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Daily Pilot Girls’ Volleyball Dream Team: Corona del Mar’s Molly Joyce rounds into form

Molly Joyce finished with 331 kills, 26 service aces and 17 totals blocks for Corona del Mar this season.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Few gave the Corona del Mar High girls’ volleyball team a chance to replicate the success of years past following the graduation of Kendall Kipp.

Former Sea Kings coach Steve Astor had referred to Kipp, the now Stanford outside hitter, as the “most dominant player” he had coached. It would be no small task to replace her production.

The Sea Kings had their critics who predicted the end of their reign atop the Surf League.

Throughout her playing career, outside hitter Molly Joyce also had those who doubted that she could ever become a six-rotation player.

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On both accounts, from a personal and team perspective, the challenge was accepted.

“I think it’s natural, when you hear a lot of people telling you that you can’t do something, it’s kind of natural, if you’re competitive at all, to try to go out and prove them wrong,” first-year Sea Kings coach Sam Stafford said.

Joyce proved a lot of people wrong in her junior year, leading CdM to a second straight undefeated Surf League championship. Joyce is the Daily Pilot Girls’ Volleyball Dream Team Player of the Year in 2019.

The Surf League MVP had a team-best 331 kills, adding 26 service aces and 17 total blocks.

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As a sophomore, Joyce had played opposite, yielding most of the attacking swings to the outside hitters — Nikki Senske and Kipp — and even middle blocker Karly Recker.

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Corona del Mar junior outside hitter Molly Joyce led the Sea Kings to an undefeated Surf League title.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

With only Senske returning from that group, Joyce knew that an opportunity had presented itself, but she had to earn it.

“I think all of my coaches before had told me that I wasn’t going to be a six-rotation player, probably ever, because my passing wasn’t that great,” Joyce said. “In the beginning of the season, I was kind of proving them right.”

Having been hired in May to handle the girls’ volleyball head coaching duties, Stafford did not get much of an offseason to work with his team. Still, he knew right away that his team’s fortunes would rest on the ability to keep Joyce on the court.

“When I started to watch her play, I thought for our team to be successful, she needed to be on the court for six rotations, no matter what position that was,” Stafford said. “It just worked out to be an outside hitter. I think her being a six-rotation player was a huge part of our offense out of the back row.”

Joyce helped the Sea Kings go 22-7 overall and 6-0 in the league, winning four five-set matches.

“I was not expecting to go undefeated [in league play] this year,” Joyce said. “I was not really expecting to win that many games or get very far in [the] CIF [Southern Section playoffs].

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“We had to write down goals in the beginning of the season, and to win CIF wasn’t even one of them. It was just to qualify.”

Joyce worked on her passing to become anything but a liability in serve receive, and she became the force that propelled her team to a berth in the Division 1 playoffs, an exclusive bracket that included just 12 teams.

None of the Sunset Conference teams to qualify — CdM, Laguna Beach and Huntington Beach — won a match in the Division 1 playoffs.

The Sea Kings were the only local team to win a match in the CIF State Southern California Regional Division I playoffs, upsetting No. 6 La Jolla Bishop’s in an opener before bowing out against No. 3 Carlsbad La Costa Canyon in the quarterfinals.

With Joyce returning next season, the Sea Kings will look to defend their league crown.

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Corona del Mar’s Molly Joyce, center, puts the ball away for a point past two La Costa Canyon blockers in the quarterfinals of the CIF State Southern California Regional Division I playoffs on Nov. 14 in Carlsbad.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

COACH OF THE YEAR

Taylor Packer

Fountain Valley

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In her second season as the head coach of the Barons, Packer led her team to the playoffs for the first time since 2016. Fountain Valley advanced to the CIF Southern Section Division 3 quarterfinals with road wins over St. Margaret’s and Rosary. Those wins accounted for the Barons’ only postseason victories in the past 15 years, culminating in one of Fountain Valley’s best seasons since it defeated Capistrano Valley for the Division IA championship in 1996. The Barons went 19-11 overall and 3-3 in the Wave League to finish in second place.

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Laguna Beach’s Hallie Carballo makes a diving dig to keep a long rally alive in the first round of the CIF Southern Section Division 1 playoffs at home against Mira Costa on Oct. 24.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

FIRST TEAM

Hallie Carballo

L | Laguna Beach | Sr.

Laguna Beach brought back much of the same team that advanced to the CIF Southern Section Division 3 final in 2018, and the Breakers put together another season to be proud of. A total of 12 teams qualified for the Division 1 playoffs. The defensively-sound Breakers made the cut for the top division, led by Carballo, the Wave League MVP. A USC commit for beach volleyball, Carballo had a team-high 520 digs. She also had 712 service receptions, 93 assists and 27 aces.

