When Fountain Valley High girls’ volleyball coach Taylor Packer took over the program two years ago, she had memories of her own playing days to draw back on.
Packer, who played setter at Huntington Beach and graduated in 2012, could not remember the Barons having much success.
Fountain Valley had two CIF Southern Section postseason appearances — in 2013 and 2016 — and no playoff victories since at least the 2004 season.
A banner hung in the gym for Fountain Valley’s win over Capistrano Valley in the Division IA final in 1996.
More than 20 years had passed since that vestige of playoff success, and Packer understood that it would take work to turn the program around.
Luckily for Packer and the Barons, they had Phoebe Minch as a centerpiece to build around. The talented outside hitter became a captain as a junior.
Although the Barons did not qualify for the postseason in 2018, Packer’s first year could be considered a success. Expectations from those outside of the program may have been low, but Packer wanted her team to focus on growth from within.
Step one was to see Minch, the newly appointed captain, step up as a leader. When the normally shy and reserved Minch found her voice, it would prove effective, especially with the core of the team returning.
Fountain Valley exceeded expectations this season, culminating with a trip to the Division 3 quarterfinals, where the Barons lost to third-seeded Menifee Paloma Valley 25-21, 25-18, 25-22 at home.
The joy of having made a deep playoff run outweighed the disappointment of defeat. After being eliminated, the Barons were all smiles and even posed for photos as a team.
“Actually, I was kind of surprised,” Packer said. “They cared. They wanted to win, but then when it was over, I think that they were just happy that we made it that far. They were able to experience going into CIF and then able to experience playing at home. That was the biggest thing.”
Minch said that the improvement of others made the team more dangerous. Junior middle blocker Juliette Bokor became a solid secondary source of kills for junior setter Lauren Mena to look for.
“I think the Rosary Tournament was the turning point of our season because that was really when they started connecting,” Minch said of Bokor and Mena developing chemistry. “Then we had a huge threat in the middle. That helped us out a lot because it removed some stress from me and the outsides because it’s not always going to go to me. We can set other people.”
Sophomore middle blocker Zoe Ziegler added to the team’s blocking. Senior libero Rachel Lucie and sophomore defensive specialist Delaney Risse were among those that helped the Barons transform into a scrappier team that extended points.
“We have had a lot of scramble plays this year,” Minch said. “Our defense has been surprisingly good this year. I feel like in the past, we were not that strong defensively.
“For some reason, this year, we have been able to stay in those long rallies because of our defense. We just go for the ball, and we aren’t one to give up.”
Minch, who committed to Westmont College in August, had urged her teammates to wipe their memories of past perceptions of opponents. The only thing that mattered was how they played on their side of the net.
The Barons got better on the court, and their record spoke for itself. Fountain Valley finished the season at 19-12 overall, an 11-win improvement from the year before.
“It was a big deal to make the playoffs, but we wanted to actually show that we were able to compete in the playoffs,” Minch said.
As for how she improved individually, Minch said she got better as a passer, especially in serve receive.
In college and beyond, Minch would like to pursue a career in physical therapy.
Packer said that Fountain Valley will lose one of the best players that it has ever had.
“Phoebe is a role model to the whole program,” Packer said. “Everyone looks up to her, and it’s not just because of how she plays. A lot of it has to do with her actions off the court.
“She is one of the most humble, sweet, caring and understanding teammates and captains. She sets the perfect example for Fountain Valley athletes, and she exemplifies Baron pride immensely.”
Born: May 1, 2002
Hometown: Fountain Valley
Height: 5 feet 10
Weight: 150 pounds
Coach: Taylor Packer
Favorite food: Chipotle
Favorite movie: “Mamma Mia!”
Favorite athletic moment: Fountain Valley reaching the CIF Southern Section Division 3 quarterfinals this season. It was the second time that Minch has competed in the playoffs.
Week in review: Minch provided 60 kills over three matches in leading Fountain Valley to the Division 3 quarterfinals. In beating St. Margaret’s and Rosary, the Barons earned their first playoff victories in at least the last 16 years.
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