OMAHA – If you are headed to CenturyLink Center on Saturday to watch the Asics President’s Day Classic, make sure you keep your head on a swivel if you’re anywhere near courts 23-27.
That’s where the 17 Open division is being played.
Five teams ranked among the top 40 in the nation by Prep Volleyball and many of the top recruits in the nation are competing in 17 Open this weekend. The 20-team division is divided into five pools of four teams each. After pool play on Saturday, 12 of the 20 teams will advance in championship play. On Sunday, there will be three pools of four teams with the top two teams in each pool advancing to Monday’s championship bracket.
KC Power 171 (ranked #6 in the nation by Prep Volleyball) is the top overall seed in the tournament while Mizuno Northern Lights 171 (#21 in the nation), Premier 17 Gold, Excel 17 National (#47 in the nation) and Mizuno Northern Lights 172 are each the top –seeded teams in their respective pools. Topeka Impact 171 is the #8 seed in the tournament and ranked #36 in the nation and Nebraska Elite 17 Ooh Rah is the #17 overall seed and is ranked #20 in the nation.
Along with some of the top teams in the nation, the 17 Open division this weekend will also feature some of the best high school juniors in the county, several of which are playing for KC Power 171.
Of special interest locally is Naomi Hickman – a 6-foot-5 MH for KC Power 171 that is committed to Creighton as well as 6-foot-4 MH Callie Schwarzenbach, who is just a sophomore and is committed to Nebraska. Also in the middle, KC Power 171 has 6-3 Illinois recruit Megan Cooney while 5-11 setter Madison Lilley is a Kentucky recruit and 5-11 OH Megan Kuper is headed to Lipscomb.
Equally loaded with talent is the Mizuno Northern Lights 171 squad – which you could almost call the Hawkeye pipeline. Brie Orr, a 5-10 setter, along with 5-10 libero Halle Johnston and 6-1 OH Claire Sheehan are all headed to Iowa. Not a single player on the team’s roster is shorter than 5-10.
Premier 17 Gold is not nationally ranked – yet – but could find itself with a lofty ranking when they are next released with a strong showing this weekend. Steph Gaston, a 6-foot-5 RS from Papillion-LaVista is the team’s only Division I recruit but head coach Joe Wessel always fields a team that has a sum greater than its individual parts. Both Papillion-LaVista’s Maddie Krajewski and Omaha Skutt’s Nikki White are underrated defenders and anchor the back row for Premier while the combination of Papillion-LaVista South’s 5-8 Taliyah Flores and Omaha Concordia’s 6-foot Averey Yaksich give Premier a powerful – although undersized – duo on the outside. In the middle Premier has Millard West 6-footer Bridget Petersen and Omaha Concordia’s 5-11Sydney Clarkson, but the real sleeping giant of the group is Elmwood-Murdock’s 6-foot-2 Abigayle Meyer. Papillion-LaVista’s Dani Prusha and Millard West’s Emma Walker handle the setting.
In what is probably the “must-see” match of the first day of the tournament, Premier 17 Gold will take on Topeka Impact 171 at 1 p.m. on Court 25. Topeka Impact 171 features 6-3 Nebraska recruit Jazz Sweet on the RS.
Excel 17 National out of Plano, TX, has gotten off to a strong start this club season. The team started the year with a second-place finish in Unity New Years Classic and then followed that up with a third-place finish in the MLK Bid Tournament. Excel then went a 6-0 at the Tour of Texas Qualifier while dropping just two sets and then finished in 17th place this past weekend in the ultra-competitive Round 2 of the Tour of Texas 16-18 division.
Mizuno Northern Lights 172 might be the second-best team in its age division within its own club, but that is more a compliment of the quality of teams the program has as opposed to a statement about the quality of the 17 Open field. Both of the team’s 5-9 setters are committed already as Payton Nutter is headed to Division II power Concordia-St. Paul and Breanna Maloney to Winona State.
Mizuno Northern Lights 172 opens the tournament against a VCNebraska 17 Elite team that has one of Nebraska most heavily recruited sophomores in 6-2 sophomore OH Jaela Zimmerman of Malcolm. Zimmerman already has offers from Big East and Big 12 schools and her stock is likely to only rise during the qualifier season. VCNebraska 17 Elite a pair of 6-footers in the middle with Gretna’s Jaiden Sila and Aurora’s Jasa Scheierman. To go with Zimmerman at the pins, VCNebraska 17 Elite also has Megan Aultz of Nebraska City, Hayley Densberger of Malcolm and Anna Chiasson of Grand Island. Arlington’s Grace Volk and Lincoln Northeast’s Emma Thomssen are the team’s setters while Elkhorn South’s Riley Newton is the libero and Millard West’s MacKenzie Sempeck is the DS.
Nebraska Elite 17 Ooh Rah is ranked #20 in the nation, but has been beset by injuries and has had to remake itself in the past month. All-state OH and Kansas State recruit Brooke Heyne of Omaha Skutt has been out with a knee issue and her availability is likely to be limited this weekend. Air Force libero recruit Jordan Daniels of Millard West tore her ACL last month. As a result, Waverly’s Lindsey Brunssen, Fort Calhoun’s Taylor Marshall and Omaha Skutt’s Jessica Schlautman have been added to the team is the past couple weeks. Nebraska Elite still has plenty of weapons. Ball State recruit Grace Nelson of Elkhorn anchors the back row and up front, TCU recruit Sarah Swanson of Elkhorn South, Nebraska-Kearney recruits Madison Stearns of Millard South and Kathleen Medill of Lincoln Pius X and Brooklyn Duren of Omaha Skutt give all-state setter Alli Schomers of Omaha Skutt plenty of options.
Here are how the teams are divided into pools to start competition on Saturday morning.
Pool 1 – KC Power 171, Rocky Select 17 Black, OP2 17 EP, Central Minnesota Elite.
Pool 2 – Mizuno Northern Lights 171, Southwind Rising 171, IPVA 17 Black, LVBC 17 Black.
Pool 3 – Premier 17 Gold, Topeka Impact 171, Johnston 17 National, Front Range VBC 171 Silver.
Pool 4 – Excel 17 National, NORCO 17 Black, CIA 17 Black, Nebraska Elite 17 Ooh Rah.
Pool 5 – Mizuno Northern Lights 172, Show Me 17 ROX, VCNebraska 17 Elite, Ozark Juniors 171.
In the 17 Club division, which has 48 teams, ICT Mavs 17 Black is the top overall seed. Performance VBC 16 NIKE – playing up an age division – is the #5 overall seed and the highest-seeded team from Nebraska in the division.