Tawa’s Club Volleyball Dots: News and notes from Bluegrass, Boston and more

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.

• Louisville was the site for the Adidas Bluegrass Tournament last weekend. Hosted by KiVA, the event was HUGE, with 909 teams participating in 33 divisions over TWO DAYS!

The tournament used to be called the “Bluegrass Pre-Qualifier,” as it was held right before USA Volleyball’s National Qualifier season in March and April. After 2007, however, several clubs decided to forgo qualifier attendance and forge their own path through the Junior Volleyball Director’s Association, now known as the “JVA.” KiVA was one such club. Since it wasn’t going to qualifiers, the tournament needed a new name. That’s why “Pre-Qualifier” was dropped from the tournament name in 2013.

• Though Bluegrass no longer has “Pre-Qualifier” in its name, it is still used by many clubs as a warmup for national qualifiers. Indeed, before the Triple Crown NIT formed and brought the best teams, regardless of USAV or JVA status, to one place for a mega event, no tournament had as much diversity as Bluegrass. While the tournament is situated in the Midwest, which is the JVA’s heartland, about half the field each year is comprised of USAV clubs wanting one more premier event before heading out to try to qualify for USA Volleyball’s Junior National Championships.

Indeed, the diversity is represented in the winners of the seven Open divisions, intended for the top teams. JAV clubs — KiVA, Boilers Juniors, Far Out and Sports Performance — claimed the top spot in four of them. USAV Clubs – NKYVC, A5 and Circle City – took top honors in the other three …

Circle City 17

A couple of months back, management at Sports Performance suggested that its flagship 18 Elite team could be one of its all-time best, which is bold talk considering the Chicago-area club’s dominance at this age group over the past two decades. The team returned four starters from last year’s 18 Elite squad, which went 43-3 and placed second in the 18 Open division at the AAU Girls National Championships. And it added standouts like Rice-bound setter Darby Harris, OH Gwen Wolkow (Campbell) and MB Kaya Oxenknecht (New Hampshire) to its returning core.Sunday, SPVB 18 Elite proved its bona fides by winning 18 Open at Bluegrass. Seeded second overall, 18 Elite shook off its first loss of the year, to Team Indiana Elite 18.1 in a Saturday power pool, to win out, sweeping Triple Crown winner Munciana 18 Samurai in the final.

18 Elite moved to 22-1 on the season with the win. Head coach Troy Gilb said that Wisconsin signee Ella Wrobel, a 6-4 OH, led the attack with 13 kills in the25-20, 25-16 win in the championship match. Wrobel hit an astounding .460 over 15 sets for the tournament and an even better .550 in the title tilt.

Sports Performance’s other outside, Iowa-bound Alyssa Worden, was almost as good. She had 12 kills in the championship match and passed at a 2.33 clip for the weekend.

Other big timers for SPVB included Harris, who ran SPVB’s potent offensive attack to a .358 hitting percentage for the tournament; libero Maya Sands (UNLV), who passed a 2.35 and had 15 digs in the championship; middle blockers Oxenknecht and Audrey Rome (UCONN), who hit a combined .383; and RS Wolkow, who played a stellar all-around match.

• Circle City 17 Purple continued to make its case as the top 17s team in the country. Chris Due’s team, which, in January, defeated Triple Crown champion A5 Mizuno 17 Jing at the Central Zone Invitational, roared through the 17 Open field at Bluegrass. Circle swept its first four opponents before dropping sets in the Challenge match to NKYVC 17 Tsunami and in the finals.

Circle, which lost its first match of the season, when Due and a few players were missing due to Covid, won its 27th straight match in the Sunday final versus Academy 17E-Tsunami, coached by formed Circle City coaching legends Corky Robertson and Chad Janney. In the final, Circle dominated the first set, lost a deuce Game 2 and won a back-and-forth battle, 15-11, in the third to claim the title. The only closer match all weekend came against NKYVC, where Circle rallied from down 6-3 in the third to win 15-12.

The win was the first Bluegrass title for the team’s core group and for Coach Due himself.

