At a little more than 1,000 students, Laguna Beach High has one of the smallest Orange County public high school enrollments.
In spite of that, the school manages to be competitive across several sports.
The ongoing success of the Laguna Beach girls’ volleyball team could be credited, in no small part, to chemistry that has been forming over a lifetime.
Shared activities within the small beach community have contributed to close friendships, which has helped the Breakers pull together when the going gets tough.
Senior outside hitter Piper Naess may have been late to the party after spending her freshman year on the junior varsity level, but she is firmly entrenched as part of a corps that includes four-year varsity members in setter Soren Patchell, libero Hallie Carballo and outside hitter Cambria Hall.
The Pacific Soccer Club once had four members of the Laguna Beach indoor girls’ volleyball program on the same roster. Naess played with Carballo, Hall, and Peri Brennan, a senior who no longer plays indoor volleyball for the Breakers.
“I’ve known them pretty much my whole life since Laguna is such a small community that I’m friends with all of them,” Naess said of her connection with her teammates. “I think that’s super important to be [friends] on the team with them because it gives us something that not a bunch of other teams have. I’ve known all of them my whole life.”
Athletics have played a prominent role in the lifestyle of Naess’ family. Her father, Coby, played basketball at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, and her mother, Janelle, was an outside hitter at Wichita State.
Her brother, Nolan, now a junior, is one of the top players in the Laguna Beach boys’ basketball program.
Playing volleyball on the beach also unites the Breakers.
“I think beach has helped my indoor volleyball game a lot because there [are] only two girls on the court, so I’m touching every ball,” said Naess, who helped the Breakers advance to the semifinals of Dave Mohs Tournament at Edison High on Sept. 7. “It gave me a lot of ball control, I feel, and that’s the same with a lot of girls on our team.
“Probably about half of them play beach, which is very helpful because we have the ball control that a bunch of other teams don’t have. We’re not the tallest, so I think that’s super important for our team to have.”
Breakers coach Shawn Patchell said that Naess began her high school career on the junior varsity team in the interest of getting her more in-game reps. She has since made herself indispensable with her defense and versatility.
Back-row defense has become a staple of Laguna Beach volleyball. Patchell took a moment to reflect on one of his team’s strengths after it swept host JSerra 25-16, 25-16, 25-18 on Wednesday night.
“We had Soren on the right side and Piper playing middle and Hallie on the left side in the back row,” Patchell said. “That’s a really good defensive team. All of those girls, any night, they can get 20 digs for us.”
Naess, who is committed to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo for beach volleyball, finished last season with a team-high 450 kills to go with 410 digs. The Breakers advanced to the CIF Southern Section Division 3 final, which they lost to Sun Valley Village Christian 25-19, 25-19, 25-11.
Laguna Beach (17-4) has jumped up to No. 7 in the section’s combined Division 1 and 2 poll, positioning the Breakers to be part of the Division 1 playoff bracket this fall. Laguna Beach has won five of its last six matches.
“It would make a whole lot more sense if we won Division 3 last year,” Patchell said. “That drives me and it drives all of the seniors, especially. We want to end the season with a win, and that’s hard to do.
“If we earn Division 1, then great. That’s good for us. We want to win it all. It would be great to win, no matter what. If we were in Division 3, we would want to win that one.”
Following releaguing, Laguna Beach shared the Wave League title with Newport Harbor last season after the Sailors were able to pull off the upset in holding serve on their home court.
While a case could be made that Laguna Beach belongs in the Surf League, the upper division of the Sunset Conference, Naess simply sees it as a plus to have moved on from the Orange Coast League.
“I don’t mind it,” Naess said of being in the Wave League. “I think it’s good for our team. Even though we’re in the lower division, we still get to play the upper division, so it’s not much of a difference for our team. I think it helps our team [prepare for CIF].”
Patchell makes a point of telling his players that they are going to spend more time around each other than they are their own family members, so they might as well enjoy each other’s company.
Naess could not agree more. She cannot stop smiling when her teammates perform a variety of gymnastics to show their support on the sideline.
“I think Shawn is a big believer of everyone has to be into the game, and I believe that, too,” Naess said. “Whether you’re on the bench or you’re playing, you should be cheering and supporting your team.
“The best way that our team felt we could do it was to have fun, and so they would do all of these pyramids and hoist each other up. They just get super into it.”
Born: Dec. 1, 2001
Hometown: Laguna Beach
Height: 5 feet 10
Weight: 140 pounds
Coach: Shawn Patchell
Favorite food: Bean and cheese burritos
Favorite movie: “Happy Gilmore”
Favorite athletic moment: The Breakers advanced to the CIF Southern Section Division 3 final last season. Then a junior, Naess had 19 kills, 19 digs and four service aces in a 21-25, 20-25, 25-18, 25-19, 15-12 victory at Cypress in the semifinals.
Week in review: Naess helped the Breakers reach the Gold Bracket semifinals of the Dave Mohs Memorial Tournament at Edison High on Sept. 7.
Support our sports coverage by becoming a digital subscriber.