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Tawa’s HS Dots: Durango doesn’t disappoint; Benet owns Wheaton

This is “Dots,”’s weekly look at 10 things in high school volleyball, past or present, that interest me and hopefully will interest you. Look for Dots every Tuesday until the last high school state championship in November.

• The 27th Durango Fall Classic is in the books.

Top-seeded Cathedral Catholic, the nation’s No. 1 team according to three of the four entities that rank, took home the title by sweeping seven matches.

The Dons (24-0) methodically dismantled opponents with their unyielding offense, led by OHs Julia Blyashov and Milan Bayless and MB Jenna Hanes, who was rightfully chosen as the tournament’s MVP.

It was both fun and impressive to watch.

Hanes, a 6-3 junior committed to Michigan; along with Mia Compas and Ryleigh Patterson, comprised a middle trio that was far and away the most dominant in the tournament. Cathedral Catholic’s outsides are super impressive, but other teams here had pin hitters to rival them. The Dons were simply vastly superior in the middle and junior setter Amanda Seager found them again and again.

Cathedral Catholic

• Cathedral Catholic defeated Marymount, the tournament’s sixth seed, 25-20, 25-18, for the title, its second in four years. The Dons trailed, 15-12, in the first set before three Kapi Coleman kills and a Bayless block sparked an 8-0 run that gave Cathedral the lead for good.

Marymount, fueled by the tremendous hitting of senior outside Torrey Stafford, also led in the second set, 15-14, before a block by Hanes sent Cathedral Catholic on a 4-0 run to wrest the advantage from the Sailors. The Dons closed out the match by scoring 11 of the final 13 points, with Bayless, Coleman and Compas the catalysts at the end.

The Cathedral Catholic/Marymount finals matchup reprised last week’s final at the Dave Mohs Orange County Championships. Cathedral Catholic won that as well, 28-26, 25-17.

• The tournament was replete with standout teams and players. Other than Cathedral Catholic, I especially enjoyed watching Fayetteville of Arkansas, Mountain View of Utah and all of the Hawaiian teams. They all play that kind of fast-paced, athletic volleyball that I enjoy.

Here are the players, by position, who stood out to me:

Outsides: Blyashov, Stafford, Brooke Rockwell of Fayetteville, Claire Little of Vista MurrietaAudrey Liddle of Archbishop Mitty and Finley Krystkowiak of Torrey Pines.

Stafford and Little wowed with their power and ability to take over matches. Rockwell, a Stanford beach commit, dripped with athleticism. Her speed off the floor was impressive and helped her dominate much taller blocks. Liddle has the combination of power and poise that is so fun to watch. Krystkowiak is a long, super tall freshman who plays like someone much older. It’s only a matter of time before she’s the best player in San Diego County.

All of that being said, Blyashov was the outside who MOST impressed me. The senior, who was an impact freshman back in 2019 when the Dons first won Durango, scored on the left with both power and finesse. And she was studly in the back row, whether passing or laying out to keep a hard-driven ball off the wood.

Right sidesOlivia Babcock of Sierra Canyon and Madeline Lafata of Fayetteville.

Lafata, a lefty, hit the ball as hard as anyone I saw. Babcock, who stands 6-5, was relentless at the net and her top-spin serve was both power packed and consistent. No wonder she scored with it again and again and again!

SettersKennedy Phelan of Fayetteville, Silina Damuni of TimpviewFatimah Hall of Lakeview, Emily Dean of Lakeside, Alex Bower of Skyview and Charlize Ching of Kamehameha Kapalama.

Ching was the best defensive setter I saw, Hall the best pure setter – did she ever command the court! – and Phelan the best all-around setter I watched. So fun! Damuni, Dean and Bower also were soooo good and the heartbeats for their respective teams.

Middles: Hanes and Compas of Cathedral Catholic

Other than the Cathedral Catholic middles, I admit that I did not notice middles making plays at Durango. Maybe that’s what made Hanes stand out so much, because she absolutely dominated the position.

