We Need To Talk About Central Zone 16 Open
“We need to talk”, a phrase no one wants to hear because our hearts all start to beat a little faster and we think about everything we have said or done that we could have done wrong. Or, it’s nothing! …
“We need to talk”, a phrase no one wants to hear because our hearts all start to beat a little faster and we think about everything we have said or done that we could have done wrong. Or, it’s nothing!
The 16 Open Central Zone is definitely something we need to talk about. Meaning the field was incredibly deep, there were upsets, players who will be at the top of national lists, and an extremely high level of volleyball being played. There was plenty of highlights with other divisions, but I was drawn to the talent and depth at 16 Open.
How The Tournament Played Out
Saturday Power Pools
Teams who won their opening pool going 2-0 advanced to the power pools which would be two brackets of four teams resulting in seeding for Sunday’s bracket play.
Power Pool Finishes
- Legacy 16 Adidas (2023 15 Open 5th)
- Mintonette m.61 (2023 15 Open Runner Up/AAU National Champion)
- MKE Sting 16 Gold (2023 15 National Division Champion)
- AVC Cleveland 16 Red (2023 15 Open 5th)
- Team Pineapple 16 Black (2023 15 Open 11th)
- NKYVC 16 Tsunami (2023 15 Open Qualifier)
- Boiler Juniors 16 Gold (2023 15 Open Qualifier)
- Sports Performance 16 Elite (New group for 2024 – Nationally known program)
I was watching a lot of the 16 Open and 17 Open power pools and seeing the 16 Open, it was a horse race. Teams were going back and forth, constantly jockeying for the top position. In power pool one, Legacy came out on top after two three set wins. Their power pool championship over Mintonette was a thriller where they were down one set and was able to grab set two 29-27, finishing off the match 15-10 in set three. In power pool two, Team Pineapple got two huge wins, starting with quite a battle with Boiler Juniors, winning 18-16 in set three. I was on the baseline for that and those last five points were crazy. The final two and the win were exciting, but essentially a sigh of relief to then turn around and take on NKYVC minutes later, winning another deuce set 28-26 to start the match, then capping off their day with a 25-20 sweep to take the number two seed heading into Sunday.
Sunday Bracket Play
Teams from the power pools get the top eight seeds of bracket play. Of the eight round of 16 matches, five of them went to three sets. The top two seeds in Legacy and Teamp Pineapple were “Upset” by Toledo Volleyball Club and Team Indiana. With any of these teams I use the term “Upset” loosely because these top 16 teams were so good, the margin of error is extremely small.
The Final Eight
- NKYVC 16 Tsunami
- Elevation 16 Goller
TVC 16 Black
Boiler Juniors 16 Gold
MKE Sting 16 Gold
Sports Performance 16 Elite\
Team Indiana 16.1
What AES Didn’t Tell You
The Indiana Teams
In the top 16 there was Boiler Juniors 16 Gold, Team Indiana 16.1, Team Pineapple 16 Black, Academy 16E Yeti, and REV 16-1 Fury. Circle City 16 Purple was just outside the top 16 at 19th. The Class of 2026 is going to be gnarly coming out of Indiana. I think I say that about every class coming out of Indiana, but the depth of this class is different. Boiler Juniors has always been one of the top teams in their age group and they showed why this past weekend. Lexi Shondell is such a quarterback for her team as a setter and they play great team defense. Team Pineapple is so tough to score points against. Cala Haffner was money as a libero for Pineapple. She is taking pace off a hard swing and keeping her side of the net in system. Team indiana was really impressive and will be a threat to get an open bid. Their outside duo of Lydia Stahley and Audrey Bassett provide a swing in any situation. They can score in and out of system. Setter, Anabelle Schembra runs a great offense for Team Indiana. She can hold a middle and shoot it on point to the outside. These Indiana teams will be fun to watch throughout the season and wouldn’t be surprised to see four teams qualify open from the Hoosier State.
The Legacy Middles
Ella Andrews and Kayla Nwabueze are at another level. This isn’t a hyperbole, but I think they could walk into a college program next fall and contribute right away. They do have different styles. Ella Andrews is 6’4 and is so good off one foot. Her hitting percentage had to be through the roof this past weekend. She provides a solid block, moves really well, and again – her efficiency is great. Kayla Nwabueze has the fastest arm for middles out of the Class of 2026. For a lot of these defenders it is self defense when she is open in the middle. There is no time to get the hands in position to cleanly defend her.
Keeping Tabs on Sports Performance
Sports Performance made their debut at Central Zone and will be competing at Triple Crown in a couple weeks. When it comes to club coverage, I always go to Central Zone, MEQ, and Triple Crown. I tend to follow a USAV schedule because there are even some JVA clubs who compete in a qualifier here and there or they are at Central Zone or Triple Crown. I didn’t see Sports Performance very often. This past weekend the 16 Elite squad showed they could compete against some of the top 16s. This group is athletic, fundamentally disciplined, and will continue to compete among top clubs in the country. Setter Ellie Stiernagle is going to be a setter to watch among all 2026s. She has the size and physicality to make an impact at the net and is able to create opportunities for all of her attackers. On the pin there is Haley Burgdorf and Brooklynne Brass. These two are six rotation players are able to score from anywhere. They are able to run a variety of combos where they are running a pipe or bic in system. Cassidy Cage is a new addition to this team where she is a complete athlete out of the middle where she provides a solid block and takes advantage of those one on one opportunities.
The Ohio and Northern Kentucky Teams
If we talk about Indiana, we have to talk about Ohio and Northern Kentucky who swept the final four. NKYVC 16 Tsunami wins with their ball control and depth. Emma Frietch was a standout as a libero for NKYVC where they were in system consistently throughout the weekend. They can really spread the net where they have attackers who can terminate at all positions.
Mintonette was the headliner coming into this event coming off a huge season in 2023. They have the target on their back and they showed why this past weekend. This team thrives off a quick tempo and everything goes through setter Mallory Matheny. She is a commander on the court, the intangibles you look for in a setter – she does it. She gets to hands to the ball and everything is right there for her attackers.
Elevation 16 Goller stubbed their toe on Saturday, losing a tough three set battle to Sports Performance. They came roaring back on Sunday to win three straight, including a sweep of Mintonette. Makenna Kirlin does a great job of establishing the middles and will shoot it to the outside where Sidney Sprada can hammer down the line or hard cross. Her fast arm and six rotation play was impressive.
And then we have TVC 16 Black. I mentioned in a tweet that this was a bit of deja vu because they knocked out Legacy last year in the 15s Central Zone. And oops, they did it again. I watched this team last year and they just have great chemistry with each other. Hayden Rodriguez is a pure gamer and finds a way to win – she has the grit and savvy to do some special things. One of her top targets is Mallory Pike on the outside where she is cool, calm, collected scoring points and being highly efficient.