Action is returning to FloVolleyball this weekend with 2021 Lil Big South. Nearly 300 teams across 20 divisions will go head-to-head in Atlanta, GA for the ninth consecutive year for one of the earliest tournaments of the club season.
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3 Major Storylines
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.
Top Players & Teams To Watch
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.
20 Returning Clubs
At this year's 2021 Lil Big South, there will be 20 clubs making a return to the event. These clubs have brought multiple teams to compete in past years and will do so again this year.
Jan. 16-18 | 8AM ET
|3:16 Volleyball Club|
|575 Volleyball Club|
|After Shock Volleyball Club|
|Carolina One Volleyball|
|Cobb Atlanta Volleyball Club|
|Fury Volleyball Club|
|Intensity Volleyball Club|
|Metro Volleyball Club|
|Mississippi Gulf Coast Volleyball Club|
|North Georgia Aces|
|Phoenix Rising Volleyball Club|
|Rio Volleyball Club|
|Tallahassee Juniors Volleyball Club|
|Trailblazers Club Volleyball|
|Tsunami Volleyball Club|
|Walton Elite Volleyball Club|