DefendersKaterina Lutz of Torrey Pines, Melie Vaioleti of Punahou and Lexi Trapani of Marymount

Both Vaioleti and Trapani deservedly made the All-Tournament team, but the libero I noticed the most was Lutz. She was so active, so involved in everything the Falcons were doing!

• This was my fifth year seeding Durango and easily my most successful. Fifteen of the 16 No. 1 seeds won their pools to advance to the Championship Qualifying Round.

Only Kamehameha-Kapalama failed to advance first out of pool play. After splitting the first two sets with Vista Murrieta, the Warriors could not slow Vista Murrieta’s superstar, the BYU-bound Little, in the third. Tied at 12-12, her kill, off of an assist from Katrina Catalan, put Vista Murrieta on top for good. Little scored twice more late to complete the “upset” win.

I put “upset” in quotation marks because, in reality, this was a tournament bereft of shockers. The top teams won — heck, Kamehameha wound up 17th after sweeping through Saturday — and the lesser teams didn’t do as well. It’s no upset when the 12th seed defeats the No. 5 when both are elite national teams.

Indeed, the biggest surprise may have been that Skyview, the 13th overall seed, went 3-0 on Day 1 to win its pool. The Hawks played the weekend with their terminal outside, 6-2 junior Alex Acevedo, an Oregon recruit, playing back row only to nurse a tender hitting shoulder. Without her, Bower’s only consistent setting option was freshman Bellamie Buess.  Buess, an athletic 6-footer, acquitted herself very well. You can expect to hear more from her in the future …

Still, Skyview was in trouble the entire pool, never more so than in its first match versus Long Beach Wilson. With Chloe Pravendikov and Maggie Ness getting the job done on the pins, the Bruins won the first set and led the second, 24-20, before Skyview’s improbable rally, aided by the serving of Sydney Nay.

Skyview won three more deuce sets in its other two wins, over Nevada stalwart Bishop Gorman and Hawaii public school power Kahuku. The Hawks were gutty, resilient and found a way.

• When I seed Durango, I start by seeding the teams 1-64, before sorting them into pools, moving teams a few spots here and there to avoid rematches and to make certain that teams are playing a menu of teams they’ve never seen before. It’s part of the fun of coming to a national tournament like the Fall Classic.

After Durango was over, I wanted to confirm my hunch that the entire tournament was bereft of shockers. So I went back and looked at the original seeding.

As stated before, of the 16 teams in Tier 1 (i.e., top seeds in the first pools), only Kamehameha, which finished 17th overall, didn’t make it to Championship Qualifying.

Of the 16 teams in Tier 2, only five teams didn’t finish in Tier 2 (top 32). But none fell to Tier 4.

Of the 16 teams in Tier 3, none made Tier 1 and only five fell to Tier 4.

Of the 16 teams in Tier 4, only one team, Utah’s Pleasant Grove, made the jump to finish in Tier 2 (T-31). The bottom five seeds of the tournament all finished in the final five spots.

Pleasant Grove made the biggest jump, going from a 50-seed to start to No. 31 at the finish. Mercy Academy of Louisville jumped 13 spots from 31 to 18. Marin Catholic of NorCal moved from No. 35 at the start to No. 23.

The biggest dropper was Corner Canyon of Utah. The Chargers, 7-1 coming to Vegas, including a sweep of Pleasant Grove, were seeded 28th but finished 15 spots behind PG at No. 46. Queen Creek of Arizona and The Hockaday School of Dallas were two others who underperformed their seeds, both finishing 16 spots lower than their starting seed.

• The presence of impact freshmen permeated Durango. In addition to Krystkowiak and Buess, Mater Dei outside Layli Ostovar,  Redondo Union RS Abby Zimmerman and Marymount OH Samantha Destler all impressed. There may be other freshmen who shined as well.

• Closing notes from Durango …

Longtime coach Lisa Zielinski of Florida’s St. Thomas Aquinas had to miss the trip due to illness.

Sierra Canyon coach Stefanie Wigfall made the trip just a few weeks after giving birth to her son.

