Setting the Family Tradition

Alexandra Palmer playing at Santa Clara University. Photo by Robert Campbell.
At the end of this season, Laguna Beach High School senior Allison Palmer will be preparing to join her sister Alexandra in college, turning the page on a special chapter in Breaker volleyball history where the Palmer siblings set more than two thirds of the points scored by the school’s volleyball team.


“It’s been a wonderful experience for us,” said the girls’ mother Rosemary, reflecting on countless club and high school matches she and her husband Sylvain, have witnessed over the years.


With Orange Coast league play and the post season still to come, Allison hopes to lead the Breakers to a CIF title before heading off to Arizona State.


Alexandra, a junior setter at Santa Clara University, has been a major influence on her sister, who often came to Alexandra’s club practices and worked out with her team. “Allison always wanted to be like me,” she said. “It was kind of annoying, but now I love it.”


“We would do everything together,” said Allison.


The couple encouraged their three children to play team sports to learn time management and people skills. Their son Andrew competed in volleyball, cross-country and golf, a sport he now plays at Cornell. The girls played volleyball, baseball and soccer, but “volleyball is the one that stuck,” said Allison.


Like her daughters, Rosemary played setter in high school, as well as in college, until an injury limited her to recreational games on the beach. It was while watching their mother play that, “we just both fell in love with it,” said Alexandra.


And the Palmer residence hasn’t quite been the same since. “We have balls in every room of our house,” said Rosemary. “All the door jams around my house always had finger marks from them practicing their jumps to see how high they can touch.”


Allison Palmer against Corona del Mar this season.

Lance Stewart, who coached both girls throughout their high school careers, knows how important the setter position is to a team, and he’s fortunate to have had two really good ones. His teams won back-to-back CIF championships in ’06 and ‘07, during Alexandra’s sophomore and junior seasons. “The position’s so critical; because it makes your passing better and it makes your hitting better,” he said. “They can turn a bad pass into a good swing.”


Both Palmer girls have been great role models and team leaders. They practice hard, they play hard and they bring a lot of intensity to the court. “It’s been nice to have [those qualities] from that setting position, that’s for sure,” Stewart said. “You don’t get kids like that very often, and it’s been nice having them for seven years.”


As with Alexandra, Stewart knew he had a quality setter in the making from the moment he saw Allison play. “You could see the athleticism and the skill and the drive to get better,” he said.


Because of their three-year age difference, the girls didn’t play club volleyball together, but that didn’t keep them from enjoying the sport they had grown to love. Whether on the beach or in a game of pepper at home, “we were always definitely looking for a way to play volleyball,” said Alexandra.


And when the Palmers weren’t playing volleyball, they were talking volleyball. Their dad even read books on the sport so he could join in the family discussions. “We have some pretty interesting conversations,” said Allison.


It was through Allison’s exceptional skill and sheer determination that the sisters finally became teammates. “It was my goal to make varsity my freshman year so I could just play with her,” said Allison.


On Sept. 11, 2008, the sisters took the floor of Dugger Gym together for the first time, Alexandra the senior at setter and Allison the freshman at libero. “The two of them had the biggest grins on their faces,” said Rosemary.


Allison came away from that memorable season with a heightened sense of what her sister meant to the team. “She really showed great leadership,” said Allison. “I try to emulate what she does with the team now.”


Before every match, Allison tells her teammates to “play crisp,” something her sister used to say in the same situation. “The team loves it every time I say it; because they know I’m thinking of my sister,” said Allison.


Alexandra’s best advice to Allison is “don’t let anyone keep you from loving the game.” Nicknamed “Colgate” and “Smiley” for their perpetually cheerful demeanor on and off the court, it seems as if no one will.




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