As established starters in Sunset League boys’ volleyball, Huntington Beach High’s Aidan Knipe and Newport Harbor’s Joe Karlous have almost played their way into becoming household names.
The setters recently finished their junior seasons, with each helping their schools to achieve a modicum of success. Karlous’ Sailors went undefeated until the CIF Southern Section Division 1 title match, while Knipe’s Oilers reached the Division 1 quarterfinals for the sixth year in a row.
Competitive jealousies were a non-issue for the two when they found themselves joining forces on Team USA’s youth national team for the NORCECA U19 Continental Championships in June.
“We both knew that we were going to get equal playing time, we both were going to get the same chance,” Karlous said. “It didn’t matter who started. It just mattered that we qualified for World Championships and we get to the finals.”
Team USA went 4-2 in the tournament, which was held in San Jose, Costa Rica. Karlous said he had never traveled out of the country, and eyes locked in on the players from the time they landed in the airport.
“We come off the plane, and the Cuban team is right next to us,” Karlous recalled. “Everyone’s just kind of staring at each other, giving each other dirty looks.”
The tale of the teams’ initial encounter does not do justice to how their relationship transformed. By the end of their time in Costa Rica, the two teams had not only emerged as the top two competitors at the tournament, but they had started a respectful and friendly dialogue.
“We became friends with them off the court,” Knipe said of interacting with the Cuban youth national team. “We started talking to them through a translator. They were talking about how they have been training for the past year and a half or so, six out of the seven days of the week for multiple hours of the day.
“It was crazy to think that we were able to even come close to the level that they were at with only a couple of days of training.”
Both of Team USA’s losses came against Cuba. In pool play, Cuba topped the United States 25-19, 25-19, 28-26. In the final, Cuba again swept by a score of 25-17, 25-17, 25-20.
In earning a silver medal at the NORCECA U19 Continental Championships, the United States earned a spot in the 2019 FIVB World Championship.
The local setting duo marveled at the chance to represent their country, with the Long Beach State-committed Knipe calling his selection to the U.S. youth national team one of his proudest moments.
“My most proud moment playing there, I think, was every time the national anthem was played, and I got to stand in the line with my name on the back of my USA jersey,” Knipe said. “It was incredible.
“It felt like a little, mini Olympics on a small scale. It felt like it was just high-level international volleyball.”
Karlous echoed Knipe’s sentiments, describing standing in a line with his teammates during the national anthem as “the coolest experience that I’ve ever had.”
The United States posted wins against Guatemala (25-23, 25-14, 25-18), Honduras (25-16, 25-15, 25-14), Nicaragua (25-21, 25-14, 25-13) and Puerto Rico (25-17, 25-19, 25-20).
USA Volleyball announced the 20 players that made the youth national training team on May 10. Edison libero and UCLA commit Cole Power was among those selected who did not make the final cut.