I’ll let Due tell you himself how 17 Purple got it done:

Chloe Chicoine stepped up and did ‘Chloe things,’ wowing the convention center with her powerful swings and relentless pursuit of the ball. She came up with some big swings in clutch moments to help seal the victory. Setter Macy Hinshaw ran the show and was able to put our pins in great situations when we were scrambling on the court. She really connected well with middles Ella Chapman and Emily Waddle, who really stepped up this weekend and made a big impact both offensively and defensively. They came up with some big blocks in crucial moments. Ava Smith helped carry the offensive load when Chloe was back row and came up with some big swings when we were down 6-3 to NKYVC in the third set to help us get the momentum back. We got some solid play from both Faith Burch and Quincy Thomas on the right side both offensively and defensively. I think our biggest contributions this weekend came from our first ball contact, relentless defense, and coverage plays, not letting the ball hit the floor. I would like to attribute that to Chloe and Macy, but also I thought libero Molly Urban, Ella Hemmings, and Macy Bruton were key factors, too. Molly and Ella both played phenomenal defense and were making highlight digs and keeping the ball alive throughout the tournament. They kept us in system with their serve receive but also added good service pressure, too. When we struggled blocking, I could rely on those five to get touches on the ball and keep the ball alive, which kept us in those tight matches.”

• A5 Mizuno 16 Gabe, playing its first major event since its 7-1, T-5 finish at Triple Crown, swept seven opponents to win the 16 Open division.

“The bane for our team has been the basics — serve, pass, defend,” noted A5 coach Gabe Aramian. “We’ve tended to struggle with small, scrappy, experienced teams. We’ve put in a bunch of extra hours and, now that everyone is consistently healthy, I am starting to see it pay off with our performance at Bluegrass.”

A5 relied heavily on the pins to go 3-0 on Saturday, including a 25-18, 25-22 sweep of Munciana 16 Moana. Its right side attackers, 6-6 Molly Kate (MK) Patton and Grace Agoli were especially effective.

On the second day, A5 saw its middles, Logan Wiley and Mia Hood, step up. They blocked at will and were deadly attacking in transition. The team also got a huge effort from OH Hannah Benjamin in six rotations. Benjamin scored the final three points in the championship final against that same Munciana team from the Saturday power pool. A5 also got consistently strong play from libero Gabby Cornier, setters Isa Boyd and Cooper Abney, and DS Taylor Zimmerman. The team currently sits at 33-4 this season.

• FaR Out 15 Black added to its title at the President’s Day Challenge in Michigan by winning 15 Open at Bluegrass. OH Navea Gauthier played the best she’s played all season in FaR Out’s finals win over Munciana 15 Lorax, a team that took 10th at Triple Crown.

Libero Mallory Johnson, a seventh grader, also was instrumental.

“She is consistently giving this team an opportunity to not just keep the ball in play, but also to play in-system,” noted Val Lurye, the club’s recruiting coordinator.

The 15 Black team is starting to play at a high level due to the improved play of a quartet, Elise Heffner, Cambria Gaier, Reese Lowe and Molly Versluis, who are new to the national program this year. Those four, along with setter Abby Pickard, Gauthier and Johnson, helped FaR Out got 7-0 and earn several big wins, like its triumph over Tri-State Elite 15 Blue, a team it lost to at the Central Zone Invitational.

• There were two 18s national qualifiers this past weekend, one in Reno and one in Boston. Can you guess which city the chowder’s better in?

Rage Westside

At the NoDinx/NCVA Sierra National Qualifier in Reno, Rage 18 Westside 18 Michelle, coached by my good buddy Michelle Brazil, prevailed to qualify for Junior Nationals in Phoenix. The team dropped just two sets all weekend, one on Day 1 and one on Day 3, both to Drive Nation 17 Red, to secure its bid.

“We played with the most consistency of the season,” Brazil said. “We are coming off some injuries, so this past weekend showed me how honed in and focused we can be when we put our minds to it.”

