The high school’s girls’ volleyball team made a statement last month in Anaheim at the prestigious Foothill Queens Court pre-season tournament, taking runner up honors for the second consecutive season.
Senior Caroline Holte isn’t quite sure what to make of her team’s preseason success over the past two years. “Usually this early in the season, the setters are still trying to find their balance with the hitters,” she said. “Luckily we had a lot of cohesiveness and we jelled well.”
That cohesiveness was evident in the finals against Goleta’s Dos Pueblos, ranked 22nd in the MaxPreps’ national preseason poll. The Breakers showed they could hang with one of the country’s best teams, rallying from a 12-1 deficit to tie the first game, before losing the match 25-19, 25-22.
“We know that we can be good when we play together,” said senior Allison Palmer, who admits the team struggled on the first day of the two-day tournament. “I think that’s what we’re really going to focus on. Not so much our success, but the little things we need to tune up.”
The Breaker’s run at the Queens gives them a lot of confidence, especially their semi final win over second ranked division 1AA Edison of Huntington Beach. Coach Lance Stewart said beating tough D-1 teams early may not be a prediction of future success, but “that’s important to have that in the back of your head.”
Team chemistry will no doubt play a role in the Breakers quest for a CIF title. Perhaps more important will be the play of Palmer. Last year at this time Stewart said, “I think Allison Palmer’s one of the top setters in the county.”
Last month, MaxPreps named Palmer a first team pre-season all-American. “She runs an offense, she doesn’t just set,” said Stewart, revising his assessment from a year ago. “She understands how to mix it up and where to go.”
Palmer, a co-captain with Holte, sees her role from a different perspective. “I think just being an encouraging teammate is the main key,” she said. “Making sure that chemistry lasts throughout the whole season. I think that’s a big part of making it all the way through CIF.”
Last season, 763 of Palmer’s sets became kills, but nearly half of those went to all-CIF Chanel Stewart and all-league MacKenzie Hester. Even with their graduation, Holte thinks Laguna’s scoring game could be even better. “Our outside hitters are actually one of our most exciting positions for this year,” she said.
Senior Marina Paul, whose 235 kills were second to Stewart’s 299, will take over her left side hitting position. Holte will move from middle blocker into Hester’s position on the right side.
Paul is committed to play soccer for Georgetown next year and took the club volleyball season off to concentrate on her primary sport. But that doesn’t mean she won’t be a scoring force this year. “She’s just an incredible athlete,” said coach Stewart. “She hasn’t missed a beat. She’s gotten better.”
During the club season, the Harvard-bound Holte worked hard to improve her blocking skills in the middle, but she is ready to shift gears and positions. “It’ll be just a transition for me that I’m going to have to work on,” she said. “It’ll be fun though.”
“It’s a bit of a learning curve for her out there,” Stewart said. “She’ll get there, I’m not worried about that.”
When Paul and Holte aren’t knocking it down for the Breakers, look for senior Avery Bush and freshman phenom Alyse Ford-Wallace to get their share of kills. Bush looks to improve her solid play at the net and on the back row, while Ford, just looks to get some playing time. And based on her showing at the Queens tournament, she should get a lot of it. “She can touch 10’ 2” and she’s only like 5-7,” said Holte.
“She jumps out of the roof,” echoed Palmer, who marveled as the freshman took sets from the senior and “ripped the ball down in front of the 10 foot line.”
“We’ll be all right at the outside hitting position,” said Stewart with understated caution.
Senior Rachele Killian takes over as Libero and junior Julia Goggin moves into Holte’s vacated middle blocker one position. “[Goggin] has made huge strides over the club season,” said Stewart.
Junior Alexx Murphy will play MB2. At the Queens tournament, Stewart said, “We threw her in the middle on Sunday, and she was fantastic.”
Stewart likes the versatility his new middle blockers. “We’ve got a lot of option and things we can do because we’ve got a middle that can control the ball. It makes for some good possibilities,” he said.
The third ranked Breaker’s season begins at home Sept. 13 against Corona del Mar and at Newport Harbor on Sept. 15 and ends at Edison Nov. 3. In between they face the usual powers at Dave Mohs Orange County Championships and the Southern California Challenge at Torrey Pines HS.
Laguna has bowed out of the post-season tournament early in recent years, but the Arizona State-bound Palmer feels like “this is the year we’re finally going to push through that semi-finals wall and get to the finals and win it.”
Photos by Robert Campbell