At first, there was frustration this season for the Laguna Beach Volleyball Club 15-and-under team.
The team had all the talent in the world, Coach Chris Whiting said, but chemistry issues made it tough. Whiting’s squad failed to qualify for the Open division at the recently concluded USA Volleyball Junior Olympics, competing instead in the National division.
Coaches talk all the time about a team peaking at the right time, or coming together.
Laguna Beach did both, and as a result Breakers sophomores-to-be Avery Bush, Rachele Killian and Caroline Holte walked away with gold medals and an experience they’ll never forget.
The 15-and-under team, featuring the three Laguna Beach residents, took first place in the National division in Miami on July 3. They beat a team from Cleveland, 25-20, 25-16, in the championship match.
“I was sort of overwhelmed with all of the joy,” said Holte, a middle blocker who was named to the all-tournament team. It was a joyous tournament for the whole family; Holte’s younger sister, Francie, won a bronze in the 12 Open division.
“It was definitely a peak at the right time,” Caroline Holte said. “We were just all really sick of losing, in a way. We were ready to start winning and we came together and became a team.”
Bush, an outside hitter, was also a key. Whiting, who also played at Laguna Beach High (class of ’85), said she was a bit of a stabilizer for the team. Bush said in some ways the win was “life-changing.” The Laguna Beach squad finished up 9-2 in the tournament.
“We know we can keep fighting and we know we’re good players,” Bush said. “It was just like our work paid off so much. It changed my life. Just to win a gold medal is so amazing and hard to do.”
Killian is a setter for the team, and her chemistry with the other two Laguna Beach players was another key to the team’s success. Killian said the team wasn’t down at all, even after dropping its second match of the tournament to Rocket City, of Huntsville, Ala.
“We had to pull it together,” she said. “Losing that [match], we wanted to keep on winning and get first in that pool. We weren’t nearly that down about it. We knew we still had a chance.”
A special weekend for the Killians as well, as older brother Jake won the 18 Open gold at the boys’ Junior Olympics Saturday in Atlanta. Killian’s team, the Riptides, defeated a Balboa Bay team coached by UC Irvine Coach John Speraw and featuring Laguna Beach’s Cooper Gwaltney in the final, 27-25, 25-22.
Travis Woloson, Robbie McKnight and Reed Thompson also won gold as part of the Balboa Bay 17 Quiksilver team, which won the 17 Open division with a perfect 11-0 record.
Woloson was named to the all-tournament team.
The Balboa Bay 18 “White” team, featuring Laguna Beach’s Scottie Chapel and Harrison Phelps, finished tied for fifth in the 18 Open division.
Back on the Laguna Beach Volleyball Club girls’ side, recent Laguna Beach High graduate Alexandra Palmer was part of the 18 Open team that took bronze.
The team advanced to the Gold semifinals before losing a tough four-game match to Encinitas-based Wave. It was Laguna Beach’s first loss of the tournament.
Palmer, the Santa Clara University-bound setter, earned All-American honors for the third time at Junior Olympics and said she had a great time.
“It’s basically the top teams in the nation, and a lot of them are from Southern California,” Palmer said of the 18 Open division. “It was really cool to see the girls who you play against in high school at that next level on the club scene.”
Palmer’s team won it all in the 16s two years ago, yet this time took home the bronze. She said it was a bit bittersweet as her club career came to a close and she now prepares for collegiate volleyball.
At Santa Clara, her incoming freshman class has been ranked No. 11 in the country by prepvolleyball.com.
“I learned how to play volleyball through club,” she said. “I’m bummed it’s all over but I’m really excited to play college volleyball. We have a great class. Hopefully I can help get them to the NCAA title.”