Passing and defense were the key to team success, Brazil said. It was solid all weekend.

“When things weren’t working offensively, we did a great job at making adjustments and finding ways to score,” Brazil added.

Pins Grayce Olson, Madison Pietsch and Emma Donley were clutch all weekend. Setter Havannah (Fran) Hoeft, a junior playing up, also was great and excelled at every phase — defense, blocking and, obviously, setting. Gia Fisher and Kristi Lee were stalwarts in the back row, controlling the ball and the tempo.

Brazil said that the championship match, between Rage Westside and Rage 18 Cory & Katie (which also qualified, along with A4 Volley 18 Joaco), was especially fun because the teams from sister clubs had been trying to schedule a weekend to play each other.

“Cory (one of their coaches) came over to me before the match started and made the funny comment of, “Well, I guess we are getting our scrimmage in!”

“We are a relatively new team (compared to a lot of other teams I’ve seen and talked to) so it’s been fun to see the improvement every week!” Brazil concluded.

Rockwood 18 Elite

• There were 27 teams in the 18 Open division as part of the Boston Volleyball Festival. Rockwood Thunder 18 Elite, which qualified previously in Chicago at the Winter Championships, was the top seed and held it throughout, going 10-0 to take the title.

“Holding seed throughout was a great confidence booster for the girls,” head coach Billy Rhodes said. “We continued to build on our identity, which is first contacts at both the service line and in serve reception; as well as continuing to integrate the bic to be a big part of our offense. Being as big and physical as we are, if we are able to push teams out of system, it sets us up for success at the net blocking, which we did a great job of this weekend. Our setters did a good job of evenly distributing the ball to both front row and back row attackers.”

OH Carly Glendinning, a Cincinnati recruit, was a standout for Rockwood along with setter Annie Arand, libero Madison Hoffman, RS Madison Scheer and MB Vanessa Polk.

• With Rockwood previously qualified, there was a skirmish for the three available bids. Houston Juniors 18 Elite, which took second; snagged one, as did T-3 Legacy 18-1 Adidas and fifth place Michigan Elite 18 Mizuno, which defeated San Antonio Juniors 18-Adidas for the fifth place overall and the third and final bid.

HJV 18 Elite

HJV went 8-1 to make it to the finals, its lone loss in a crossover match to a Muscle team, also from Texas, that is starting to establish itself with big wins over entrenched national teams. At Triple Crown, Muscle 18 Black defeated the likes of Fusion 18 Red, Mizuno Long Beach 18 Rockstar J and Encore 18 Goldhahn and here it was again with another high profile win in a 5-4 run in Boston.

As for Houston Juniors, the weekend’s standout was 6-4.5 MB/RS Alexis Roberson, an LSU signee. Roberson hit .320 on the weekend on 172 swings and added 15 blocks.

“She is continuing to improve and is trending to be one of the best middle blockers for the class of 2022,” noted head coach Kara Pratt.

Pratt was very pleased with the rest of her team as well. The championship match versus Rockwood featured two deuce sets, one won by each team, before the St. Louis squad prevailed in the third, 15-8.

“We played our most consistent volleyball the entire weekend,” Pratt said. “We got play positive play and earned points from every position across the board. When we are clicking on all cylinders, we can play with anyone. This team is starting to play consistently at the right time.”

HJV, which started as the 39th seed at Triple Crown and ended up T-13 at 5-2, returned only seven of 12 from the team that won 17 USA at Junior Nationals last summer.

“I added a new setter, new outside, new middle/rightside and new ds/libero,” Pratt said. “Team chemistry in today’s game at this level goes far beyond the amount of talent you have. And this team shows it!”

Note to coaches and directors: Even though I have only 10 Dots (and this is Dot #9), if you email me with your results and a story, I will get it in. Cases in point to follow:Over the last two weeks, Colorado Juniors 18Doug has competed in the 18 USA Dallas AVC Qualifier and the 18 USA Nike Boston Qualifier.

The team went a collective 16-3 over those two events and broke through to win Boston with an 8-1 mark. 18Doug qualified for Junior Nationals one weekend, then took home the trophy on the next!

