Martin Luther King Jr. weekend always marks the unofficial start of a new club volleyball season, and it’s no different this year despite a lot of unknowns from week to week.
Jan. 16-18 | 8AM ET
One tournament we’ll have our eyes on this holiday weekend is Lil’ Big South, which will take place in Atlanta, January 16-18, with 20 courts streaming live right here on FloVolleyball.
Some things will be different this year however: each team will be limited to just 30 spectors, and wave start times will be staggered to limit congestion around entrances and everyone over the age of 2 must wear a mask at all times, with the exception of players on the court. Teams will not switch sides between sets or halfway through a tie-breaking set, and there will be no pre-match “good luck” hand slaps and no post-match “good game” slaps either. Of course, for players and parents who had the opportunity to play a high school season in the fall, all of those changes are familiar by now, and more than anything, you can bet that players will be thrilled to be back on the court and competing.
Now in its ninth year, Lil’ Big South, sister tournament of the well-known Big South qualifier, provides a season kickoff for teams from across the southeast, which includes representatives from clubs capable of competing on the national level, such as Metro, A5, Carolina Rogue, Rio, Tsunami, Tallahassee Juniors, and more. LBS offers an excellent opportunity to face tough competition early in the year, especially for the 18s teams that will be playing in the Florida Girls 18s Qualifier in Orlando, January 23-25.
Here are some intriguing storylines you should be following as you tune in to the FloVolleyball broadcast:
1. TJVBC is back to defend its 18s title with a new-look roster.
Tallahassee Juniors Volleyball Club’s 17 Pro team won the 17/18 Open division at Lil’ Big South last year, and to kickoff 2021, the now 18 Pro squad has every intention of defending the title. This year’s roster, however, looks a little bit different from the 2020 edition. Only four players remain from the 2020 17 Pro roster — Cyndee Eubanks, Emilee Brown, Macy Maxwell, and Madison Evans — while a few others on the roster will be playing 18s for the second year in a row.
TJVBC 18 Pro head coach Erica Burch said she’s optimistic about this year’s team, citing more height than they’ve had in the past and plenty of talent. “We’ve worked countless hours speeding up the offense and just trying to bring that aspect to our team,” Burch said, “and just gelling because we have obviously new kids but they’re talented.”
But, Burch also pointed out, with Cobb Atlanta and A5 partnering with the tournament this year, the competition will be of an even higher caliber than a year ago.
Jan. 16-18 | 8AM ET
2. A5 17s to prove themselves in 18 Open.
Speaking of A5, let’s hone in on the Atlanta club’s top 17s team, which will be competing in 18 Open this weekend. Coach Jing Hou is back for his eighth consecutive season coaching A5’s top 17s team, which this year is absolutely stacked. Of the 13 players on the roster, nine are already committed to Division I teams, including some of the top programs in the country. Middle blocker Mari Singletary will sign with Texas come November, outside hitter Alexa Markley is headed to Penn State, and outside Cheridyn Leverette chose UCLA for college — just to name a few.
With four hitters over six feet tall, not to mention 6-1 setter Rebecca Watkins, A5 17 Jing will undoubtedly bring the heat at the net, but I’m also intrigued by their defensive potential. All three DS/liberos on the roster are committed to ACC schools (Cara Bianco, Georgia Tech; Cailey Dockery, Notre Dame; Emma Farrell, Wake Forest), which bodes poorly for opposing hitters.
3. With many A5s 17s teams playing up, 17 Open is anyone’s to win.
If A5 17 Jing had signed up for 17 Open, I’d be shocked to see any other team win it. But with those juggaurants playing in the 18s division, 17 Open just became a lot more competitive. I’ve got my eye on TJVBC 17 Pro, which features four athletes who contributed to TJVBC’s 17/18 Open win 12 months ago and are playing 17s for the second year in a row. Three of those four players — Alexa Washington, Cailin Demps, and Amanda Ray — also all play together at Leon High School where they won a state championship in 2019 and made it to the championship match again this fall.
Rio Volleyball Club won the Lil’ Big South 16 Open division last year, and with six players returning as the group moves up from 17s, you can expect them to have good team chemistry and experience from playing together for a few years. Also watch out for a trio of 16s teams playing up in 17 Open: Carolina Rogue 16, A5 16 Gabe, and A5 16 Marc.
The Lil’ Big South schedule goes live January 13, 2021, by 6 pm. Make sure to check it out and start highlighting matches to watch on the FloVolleyball stream.