the worst his team played all tournament long.

“After Set 1, I got on them about we have to be a team and play disciplined and not forget about the little things that have to be done to succeed at that point of the tournament,” Ramos explained.

Whatever he said worked, because TAV won the final two sets, 25-15, 15-9, to move on to the semifinals versus athletic and physical A5 18-Marc. TAV prevailed in two.

“But there’s something about when we play them that we step up and play very efficient,” Ramos said.

While AZ Rev and A5 were familiar foes, 1st Alliance, the team TAV would face in the final, was not, especially with all of the talented faces called up from younger teams to take the place of girls missing due to prom. Ramos admitted to unease, but he also had supreme confidence in his team.

“At that point it was about us,” Ramos explained. “We do us well and efficient we are tough to beat.”

TAV fought off a set point against in the first to win, 27-25, then controlled the second set all the way to the title.

First set we had the lead all the way up to 24-24 and they took their first lead 24-25 but I had one time out and called a play and we got back to tie it 25-25 and didn’t look back won 27-25. Second set we were in control and ended up winning 25-22.

“I can’t say enough of our girls but Jadyn Livings, Favor Anyanwu, Suli Davis and Macaria Spears are four of the top players in the country,” Ramos said. “Having all four on one team made this year so special.”

• 1st Alliance 18 Gold was undefeated heading to the championship match. Coach Meghan Keck’s team had earned its way to the title tilt with wins over Samurai (16-14 in the third after trailing 14-11), Coast (23-25, 27-25, 15-13) and KC Power, following a 5-0 showing as the top seed in Pool 6.

1st Alliance came to Baltimore without players who stayed home in Chicago to attend prom, but with three underclassmen, OH Abby Vander Wal, libero Aniya Warren and MB Lynney Tarnow, who were among the best nationally at their positions.

“USAV 18s Nationals always falls on several of our local high schools’ prom weekend,” Keck explained. “The club’s philosophy has always been that players can miss an event for Senior Prom. We knew in December before our season began that four of the players on our roster had a prom conflict this weekend and wanted to attend their Senior Prom. We supported that decision. A few of our younger players in the club were happy to try and help our remaining seniors (who could attend Nationals) finish out their club career on a positive note.”

Because of limited prep time with this group, 1st Alliance was slow to gel and twice was taken to three sets during pool play. The team found its rhythm in its final pool play match versus AZ Revolution, a sweep, then had just enough to get by always-tough Munciana in the evening challenge match. Strong serving from Warren and key blocking and defense from Vander Wal, Tarnow and setter Calli Kenney fueled the comeback.

The next morning, 1st Alliance played an epic match with Coast that went back and forth. Setters Kenny and Kinsey Smith distributed the ball well in that match, while Kenny, Grace Nelson and Layla Collins came up big for the team in the semifinal win over KC Power.

Keck said that the championship final versus TAV was a fun one.

“The team played hard but, unfortunately, TAV’s size was just a little too much for us to handle,” she added.

Nelson, Kenny and OH Katie Scherer were named to the All-Tournament Team.

“They provided great leadership and strong play for the team throughout the entire weekend,” Keck said.

• KC Power and A5 both made the podium with third-place finishes, which completed a great tournament for both teams.

Power, the second overall seed, played like it in a 7-0 start before succumbing to 1st Alliance in the semifinals.

“I am so filled with joy on how my team performed,” said KC Power coach Dave Johnson. “We aren’t the biggest team so we really lean on our serve and pass game.  It was spectacular this weekend. Mya Bolton, Rachel Van Gorp, Alea Goolsby and Jill Huckabey were dialed in all weekend.  Janelle Green did her thing getting our middles (Julia Headley, Zoe McDonald, CyRae Campbell) in good situations.

“I am so excited for the future of this group as they head off to college and beyond. They really are special people and ball players.”


A5 made the podium thanks to spirited wins in the Challenge phase over Team Pineapple 18 Black and Milwaukee Sting 18 Gold and an impressive quarterfinal sweep over MN Select 18-1, which was 5-1 at the time.

A5’s surge followed a 3-2 pool where the Atlanta-area squad lost to FC Elite 18 Elite and KC Power in close matches.

