Brande: Locals excel on next level

It is always interesting to see where the Newport-Mesa volleyball players take their skills through their college careers.

From the 1970's (Kari Rush, the Pulaski twins, Marcie Wurts, and Marie Lundie) to the 80's (Lara Asper, Brooke Herrington, and Julie and Jenny Evans), through the 90's (Melissa Schutz, Misty May, Jeannette Hecker and the Newport Harbor High Twin Towers –Maureen McLaren and Tara Kroesch as well as the Corona del Mar Twin Towers – Kristen Campbell and Kim Coleman), and the 2000's with April Ross, Heather Cullen, and Jennifer Carey), this area has been a major factor in the growth of women's college volleyball.

Newport Harbor's former four-year varsity volleyball letter winner, Carolyn Bockrath has started her college career with a bang. She is a member of the most highly rated recruiting class in Army volleyball history. Last weekend, at the Bryant Hampton Invitational tournament, Bockrath led her team to a 2-2 record by leading Army in kills, hitting percentage and blocks. She was an all-tournament selection and was named Army Athletic Assn. Athlete of the Week, as well as Patriot League Rookie of the Week.

Army, with Carolyn starting in the middle, will be playing at Long Beach State on Friday at 7:30 p.m. They will play on Saturday at Long Beach with an 11 a.m. match against the University of San Francisco and at 5 p.m. against Campbell. On Sunday at 11 a.m., Army will play against Cal at UC Irvine. This is a special opportunity to watch Carolyn and Army play.

Corona del Mar's Alexis Cage is a redshirt freshman at San Diego State, where her father Michael dominated the basketball courts back in the day. Alexis is battling for an outside hitting position with the Aztecs.

Reegan Dennis, who lives in Newport and played at Orange Lutheran, starts her second season at Pepperdine. She is battling as a middle blocker for the Waves.

Many remember when Newport's Tristen Thompson hurt her knee during the 2012 Battle of the Bay match at Corona del Mar and required her second surgery to repair it. Last school year, Tristen attended the University of Hawaii at Manoa. She missed being a part of the team so she has enrolled at Santa Barbara City College and will be a defensive specialist on the team.

Newport's Sierra Brown is playing at Orange Coast College and will start at outside hitter for the second year. It will be interesting to see when OCC plays against Santa Barbara in the junior college playoffs.

Tristen Thompson's twin sister, Torey, was last season's NCAA Division II Regional Freshman of the Year as a setter for Chico State. She returns to lead Chico. Her older sister, Kasey, is a returning starter at Hawaii Pacific University, where she is a dominant hitter and blocker at her opposite position. HPU and Chico will play in separate tournaments in the state of Washington this weekend and father, John Thompson, will drive to each tournament to see as much as he can. Those Thompsons love to compete.

Corona del Mar has a trio of former Sea Queens playing at Stanford. Second-year players, Grace Kennedy and Kelsey Humphreys, have improved tremendously and will battle for more playing time. Senior Morgan Boukather saw lots of playing time as a freshman and a sophomore but last season she did not play much behind an All-American. This season, Morgan has emerged with a force. Her hitting and blocking have always been an asset but her all-around court play has improved and is a major reason that she does not leave the floor.

Newport's Hunter Jennings enjoyed last season's freshman season as a back-row player, who played every game on a very successful University of San Diego team. This season, Hunter is the libero for the Toreros. Her fight and desire for success coupled with excellent ball control skills, will make Hunter a major force for USD.

Corona del Mar's Mary McKennon and Britton Taylor are back for their third season of college volleyball. Mary plays every game as a defensive specialist at Cal. Her competitiveness and ball-control skills plus her love to battle, make her a major contributor. Britton has changed her position at UC Santa Barbara from middle blocker to a right side player. Brit's feel for the game allow her to be a major offensive factor for the Gauchos.

Kathryn Connor graduated from Santa Margarita High and lives in Newport. She is a senior libero at Brown University who has led her team in digs for the last two seasons.

Newport Harbor's Kelly Heenan is finishing her final season at Vanguard University, where she holds the career dig record. She again will be the Lions' libero. After the indoor season concludes, Kelly is hoping to start a sand program at Vanguard.

There are also former local players who are now coaching at the high school level. At Newport, Alex Penewell and Katey Thompson are coaching lower-level teams. Penewell played at Colorado and Montana State, while Thompson just completed her playing career at UCSB.

Another former Sailor, Megan Munce, is the assistant varsity coach at Sage Hill School. Megan was an All-American setter at Texas Christian University (TCU) where she played for a former Corona del Mar All-CIF setter, Prentice Perkins Lewis.

It is interesting to observe as these players take something from volleyball after their high school careers. The experience of playing in college is very special.

CHARLIE BRANDE is a former head coach of Corona del Mar High, Newport Harbor and UC Irvine volleyball programs.

Copyright © 2017, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World