Corona del Mar High's Ashley Humphreys says she never really got her feet wet in beach volleyball, but even if she did, she thinks that she would still be more attracted to the indoor game.
Beyond the competitive nature of sports, it is the team aspect that called her to volleyball. While the indoor game may be more in line with that way of thinking, there was no question about who was in charge when Humphreys was on the court.
The senior setter says that decision-making is just part of the job description, and more times than not, she made the right one for a CdM girls' volleyball team that went very far this fall.
Humphreys is the Daily Pilot Girls' Volleyball Dream Team Player of the Year. She shouldered a lot of responsibility in leading the Sea Kings to a CIF Southern Section Division 1 semifinal appearance and a berth in the CIF State Open Division playoffs.
"The game and the speed is all controlled by the setter, so having that control for all six rotations definitely puts you a position [where] … you have to make smart decisions the whole time," Humphreys said. "It's more of a spotlight on you, and if there is a mistake, it kind of goes on you, too."
The USC signee was a special player that the Sea Kings were able to play through exclusively. CdM fed off of the positive energy she would bring, despite her dependency on the swings of her hitters. Humphreys' athleticism made CdM's offense elite, and all of those qualities made her the top player in the area.
"What sets Ashley apart in terms of just being a volleyball player is her athleticism," Sea Kings coach Steve Astor said. "She can get to balls that most others cannot get to. Some players can get to them with a bump set, but she will get to them with her hands, and then she can set it where she wants to.
"Ashley's ability allows us to put Kendall [Kipp] on the right side, so that alone changed our season. What I mean by that is if we pass the ball toward the outside hitter spot, Ashley can still set it against the grain, or against the flow, back to the right side."
Humphreys amassed 1,019 assists, 172 digs, 101 kills, 58 service aces and 46½ blocks.
In having Kipp on the right side, she was available for all six rotations. The 6-foot-4 junior opposite was often on the receiving end of Humphreys' sets, polishing off a team-high 429 kills.
Combined with outside hitters Christina Davenport and Maya Satchell on the left side, the Sea Kings (23-8, 10-0 in league) boasted a lethal attack that rolled through the Pacific Coast League by dropping just two sets over the course of the 10 matches.
"She just makes me look good," Humphreys said of Kipp. "It could be the worst set, and she would still put them away and make me look good.
"It's obviously super fun to set her, and Christina and Maya were consistent the whole year. They came up with big kills in big moments, so I had a lot of trust in all of them."
With the luxury of having Humphreys chase down the first touch, Astor employed a new offense for the first time in his five years as the Sea Kings' head coach. He switched from a 6-2 offense to a 5-1 system, giving Humphreys the unassisted setting duties.
"Running a 5-1 is a lot more fun because it is controlled the whole time by you [the setter]," Humphreys said. "I've done it in club before, too, so it wasn't like a new task that I was taking on. I was prepared and excited to take on that role."
After surviving a first-round scare against Tesoro when the Titans took the hosting Sea Kings to five sets, CdM bounced back to advance to the Division 1 semifinals. Even though the Sea Kings lost to Mater Dei in a sweep, it was their first trip to the section semifinals since 2014.
In the opening round of the state playoffs, Humphreys and the Sea Kings got up early against top-seeded San Diego Torrey Pines. Although the Falcons would rally to win, the match demonstrated the danger that CdM presented with Humphreys running the show.
"We were definitely the underdogs," Humphreys recalled. "In the first game, I think we were all a little shocked about how well we were playing and how much we were winning by. Obviously, Torrey Pines is a really good team, so [it] turned it around on their side."
COACH OF THE YEAR
Corona del Mar
The fifth-year head coach of the Sea Kings is receiving the award for the first time. Astor said that the honor is one for the players. It is hard to argue against his team making him look good, but Astor also recognized opportunities that his personnel presented. For the first time in his tenure at CdM, the Sea Kings broke from their 6-2 offense to run a 5-1, with the athletic Ashley Humphreys doing all of the setting. CdM completed its fourth undefeated run through the Pacific Coast League in five seasons under Astor. The Sea Kings went 23-8 overall. They advanced to the CIF Southern Section Division 1 semifinals for the first time since 2014, earning a berth into the CIF State Open Division draw.
S | Sage Hill | Sr.
The all-around nature of Blevins' game was a big factor in how far the Lightning went in the postseason. Beyond her 645 assists, she added 77 kills, 63 blocks and 52 aces. Sage Hill went 26-10 overall, advancing to the semifinals of both the CIF Southern Section Division 3 section playoffs and the CIF State Southern California Regional Division II bracket. Sage Hill was a perfect 12-0 in winning the Academy League, and Blevins was named the league MVP. "Jade, besides being physically gifted, has all the intangibles you want in a player, and in particular, a setter," Lightning coach Dan Thomassen said. "Jade is extremely hard-working, is always team-first, and is a tremendous person off the court." Blevins has signed with the University of Portland to continue her volleyball career in college.