Milwaukee Sting 16 Gold earned a bid by placing second at NEQ

“I felt that we could get on the podium and we did just that,” said A5’s Marc Jones. “We didn’t let an early loss to FC Elite, which is a solid team, get us down but used that as motivation to push us and play even harder. After pool play was over we made a couple of player switches which really benefited us going forward. We moved Ellie Siskin from the right side to outside and she played some amazing defense for us as well as being a strong blocker on the left side. We moved Brooke Crummel from middle to RS, which gave us a little bigger block on the right to complement our other right side big blocker, Jaya MooreAubrey Wilson came off the bench in the middle and stepped up her game offensively. Our setters, Cooper Abney and Isa Boyd, have been solid all year defensively, running our offense and also being offensive-minded setters themselves. Hannah Benjamin played solid all around volleyball for us on the outside and back row with her defense. Courtney Graham, our middle, continued to be stellar at the net. Her blocking was consistent and she also had some huge one-on-one blocks all tournament to go along with her offense, where she hit everything from a 3 to slide effectively all tournament. Our two liberos, Maddie Burrough and Taylor Zimmerman, provided the defensive spark we need all weekend and made some stellar digs to keep us in some long rallies.

“This was truly an all-team success as everyone on the team contributed sometime during the tournament. For me it is amazing to see this team finish their club careers on the podium and go out with such a successful season. This is one of my all-time favorite teams that I have coached.”

Tri-State competed in Baltimore like it has all year: Gamely and with a lot of success

• Tri-State Elite 18 Blue joined Coast, AZ Rev and MN Select in finishing one win from a medal.

Tri-State was ousted by low-error KC Power in a quarterfinal.

“KC Power played very clean with low errors, making it hard for us to get control of the match,” noted Tri-State coach Matt Long. “We had a chance in Game 1 but couldn’t finish a very solid KC Power team off. Their high-powered offense and superb defense got us in the end.”

Maria Drapp ran an amazing offense all weekend and proved she can play with best,” Long continued. “Molly Dorger finished her volleyball career with a solid performance all three days offensively and defensively. Kelsey Niesen was on fire in the back row, seamlessly keeping our team in system both in serve-receive and with big defensive digs. Addy Brus was solid all weekend hitting outside. She came up big defensively, getting some amazing digs up to keep us in the game.”


Other teams that showed well included defending age group national champion SCVC 18 RoxySan Gabriel Elite 18 RoShamBoRockwood Thunder 18 Elite, Dallas Skyline 18 RoyalMetro 18 Travel and Milwaukee Sting 18 Gold.

Metro went 6-3 despite being down its libero on Day 2. The team defeated both Dallas Skyline and Sting on Day 3 to tie for ninth overall.

“Proud of my team stepping up and winning multiple high level matches,” said coach Silvia Johnson.


Sting won its first four matches to clinch advancement from pool play, but lost its final three matches, all close, to tie for 13th.

“We fell short of our goal this weekend, falling in a tough three-set match vs. a great A5 group in our challenge match,” noted coach Scott Blackmon. “I really want to publicly acknowledge the selflessness and epitome of team player in one of our setters, Emily Bruss (NDSU bound). When Mel [Johnson]went down with a blown knee a month ago, we obviously had to make some adjustments. We don’t have a huge roster. Ultimately the adjustments that worked best for the team more or less took her completely out of her position and for two rotations she hit and played defense on the left. At no time did she complain about it. At no time did she ever hang her head about it and give bad body language. To top it off, she went down with an ankle tweak on day one. It hurt and she battled through it. She did everything she could for her team. She was and is an absolute fighter. I haven’t had many kids that would accept a change in roles so quickly, no questions asked, let alone act like it’s another day at the office. She was positive and present for her teammates 100% of the time and I couldn’t be more proud of how she handled herself.”


City 18 Gold went 5-3 and finished among the top 20 despite a scary incident on Day 2 when setter Kate Duffey and OH/DS Mila Mijailovic both split their faces open while trying to dig a ball right back. Both had to go to the ER, got stitched up and were cleared to play on Sunday, when City went 2-0. Warriors!

Aspire played well to take 18 American

• AZ Sky 18 Gold (18 National), A5 18-2 Boba (18 USA), VVA 18-1 (18 Liberty), Aspire 18 Black (18 American) and C1VB 18-1 Heather (18 Freedom) won club division championships.

Sky went 9-0, dropping just four sets, to win as the No. 5 overall seed. The second best 18s team in Arizona all season, the team first earned a USA bid in Chicago at Windy City, then upgraded to National by winning the Arizona Region qualifying tournament.

