On Sept. 7, Hayley Hodson received a phone call from Karch Kiraly she will never forget.
The volleyball legend called Hodson the day before her 17th birthday. He told Hodson he had a spot for her to join his U.S. under-23 women's team for an international volleyball tournament.
"He said it was in Mexico and in two weeks, and I was like, 'OK,'" said Hodson, whose junior season with the Corona del Mar High girls' volleyball team had just started, barely one match old. "With Karch Kiraly as your coach, it was an incredible opportunity I wasn't going to pass up."
Hodson accepted the opportunity of a lifetime, but she just had to make sure it was OK with her coach, Steve Astor, and teachers at CdM. They cleared the trip, allowing her to miss 10 days of school and eight matches.
The day after, on her birthday, Kiraly wished Hodson a Happy Birthday. The time away from the Sea Kings turned out to be a gift for Hodson, the Daily Pilot Newport-Mesa Dream Team Player of the Year, and her high school teammates.
They each had to grow up very fast.
Hodson competed in the FIVB Volleyball Women's Under-23 World Championships with and against older players. The Sea Kings learned to play without their lone returning starter.
Astor called it a win-win situation for Hodson and CdM. She earned a shot to play in the tournament because it coincided with the NCAA women's volleyball season.
"None of the colleges were going to release any player during the middle of the season," Hodson said.
When Hodson returned from helping the U.S. finish fourth, CdM caught fire, winning 12 of its next 13 matches.
Hodson spearheaded the run. The run ended in the quarterfinals of the CIF Southern Section Division 1AA playoffs, much earlier than in Hodson's past two postseason trips.
Nevertheless, Hodson said the season turned out to be a success. The team went into the season with many new faces after it lost 13 seniors to graduation. The Sea Kings went on to win their eighth straight Pacific Coast League title and finish 25-6 overall in Astor's first season in charge.
"We went pretty far this year," said Hodson, whose third-seeded team bowed out in the quarterfinals at home against Mater Dei, the eventual runner-up. "Even though we didn't finish how we wanted [in the playoffs], we had a great tournament [right before] in Santa Barbara [at the Tournament of Champions by placing fifth]. It was encouraging."
Hodson expects CdM to be back in contention for her senior season. Every starter returns, except for senior opposite Jules Pouch.
Hodson has a lot to look forward to, especially after high school. A lot of the top Division I colleges are heavily recruiting the 6-foot-2 outside hitter, and with good reason. She produced another stellar season, finishing with 407 kills and a .356 hitting percentage, and averaging 5.2 kills per set.
Hodson earned Dream Team honors for the third straight year, and for the second time made both the All-CIF Southern Section Division 1AA team and All-Orange County second team. The Pacific Coast League named her the MVP.
She doesn't want to say what colleges she's considering, but whoever lands Hodson will be lucky.
"There is no player that affects the game in so many ways as she does," Astor said. "Everyone will look at the obvious skill of her attacking, which is superb, but it is the other parts of her complete game that set her apart. Her passing, blocking, defense, and even her setting [have] been great. Above all, her character and leadership qualities are what truly separate her."
Below are the rest of the players on this year's Dream Team:
The senior middle blocker keyed Newport Harbor's revival after a 3-12 start. Bockrath lifted the young Sailors to an upset against Los Alamitos, which went on to win the Sunset League and CIF Southern Section Division 1AA titles, and finish as the CIF State Division I runner-up. Newport Harbor qualified for the playoffs for the 28th time in as many years under Coach Dan Glenn. Bockrath finished with 466 kills, a .475 hitting percentage, 66 blocks and 32 services aces. Bockrath earned first-team All-Orange County and first-team All-Sunset League accolades.
The junior outside hitter led Sage Hill to its most successful season, as the Lightning shared the Academy League title, claimed the CIF Southern Section Division 3A title, and reached the CIF State Southern California Regional Division III finals. She helped Sage Hill make an unprecedented third straight section finals appearance, winning twice during the span. She recorded 424 kills, 350 digs and 84 aces. Whitford garnered the CIF Southern Section Division 3A Player of the Year and Academy League MVP awards, along with All-Orange County honorable mention honors.
The junior outside hitter played bigger than her actual 5-foot-7 size. McKenna, a Stanford commit, used her skills as a passer, speed on the court, and power and accuracy as a hitter to dominate during Sage Hill's run in the CIF Southern Section Division 3A and CIF State Southern California Regional Division III playoffs. She produced 377 kills, 342 digs and 73 aces. McKenna received All-CIF Southern Section Division 3A and first-team All-Academy League laurels, as well as All-Orange County honorable mention honors. McKenna is a two-time Dream Team selection.
OPP/Corona del Mar
The senior opposite provided dependability and versatility for the Sea Kings throughout the season, playing outside hitter when Hayley Hodson and Katie Craig missed time for various reasons. Pouch, one of only three Corona del Mar seniors, contributed to the Sea Kings finishing first in the Pacific Coast League for the eighth consecutive time and advancing to the CIF Southern Section Division 1AA quarterfinals. She finished with 135 kills and a .232 hitting percentage. Pouch made the All-Orange County honorable mention list and All-Pacific Coast League first team.
The junior turned out to be one of the top setters in Orange County. Coach Dan Thomassen called Abbott the cornerstone of Sage Hill's success. She ran a great offense, blocked well, and served tough. She amassed 920 assists and 70 aces. Her biggest match came against rival Crean Lutheran in the CIF Southern Section Division 3A final at Cerritos College, where she totaled 41 assists, to go with eight digs and a kill. Abbott earned All-CIF Southern Section Division 3A, third-team All-Orange County and first-team All-Academy League honors.
The junior performed at a high level in the back row, becoming the third straight Newport Harbor libero to make the Dream Team. Yeager's digging and passing allowed the Sailors to turn their season around, place third in the ultra-competitive Sunset League for the third straight year, and qualify for the CIF Southern Section Division 1AA playoffs. She collected 322 digs and 17 aces. Her best match came at Huntington Beach, where she totaled 29 digs. Yeager is a first-team All-Sunset League member.