Colorado Juniors 18Doug

“With the 18U season being so short, and the qualifiers not being spaced out, the team’s preparation and training prior to the tournaments was focus and determination,” said coach Doug Starck. “They knew the amount of matches they could play. Having finished fourth in Dallas, the team wanted to prove the #1 seed they received for the Boston Qualifier was not by chance. The statement was made by only dropping one match over the 3-day tournament and winning a Gold Medal. With seven weeks to Nationals, there is plenty to improve and work on.”


VA Elite 18s surprised some by going 5-3 and winning the Silver Bracket in 18 Open at Boston (ninth place overall)

Hello and good day! I wanted to send along some content from the Boston Qualifier this past weekend. Elite did very, very well and surprised some of the best in the country.

VA Elite

Nicknamed the “Little Giants,” not only did the team take a step forward as planned, said coach Joseph Ziegler, but this also was their highest finish in any qualifier, historically!

The only three teams VA Elite lost to were the top three finishing teams of the tournament: Rockwood, HJV and Absolute 18 Black. This finish also made VA Elite the highest placing East Coast club in Open. Top performers included setters Helena Swaak and Jeannie Greathouse, who is uncommitted; libero Kaitlyn Dunnigan, outsides Akasha Anderson, Nicole Mallus and Sarah Malinowski and middle Madison McCartney.

“Even more impressive than the outcome was how they did it,” Ziegler stressed. “The little Giants rolled into Boston with 12 uniformed athletes and all 12 contributed. Defensive and attacking game plans were followed with more fidelity than ever and both setters seamlessly transitioned between our two offensive systems. Our pins demonstrated versatility, switching roles and responsibilities from set to set or even during play in stunt blocking situations. The middles did a great job closing the block, particularly against the faster Absolute and Milwaukee Sting offenses. Finally, our back row defense and serve receive allowed us to side out consistently and remain within striking reach against each of our opponents.”



SynergyForce 17 Jeff has faced a ton of adversity this year. The team lost standout attacker Jahniya Jackson to a broken foot at the beginning of the year, The team then saw a top middle sidelined with mono and a senior playing down opted to quit to focus on playing in college. Despite all of this, the team came together this past weekend and won the West Coast Volleyball Association event in NorCal at the 18U level. Kaitlyn Cochran, Jordyn Deter and Alyssa Eimer were standouts in the win.

• I’ll use my final Dot to tell you about three completely independent things.

First, check out this picture of Tallahassee Juniors club director Latoya Washington and her daughter, Daijah, at the Southeast Qualifier near Atlanta two weekends ago. The apple does not fall far from the coaching tree …

Latoya Washington and daughter Diajah/Michelle Francis photo

Coached by Erica Bunch, Tallahassee Juniors won 18American at Southeast. The team dropped down to American after a player got injured in practice.

“We are very excited about the opportunity to be playing at Nationals,” Bunch said.


We wrote about the Colorado Crossroads event last weekend. A total of 172 teams competed in this year’s first weekend, which was for 15s through 17s. Last year, when Crossroads was a USAV-sanctioned National Qualifier, a total of 546 teams took the court in the same age divisions, almost a 70-percent drop.


Lastly, I bring sad news about another auto accident that claimed the life of a former volleyball player. On February 26, Skylar Scripter, a 2021 Laguna Hills graduate, was killed and several others injured, when a BMW travelling in the opposite direction on a canyon road in Malibu, crossed the center median and hit the SUV in which Scripter was traveling head on. Laguna Hills was where Olympian and NCAA champion Tayyiba Haneef-Park coached until recently being hired as an assistant at the University of Oregon. Scripter played freshman ball for Haneef-Park. She did not did not continue through the program, but her sister, Siearra, became the school’s freshman coach for two years. Another player seriously injured in the crash, Lexi Bruce from the Class of 2021, was the starting varsity setter for three years. Bruce broke her femur in the crash, among other things. Our hearts and thoughts go out to all.

Until next time …

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