In Baltimore, a three-set win to open Friday pool play was a good reminder that there would be qualify teams in the field. The team played well after that, needed to come from behind to down a good Oklahoma Peak Performance team in a Challenge match and overcame a 25-8 Game 2 loss to Elevation 18 Toth in the finals to win in three. OH Anne Brauckmiller was the team MVP, with setter Vivian Samaniego and MB Talea Mitchell also playing with distinction.

“The year was incredibly successful as we had team chemistry and parent buy in from the beginning of the season through the national tournament,” said director Julia Larish.


Another Arizona team, Aspire, won 18 American with a 10-0 showing that included just one dropped set first thing Friday morning.

This is a team that played Open at qualifiers all season and is well rounded. Aspire was led by tournament MVP Maggie Beauer (Pepperdine), who was a force all weekend. Another OH, Jadyn Orava, also stepped up with big kills in key moments. Setter Julia Owens did a nice job running the offense. Middles Delaney Gregg and Zoe Leonard supplied big blocks. RS Tana Howard made the All-Tournament Team for her big blocks and key kills. Finally, the defense, anchored by libero Jenna Werbelow and sophomore DS Lauren Watson, contributed with notable defensive plays.

• The final 16 Open qualifier of the season took place at NEQ in Philly.

TAV 16 Black won its second qualifier in as many weeks, while Milwaukee Sting 16 Gold, Jupier Elite 16E and Metro 16 Travel claimed the Open bids.

“What can I say? Another fantastic team effort in Philly!” exclaimed TAV coach Paul Baxter.  “The girls responded once again after a short week coming off of Lone Star. I wasn’t sure what to expect after such a solid effort at home, but they executed all weekend and really stepped up the level once again.”

TAV got strong play from the entire roster and hit over .320 as a team, with Layla Austin and Kylie Kleckner leading the offensive output. Kinsley Young and Brooklyn Bailey were very efficient attacking from the middle all weekend and Caroline Huseman did a very nice job stepping in on the right side and providing a consistent spark from the service line.

In case you’re counting, that’s three Gold Balls in three qualifiers this year for 16 Black against some of the nation’s top teams.

“The girls deserve it for all the consistent quality work they put into their game,” Baxter said. “The crazy part about it all is we still have a ton of growth ahead for each of the girls. We are going to get back into the gym, get after it, and be ready for the next challenge!”


Sting earned its bid with a second-place finish. Sam Derynda’s team started the event 6-0, including a Gold Pool win on Day 3 versus an NKYVC team it had twice before lost to in third sets. The dominating win, keyed by defense from DS Cassie Bruns and libero Siena MacCudden; helped Sting overcome a subsequent three-set loss to Academy 16 National. NKYVC helped out by beating Academy to clinch first for Sting in a three-way tie at 1-1. That put the Milwaukee squad into the semifinal and clinched its Open bid

Sting, relaxed after achieving its pre-season qualification goal, swept past Metro to make the final, behind another strong effort from RS Allie Beers. The team ran out of steam in the final against TAV.

“Overall we were happy with the performance,” Derynda said. “Showing up stronger against TAV would have been a much more fun match, as we did face them at NLQ also (losing in 3 sets). However, it did not go that way.”

Beers ended the weekend with a team-high 88 kills while hitting .372. MacCudden led the team in digs and passer rating and was a steady presence on the court. OH Marlee Sivak had the second highest kill total and led Sting in aces.


Jupiter Elite knew that it had a good team when the roster was assembled last fall. But was it a good team for Florida or one that could compete nationally? It turned out to be the latter as the coastal team became the first in club history to qualify in the Open division.

Jupiter Elite’s Open bid is the first in club history

Qualifying was hardly easy for Jack Mitchell’s team. Academic testing kept a couple of starters off the court on Day 1. Jupiter Elite went 1-2 and was lucky to advance second in a three-way tie.

“Upon the return of the missing players, on Day 2 the girls were on a mission,” Mitchell explained. “They won all three matches in two-set sweeps. This set us up for a possibility to win a bid on the last day. The final day didn’t come easy, as both of our pool play matches went to three sets. We were led offensively by our two outsides. Gabriella Brodner and Ava Castro. Our team setter, Jillian McCarthy, helped distribute the offense as well as throwing in occasional second contact attacks. What gave us the winning edge was our libero Macy McAmis, who commanded the back row defense and serve receive, allowing us to have a great side out percentage as well as conversion opportunities with digs. All players on the team added contributions to the win, whether it was from the service line, at the net blocking or just overall positivity and confidence in one another.