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Huntington Beach’s Xolani Hodel (12) hits against Beckman’s Caroline Llamas in a nonleague match on Aug. 28 in Irvine.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Xolani Hodel

OPP | Huntington Beach | Sr.

Hodel receives her third Dream Team honor. The Stanford beach volleyball signee and first-team All-Surf League selection moved over from middle blocker to opposite to become a more prominent hitter in the Oilers’ attack this season. She finished the year with 347 kills on .308 hitting, adding 195 digs, 38 blocks and 32 aces. Huntington Beach went 24-14 overall and 3-3 in the Surf League, winning a second-place tiebreaker match over Los Alamitos and earning a bid into the CIF Southern Section Division 1 playoffs.

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Marina’s Helen McMullin, right, spikes the ball in a nonleague match at Ocean View on Sept. 3.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Helen McMullin

MB | Marina | Sr.

While Marina had been mired in prolonged struggles, McMullin became a beacon of hope around which the Vikings might change their fortunes. This season, the Vikings (8-18, 1-5 in the Wave League) snapped a 69-match league losing streak, defeating visiting Newport Harbor 21-25, 17-25, 26-24, 25-22, 15-7. Marina’s eight wins marked its most since 2011. McMullin, a Cal Poly Pomona signee, was named to the All-Wave League first team.

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Fountain Valley’s Phoebe Minch jumps to put a kill past two Paloma Valley blockers in the quarterfinals of the CIF Southern Section Division 3 playoffs at home on Oct. 30.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Phoebe Minch

OH | Fountain Valley | Sr.

Fountain Valley was swept out of the CIF Southern Section Division 2 playoffs by Laguna Beach in Minch’s freshman year. The second playoff appearance of Minch’s career proved to be far more memorable. In reaching the Division 3 quarterfinals, Minch totaled 60 kills across three playoff matches, including road victories over St. Margaret’s and Rosary. The All-Wave League first-team selection will continue her volleyball career at Westmont College. Minch also received All-CIF honors in Division 3.

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Laguna Beach’s Piper Naess (14) blocks the shot by Mira Costa’s Amanda Burns in the first round of the CIF Southern Section Division 1 playoffs at home on Oct. 24.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Piper Naess

OH | Laguna Beach | Sr.

A repeat Dream Team selection, Naess’ all-around abilities at outside hitter were on display again. She led the Breakers with 416 kills, adding 368 digs, 40 blocks and 33 aces. Laguna Beach went 28-11 overall and 6-0 in the Wave League, claiming its 15th consecutive league title. The Breakers lost in the first round of the CIF Southern Section Division 1 playoffs to Manhattan Beach Mira Costa, and they were eliminated by No. 2-seeded Foothill in the CIF State Southern California Regional Division I playoffs. Naess, a first-team all-league honoree, has signed with Cal Poly San Luis Obispo for beach volleyball.

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Corona del Mar’s Nikki Senske (2) hits the ball back for a point in a Battle of the Bay match at Newport Harbor on Sept. 12.
(Tim Berger / Staff Photographer)

Nikki Senske

OH | Corona del Mar | Sr.

In three years at the varsity level, Senske never lost a league match with CdM. The Sea Kings went undefeated in Surf League play, despite never winning a match in straight sets. Senske provided 294 kills, 107 digs and 21 aces. The All-Surf League first-team selection complemented senior libero Michelle Won well in the Sea Kings’ back row defense.

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Costa Mesa’s Malia Tufuga (16) hammers a kill in the corner during a nonleague home match against Godinez on Aug. 20.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Malia Tufuga

S/OPP | Costa Mesa | Sr.

A four-year letter winner in volleyball, Tufuga helped the Mustangs reach the CIF Southern Section playoffs for the fourth straight season. Costa Mesa went 19-10 overall and 8-2 in the Orange Coast League, finishing in second place. Tufuga had 25 kills in the Mustangs’ 22-25, 25-16, 19-25, 25-20, 15-8 loss to Riverside J.W. North in the first round of the Division 5 playoffs at home. The Stanford signee shared the Orange Coast League MVP award with Calvary Chapel senior outside hitter Makenzie Hill.

SECOND TEAM

Position, Name, School, Year

OPP Danielle Beder, Sage Hill, Sr.

L Mia Christensen, Huntington Beach, Sr.

OH Cambria Hall, Laguna Beach, Sr.

MB Summer Hanks, Edison, Sr.

S Soren Patchell, Laguna Beach, Sr.

OPP Sophie Reavis, Laguna Beach, So.

S Jaclyn Sanchez, Huntington Beach, Sr.

S/OPP Emily Sparks, Edison, Sr.

L Michelle Won, Corona del Mar, Sr.

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