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If you’re a high-level club volleyball player in the Southeastern United States, odds are you’re going to be playing in the 2021 Lil’ Big South tournament this Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend.
Jan. 16-18 | 8AM ET
The three-day tournament welcomes around 300 teams to the Georgia World Congress Center in downtown Atlanta and will serve as a kickoff to the 2021 season for many of these athletes.
With the 2020 club season being cut short and high school seasons starting late or ending early or being paused for some time in the middle, there’s a lot that remains unknown as we head into this early season competition, but we’ve managed to piece together enough intel to bring you this breakdown of the top players and teams to keep an eye on at the 2021 Lil’ Big South tournament.
A5, one of LBS’s two presenting clubs, chose not to send its top 18s team to this tournament (A5 18 Scott plans to compete at the JJVA Tropical Ice Open Challenge in Jacksonville instead), but its other two 18s teams will be there, along with its top two 17s teams, both competing in 18 Open. From that group, I recommend keeping an especially close eye on A5 17 Jing. 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.
The 6-4 Singletary, who lives in Charleston, South Carolina, and plays for Porter-Gaud High School, is in her second season playing for A5. In order to do so, she has to make a five-hour drive (one way!) to Atlanta to practice with her A5 17-Jing squad. This effort seems to have paid off, however, as Singletary made her verbal commitment to Texas in August and this fall earned The Post and Courier’s All-Lowcountry volleyball player of the year award for 2020 after growing her high school career kills tally to 1,363 and leading her team to the SCISA state volleyball championship match.
Jan. 16-18 | 8AM ET
Markley, a top-100 ranked recruit for the Class of 2022 and an AVCA Phenom, became the first member of the Penn State 2022 recruiting class when she gave her verbal commitment to the Big Ten school in September 2020. She and her McIntosh High School teammates won the Georgia AAAAA state title this fall, losing just one match the entire season. Markley finished second on the team with 405 kills, hitting .364.
PrepVolleyball ranked Leverett as the No. 34 recruit in the Class of 2022. Standing 6-feet tall and touching over 10 feet, she’ll be yet another offensive option for 17 Jing setters Rebecca Watkins and Katie Bochniak (Troy). And we haven’t even mentioned 6-2 middle Mikayla Hayden (Cal) and outside hitter Lauren Eitler (Temple) or the defensive depth provided by Cara Bianco (Georgia), Cailey Dockery (Notre Dame), and Emma Farrell (Wake Forest). On the 17 Jing roster, only outside hitter Caylen Alexander, middle Annemarie Rakoski, opposite Anna Greer Vandagriff, and setter Watkins are uncommitted, but I expect we’ll hear the news of their college choices soon enough.
Rio Volleyball Club 18-1 finished runner-up in 17/18 Open at LBS last year as 17s. Five members of that 2020 squad are back, including Northern Colorado-bound outside/opposite Annette Baker. Baker led her Whitewater High School team to the Georgia state finals in her second season serving as team captain. In her high school career, she topped 1,000 kills and fell just seven digs short of hitting that benchmark on the defensive end. The 2021 Rio 18-1 group also includes a pair of Georgia State commits in Lauryn Moultrie, a versatile front-row player, and Christyn Ashby, a two-sport athlete who also lettered in basketball at Riverwood International Charter School, and Howard-bound outside hitter Oluwadamilola Awojobi.
Jan. 16-18 | 8AM ET
For Tsunami South’s 18-1 Dun, I’ll be watching outside hitter Bella Boston (Berry) and libero Caroline Darracott (Troy). This pair earned all-county co-player of the year honors this fall competing for Newnan High School, leading the county in kills and digs, respectively. Their play as the only two seniors on the Newnan roster helped elevate their team to the elite eight of the Georgia 7A state tournament, and they’ll be looking to continue that level of excellence this club season.
I don’t know much about the Carolina Rogue 18s team, but I have a feeling outside hitter Emmy Rollins will be with tuning in to watch, and definitely someone opposing teams will have to key in on. In a signing day video celebrating her commitment, South Carolina head coach Tom Mendoza praised the 6-2 hitter’s high contact point and ability to move the ball around on offense, as well as her left-side blocking. I also think UNCW commit libero Quinn Manley, an All-State honoree for River Bluff High School in Lexington, South Carolina, will be a key player for Carolina Rogue, especially as they match up against some of the high powered offenses in this tournament.
In the 17 Open division, I’m intrigued by TJVBC — that is Tallahassee Juniors Volleyball Club — 17 Pro. Four members of this team are playing 17s for the second consecutive year and contributed to TJVBC’s victory in the 17/18 Open division last year. Setter Alexa Washington, outside hitter Cailin Demps, and libero Amanda Ray also all play together at Leon High School, which has now been in the Florida 6A state championship match for the last two seasons in a row, winning the title in 2019 and finishing runner-up this fall.
Jan. 16-18 | 8AM ET
Washington, daughter of TJVBC director and former Florida State standout LaToya Washington, is the third Washington daughter to find her place in the sport of volleyball, following sisters Daijah, now the head coach at Maclay High School in Tallahassee, and Makayla, a sophomore middle at USF. Angie Strickland, head coach at Leon, described the young setter as a big jumping lefty with a mean jump serve.
Her high school teammate Demps led Leon with 178 kills this fall and ranked second only to Washington with 111 digs, capping the season as the All-Big Bend Player of the Year. She’s super explosive and hits a heavy ball, but maybe most importantly she has years of experience hitting off of Washington, so while other teams are still gelling, they’ll be already in the groove.
I know it’s easy to get carried away watching the older players, but you absolutely must check out A5 15 Bob, which will be playing in 16 Open this weekend. The team won’t be hard to pick out: I’d be willing to bet they’re the only team in the 16s division (and maybe even the only 15s team in the country) with two setters taller than 6-feet — that is, Grace Agolli and Jada Nelson — and two middles north of 6-5: Mia Hood and Molly Kate Patten. Expect to keep hearing some of the names on this roster for years to come.
That should give you plenty of players and teams to look for this weekend, whether you’re one of the lucky few that scored a ticket to spectate in person or whether you’ll be tuning in to the FloVolleyball live stream.