At-Large Picks Right Ones For 16 And 17 Open

While we’ve spent the past two weeks updating our National Rankings for the 14-18s age groups and releasing our Mid-Season All-Stars, USA Volleyball officially announced the Open at-large recipients for the Junior National Championships this summer in Chicago. Let’s take a look at the selections in 16 and 17 Open.

There were two available at-large bids in 17 Open, which came free at the Lone Star Classic qualifier. Those two spots were filled by City 17 Gold (CA) and Miami Hype 17 Emilio (FL).

The 17 Open at-large picture was really shaped on the final weekend of qualifying season at Far Western. Prior to that weekend, there were more than a handful of viable contenders. However, with Mizuno Long Beach 17 Rockstar, Madfrog 17 Green and Pohaku 17-1 all earning Open bids in Reno, it removed three of the stronger candidates. That opened the door for others, especially with only two at-larges in play.

In looking at the picks with City and Miami Hype, there doesn’t seem to be much controversy. Of the remaining teams, City had the strongest argument. The So Cal club had an 8-15 record against the Open field. That means City played a competitive schedule and picked up a decent amount of wins along the way.

City also fared well at the three qualifiers it attended, finishing fifth at both Pacific Northwest and Salt Lake Showdown and ninth at Far Western. City did so playing much of the season without outside Danica Rach (Boston College). Stepping up and filling in nicely has been Kimi Watanbe-Mayhew along side Jenna Garner, who’s carried a bigger load as a result. Another bright spot has been the emergence of S/RS Kate Duffey, who recently committed to UCLA. City can run a 5-1 with her or a 6-2 with Charlotte Reff. The team has also been steady in the middle with Havyn Rolle, Maggie Lima and Katie Scuticchio. New to the roster this season is 4-star right side Kennedy Osunsanmi. She’s added a real front row presence.

While City was close to being a lock, Miami Hype wasn’t such a sure thing. One thing working in Miami Hype’s favor was its record against the Open field, which stood at 7-10. That was more victories than any remaining at-large contenders. Miami Hype also finished ninth at Windy City and 14th at both Sunshine and MEQ.

The intrigue with Miami Hype comes from three Top-10 upsets it has been able to pull off this year. They feature victories over top-ranked Dyansty 17 Black, No. 7 1st Alliance 17 Gold and No. 9 OT 17 Aaron. It’s clear Miami Hype – with right side Sarah Snell and libero Isabella Marrero among those leading the charge – is capable of creating real havoc.

With City and Miami Hype receiving the at-large picks, it leaves Elevation 17 Ulland, VCNebraska 17 Elite and MKE Sting 17 Gold as the tough-luck teams this season. All three also had a case for receiving a bid. To me, it’s difficult to distinguish between the three teams and perhaps that’s why Miami Hype was the choice ahead of the trio.

Working in Elevation’s favor was going 5-10 against the Open field, as well as finishing seventh at MEQ and 14th at Windy City. Elevation also owns a head-to-head victory over Miami Hype. At the same time, the way the at-large bids went out across the Open divisions it seemed like teams that played in three qualifiers as opposed to two were rewarded and that could be working against Elevation.

VCNebraska’s case rested on going 4-13 against the Open field and finishing eighth at Northern Lights, fifth at Show Me and ninth at Lone Star. VCNebraska was a victory away at Show Me, needing to beat Skyline 17 Royal to qualify outright. It seemed like VCNebraska had a strong case because of that, but at the same time VCNebraska went 1-1 against MKE Sting, another at-large contender.

Sting was right there with VCNebraska, going 4-12 against the Open field. What was interesting about Sting was it finished ninth at four qualifiers – Northern Lights, Sunshine, Windy City and Lone Star. While Sting has a head-to-head loss to Elevation, it does own a head-to-head victory over Miami Hype. I also liked that Sting beat Lone Star champ Dynasty in Dallas, while also beating the only team to qualify at Lone Star in HJV 17 Elite. I took that as a sign that Sting was playing well at the right time.

Still, I think it’s hard to argue with the City and Miami Hype receiving the at-larges. City had the strongest case overall, so that was a no-brainer pick to me. I do like the Miami Hype pick because as we’ve seen Miami Hype has been able to pull off big upsets this year and that could certainly add spice to the 17 Open field come Chicago.


Like 17 Open, there were two spots available in 16 Open. The big difference though was there were only two viable candidates. At least that’s how I viewed it. Things would have been interesting had there been three or four at-larges but that wasn’t the case.

As it stood, the only real contenders both hailed from Michigan in Legacy 16-1 Adidas and Mich Elite 16 Mizuno. Both stood so far out in front of the rest of the pack, it’s not even worth discussing the rest of the pack.

Legacy was the clear-cut favorite no matter what. Its mark against the Open field is 12-13, which is a very respectable record. Without doubt Legacy played a challenging schedule and performed well. Legacy came in fifth at Sunshine and MEQ, ninth at Windy City and 17th at Lone Star. Another thing I liked about Legacy is among its victories is beating No. 2 Drive Nation 16 Red, No. 9 Circle City 16 Purple and No. 10 OT 16 JP.

While it remains to be seen how Legacy will do at JN’s, the club has definitely been competitive with 5-star setter Campbell Flynn leading the way. The team also features a pair of scrappy outsides in Keely Culler and Marie Laurio, as well as middle Olivia Grenadier. Devin Dzienny is a solid back-row presence and another reason this team could surprise in Chicago.

As for Mich Elite, it was surprising to see the club in a position of needing an at-large after finishing in the top half of Open in 15s a season ago. Mich Elite was knocking on the door all qualifying season, finishing 13th at Sunshine, fifth at MEQ and ninth at both Big South and NEQ. Mich Elite was a victory away from a bid at MEQ but fell to MKE Sting 16 Gold in gold pool action and missed out. Mich Elite lost to both OT JP and Circle City in gold pool at Big South and missed out on its chance of qualifying when it was upset by Triangle 16 Black for its only loss at NEQ.

While there was tough luck involved, Mich Elite did pile up a 9-10 record against the Open field. That was an impressive enough mark to put the team in a safe position of receiving the at-large pick. Among the pieces is 4-star outside Izzy Busignani, as well as setter Ella Craggs, libero McKenna Payne and outside Jessica Costlow. Middles Shelby Ignash and Lauren Johnson and right side Gabriella Babinski have also filled valuable roles.

What I’m always hoping for when it comes to the at-large picks is making the most competitive field possible with the at-large additions. In this case, I think it was an easy of a call as there is to make. There’s no question these two clubs are going to make the 16 Open division more competitive than had they not been a part of it.