“This weekend was a wave of emotion and was the definition of overcoming adversity.”


Metro collected the final bid in the toughest way possible. Making Gold in its third consecutive qualifier, the D.C. squad faced a three-team Gold pool with two previously-qualified Open teams. A5 16 Gabe won the first match over Colorado Juniors 16Kaleena in a barn burner, then CJ did likewise to Metro. Metro not only needed to win over A5 to secure a bid; it needed to sweep.

It did just that, claiming a bid in the last possible match to do so!

Metro’s attack was powered by Caydence Doolan, Morgan Williams and Nadiya Johnson, who had 60, 55 and 47 kills, respectively.


A5 16-2 Stephen didn’t bid in 16 Open at NEQ, but went 5-3 and finished 13th out of 48 teams.

A5 16-2 proved that it could compete in an Open-level event

“That may not seem very special, but we were the only 2s team in the field, and our 3 losses in the tournament were to our own 1s team (16-Gabe) and both teams who made the finals: TAV 16 Black and MKE Sting 16 Gold,” said coach Stephen Sansing.

A5 16-2 was led by OHs Paisley Gillespie and Laila Amos, as well as setter Jahan Lalli.

“However, our entire team stepped up and played amazing, with big blocks from our middles and Kaylee Snyder and Piper Duckworth combining for great swings from the right side,” Sansing said. “Our liberos, Scarlett Xiong and Olivia Philpot, provided great defense all weekend. We have ‘triple qualified’ in 16 USA, and will compete there at Nationals, but it was great competition coming to Philadelphia and seeing that we could hang at the Open level.”

• In Reno, the 20-team 15 Open division at Far Westerns saw previously-qualified Vision 15 Gold win its first qualifier of the season, with Open bids going to City 15 GoldForza1 North 15 ONE and Peak VA 15 Black Bryar.

Forza1 North qualified 15 Open at Far Westerns

“It was a good weekend!” exclaimed Vision coach Shawn Palmer  “We were 9-0, and really showed great consistency and maturity.  We had to come from behind in a lot of those wins, and the kids were able to remain calm and confident in big moments.  I really think that’s what separated us from the other good teams – we didn’t panic or make a lot of errors under the pressure.”

The team was led offensively by OH McKenna McIntosh. Libero Kaitlyn Vogel missed day 1 due to illness, but recovered to pass 2.35 on Saturday and Sunday. The team also had really effective serving from setter Kiley McGibben and DS Elina Yin.

“We’ve really shown a lot of improvement over the season as a team and we’re excited for JNCs!” Palmer said.


City qualified despite going 0-2 in its initial three-team pool (albeit in heartbreaking fashion, by 16-14 and 20-18 in the third scores). The team knew it could still stay alive with a crossover win over Absolute 15 Black, something it accomplished in three sets.

On Day 2, City again went 1-2, but benefited from a head-to-head sweep of SCVC 15 Roxy to finish second overall and clinch an Open bid. Standouts were OHs Eva Jeffries and Halle Bryce, setter Piper Chylinski and defenders Ella Garner and Maya Harris.


Forza1 North went into the tournament knowing it had a great chance at qualifying with the field already having four teams that had previously qualified.

“We already had a good amount of wins against the field at Far Westerns as well, so confidence was running pretty high,” said coach Austin Meador. “Our team had been practicing without both of our starting setters due to injuries in the two weeks leading up to Far Western, but got the green light for both players at our last practice. That was a nice boost for the girls heading into the weekend.”

Both setters, Marley Robinson and Chloe Taylor, played well despite limited reps heading into the tournament.

Sanai Severloh [MB] really stepped up her play on the last day, which helped secure us a 3rd place finish at the event,” Meador said. “A key moment for us was our Coast match on Day 2, which essentially decided the bid for our group. The scores were very tight, 25‑21,25‑27,22‑20, to clinch the win and inevitably the bid later in the day. We went into the match telling the girls that this match would be for the bid, even though it was the first match of Day 2. It was a fun match, our team really stepped up late in the 3rd with a couple of key swings from Ryah Brock and Lauren Furnald to seal the match.”

• With qualifiers now over, look for At-Large teams to be announced shortly in the 17 Open, 16 Open and 15 Open divisions. This year, 17 and 16 Open has three openings to complete the 36-team fields. 15 Open has five.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here