To a casual observer, setter can be one of the more underrated positions on the court.
Setters don’t often hammer down booming kills. They’re also not usually the ones you see sprawling all over the court, trying to make contact with the ball until it touches the ground.
But if the set is the pass, then Laguna Beach High sophomore Allison Palmer — a Lakers fan — is the Magic Johnson of whatever team she happens to be playing for.
There’s the high school Breakers, then her Laguna Beach Volleyball Club team. Now, an exciting new team has entered the mix for Laguna’s own star setter.
Palmer is one of 12 girls named to the U.S. Girls’ Youth National Team. She’s heading with the team to next week’s North, Central America and Caribbean Volleyball Confederation (NORCECA) Girls’ Youth Continental Championship in Guatemala.
Mexico is ranked No. 1 in the division, with the United States at No. 2 and the Domincan Republic in the third spot. The top three teams earn a berth in the 2011 Girls’ Youth World Championship in Turkey.
“It should be a great experience,” Palmer said. “I love all the coaches and I love my teammates.”
It’s a love built partially through hard work. Palmer, who has been in USA Volleyball competition for a few years now, had to tryout for the team for eight days in late December at the national training center in Colorado Springs.
“It was pretty intense,” said Palmer, who stands 5 feet 9. “You had to come into practice every day just working hard every single play. I knew I was going to be one of the shorter players on the team.”
Yet, a New Year’s Day present was waiting for her. Just 15 years old at the time, she had made the youth national team.
“Right when [I] heard my name, it was the perfect moment,” said Palmer, now 16.
“It was the best New Year’s Day I could imagine. I finally knew that all my hard work had paid off.”
It’s been paying off for a while. Palmer started club volleyball in fourth grade, and she has always been known as an extremely hard worker. Her freshman year at the high school, her older sister Alexandra — now at Santa Clara — was the Breakers’ starting setter.
So all Allison Palmer did was slide over to libero and continue to excel. Not that it surprised Breakers Coach Lance Stewart.
“They have a term in basketball called ‘gym rat,’ and I think you could apply that term to her as a volleyball player,” Stewart said. “She’s a gym rat. Some players want to be good volleyball players, but they think it’s going to happen by magic. Her goal is to become a good volleyball player, and she puts in the time and the effort with the required amount of intensity and passion. That’s why she’s the player she is.
“She stepped right in and was a really good libero for us. She’s not a setter, she’s a volleyball player. That’s what you like to have. If you asked her to become a good outside hitter, she’d become one of the best outside hitters in high school volleyball.”
It runs in the family; mom Rosemary was a setter at Mission Viejo High and still likes to play beach volleyball. Then you have Alexandra, an Orange Coast League Most Valuable Player and All-CIF selection who won a gold medal at the Junior Olympics last year before heading off to college.
Allison said her older sister has definitely been a big help to her career.
“Because she’s a setter, too, she gives me tips,” said Allison, whose older brother, Andrew, is a junior on the Breakers’ golf team. “It’s been great. She’s a loving sister. Without her, I don’t think I could have done it. She’s definitely my inspiration.”
But on the volleyball court, your family name doesn’t get you anywhere. Allison Palmer has had to put in the work to get better, and it’s definitely shown.
She’ll need to keep doing it. With a win in Guatemala next week, the United States would also qualify for the Youth Olympic Games, but it wouldn’t necessarily be as the same team. Palmer would have to try out again.
About a month ago, Allison Palmer also tried out for the USA Volleyball High Performance Championships, a summer tournament in Wisconsin from July 26 to 30.
Her club team with Laguna Beach is also expected to have a successful summer. The 17s team, coached by Kyle Kvasnicka, has already won two qualifiers for the Junior Nationals.
Add in schoolwork and it’s quite a load, but Palmer seems to take it all in stride.
“I think tryouts are actually really fun,” she said. “The competition keeps getting better, so you always strive to get better.”
The setter continues to set herself up for success.