MB | Huntington Beach | So.
Huntington Beach's front row was enough to strike fear into the heart of most opponents. Both of the Oilers' middle blockers were first-team All-Sunset League selections, including the multi-talented Hodel. The 6-foot-1 sophomore, who high jumps during the track and field season, soared above the net for 222 kills on .678 hitting. She also had 79 blocks. "Xolani's natural athleticism gave her an advantage against almost everyone she faced this season," Oilers coach Craig Pazanti said, calling Hodel one of Orange County's best middle blockers at season's end. "Her ability to defend the net was also a major reason why our team defense was so good this season." The Sunset League champion Oilers went 25-7 overall and 9-1 in league contests.
OPP | Corona del Mar | Jr.
Kipp became a full-time opposite for the Sea Kings in her junior season, and it paid major dividends for CdM. Astor likened having her on the right side to having a star running back in football. Previously a middle blocker, Kipp now had to be accounted for on all six rotations. "She's a main reason why we were so strong on the outside with Christina [Davenport] and Maya [Satchell] being able to get their swings," Astor said. "It had a lot to do with Kendall being on the right side." Kipp had 429 kills, 120 digs, 70 blocks and 48 aces.
L | Edison | Sr.
Roster turnover forced the Chargers to take some drastic measures to stay competitive in the tough Sunset League. All-league setter Lindsey Sparks moved to outside hitter. The move required Edison's back row to play especially well, as better passes were needed to help the team get into the flow of its offense. "Kealani anchored our defense," Chargers coach Matt Skolnik said. "She had a great ability to read hitters and never hesitated to throw her body on the floor to keep rallies going." Knickerbocker's contributions helped the Chargers claim second in the Sunset League, with Edison splitting its two matches with league champion Huntington Beach. The senior libero produced a team-high 286 digs.
OH | Laguna Beach | Sr.
McKeown led a Breakers team that possessed the top spot in the CIF Southern Section Division 3 rankings for a good portion of the season. Laguna Beach wound up as the No. 3 seed in the section playoffs, advancing to the quarterfinals before being taken out by Pasadena Westridge. McKeown led the team in kills with 290 and digs with 273. She added 31 total blocks and 14 aces. The senior outside hitter was named the MVP of the Orange Coast League. Laguna Beach, which will join the Wave Division of the Sunset League next fall, finished its time in the Orange Coast League on a 120-match winning streak.
OH | Huntington Beach | Sr.
Nelson was a co-Sunset League MVP in leading the Oilers to their fourth consecutive league title. Although the Oilers had a number of threats in the front row, Nelson made for an excellent option on the left side. She had 256 kills, 218 digs and 27 aces. Pazanti said that Nelson was the player who consistently brought her best game to the biggest matches. The senior outside hitter has signed with Jacksonville State for beach volleyball.
UT | Edison | Sr.
After serving as the setter for Edison's CIF State Division I title in her junior season, Sparks was called upon to make a position change for her senior year. She moved over to outside hitter, and she excelled there, as well. Sparks was named co-MVP of the Sunset League, producing a team-high 198 kills with 242 digs and 25 aces. The Chargers went 16-11 overall, finishing second in league with a record of 8-2. Sparks will play beach volleyball for UCLA in college.
MB | Huntington Beach | Sr.
Williamson combined with Hodel to make a solid wall against opposing teams' hitters. The first-team All-Sunset League selection had 56 blocks, adding 174 kills on .592 hitting. "She was an offensive presence in the middle, and even though she was under-sized, she could score against anyone when we passed the ball well," Pazanti said of Williamson. Huntington Beach finished first in the Sunset League for the fourth year in a row. The Oilers were the only team from the league to advance in the opening round of the CIF Southern Section Division 1 playoffs. They fell to CdM in the second round. The match pitted future league rivals against each other, as CdM will be joining the Sunset League's Surf Division next year.
Position, Name, School, Year
S Cristina Baily, Huntington Beach, Sr.
OH Christina Davenport, Corona del Mar, Sr.
OPP Vivian Donovan, Newport Harbor, Sr
OH Sydnee Francis, Sage Hill, Jr.
L Kelli Greiner, Ocean View, Jr.
MB Blair Hodges, Corona del Mar, Sr.
MB Helen Reynolds, Ocean View, Jr.
UT Malia Tufuga, Costa Mesa, So.