Liberty of Bakersfield senior OH Emma Fredrick takes a lot of great swings for her team.

Bishop Gorman has two stupendous athletes playing on the left side.

Skyview setter Bower is one of seven sisters. The junior is committed to BYU, just like her three older sisters, who range from 5-7 to 6-4.

Madison of Idaho setter Kinley Kerbs isn’t tall (listed at 5-7) but she does SO MUCH to help her team win.

Torrey Pines’ outside hitter opposite Krystkowiak, junior Layla Williams, is pretty good, too.

Fayetteville junior middle Regan Harp bounced some balls Saturday in Durango’s back gym.

South Torrance sophomore outside Sarah Hom is the daughter of USC legend Lawrence Hom.

Down 23-20 in Game 1 of its Championship Qualifying Match with TimpviewIolani coach Kainoa Obrey called time out and had some loud, choice (not profane) words for his team. The Raiders responded with a run to finish the set, sparked by OH Senna Roberts-Navarro and MB Callie Pieper, and went on to finish in fourth place overall.

There’s a reason coaches want to be at Durango HS on the final day. The coaches’ hospitality room is legendary. The chocolate croissant I had on Saturday might have been the best pastry ever!

Benet Academy

• Seeded third at the start, Benet Academy won its ninth Wheaton Classic on Saturday, outdueling top-seeded Lyons Township in a three-set final.

Junior Ava Novak was named MVP for Benet, which also got major contributions from Gabija StaniskisKirsten Krammer, Lynney Tarnow and Audrey Asleson.

Kamryn Lee-CaracciGrace Brennan and Abby Markworth paced Lyons.

Benet is now 16-1 on the year, its lone loss to 8-2 St. Charles East.

Benet is currently No. 3 in the 1st Alliance VBC/ rankings, behind Mother McAuley and Barrington, both of which are undefeated.

• For the second consecutive year, ESPN will air the GEICO Girls Volleyball Invitational beginning Friday, Oct. 7. The two-day tournament includes four teams: Cathedral Catholic, Skyview of Idaho, Ponte Vedra of Florida and host Papillion La Vista South of Nebraska.

Why these four teams? Cathedral Catholic (24-0) is obvious, as the Dons are the No. 1 team in the country and have the ability to travel. Certain state associations, like Michigan (Marian; 22-0), Indiana (McCutcheon; 15-1) and Illinois (Mother McAuley; 16-0), do not permit this kind of travel for play.

The three other teams are currently 33-11 combined, which is pretty good generally but pedestrian for teams selected to be part of a national showcase.

Back in 2012, when I was running, we created the Battle on the Plains, sponsored by Nfinity. Papio South was part of that showcase, too, and came into the three-team event, with Torrey Pines and Assumption, on a 97-match unbeaten streak. Torrey Pines was undefeated as well and had just defeated Assumption in the Durango final.

A record crowd of more than 2,600 came to Sokol Arena on the Creighton University campus to see the nation’s top three teams split matches. The event included a speech by Steve Kerr, head coach of NBA champion Golden State, and riveting volleyball.

Papio South, led by setter Kelly Hunter and twin hitters Amber and Kadie Rolfzen, went on to win the mythical national championship.

• At Dots, we’re on the lookout for players who put up outrageous single-match stat lines. Starting this week, we asked coaches on our list to let us know if any of their players achieved any of these benchmarks:

55 assists in a match
35 kills in a match
35 digs in a match
10 blocks in a match
10 aces in a match

It turns out that we didn’t make our benchmarks high enough for Blair Oaks junior setter Libby Juergensmeyer, who met TWO of them. The Missouri native had 10 aces versus Couch HS and 56 assists versus California HS. Great job!

We also heard about an eighth-grader playing on varsity, 6-2 OH Natalie Norton at Young Women’s Leadership Academy in Grand Prairie, Texas, who had 36 kills over four sets in a September 12 win over UME Prep.

Do you have any players who have met these benchmarks? Let me know at

Until next time …

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