Newport Harbor High senior Joe Karlous never did things exactly like others his age.
Take, for example, his taste in music now. Karlous separates himself from a generation that has submerged itself in pop culture, choosing the classics over rap.
He owns vinyl records by Louis Armstrong, Aretha Franklin and Nat King Cole.
His start in volleyball is just as unique. Club volleyball is not offered as early as other sports, but Karlous was around the game as a kid because his parents played at a recreational center in Aliso Viejo.
Karlous was prompted to tell a story of how he got into volleyball when it was noted that his mother, Theolla, is one of the more visible parents around the Newport Harbor boys’ volleyball program. She is her son’s biggest cheerleader now, but before that, she was the reason that he got into the sport.
“I got into volleyball because of her,” Karlous said. “It wasn’t because she pushed it on me. It was more I just saw her playing at the rec center, and I said, ‘I can do this. I can probably be better than my parents.’
“It was kind of this competitive moment for me, like one of the first real competitive moments. ‘I want to be better than my dad and my mom at this sport because I feel like I can.’”
Apart from organized volleyball, Karlous began seeking ways to get involved with the game. He went around to the local high schools, and some of the coaches allowed him to practice with their boys’ and girls’ teams.
“I just kept touching the ball,” Karlous said. “I met with those coaches and asked if I could practice with their guys’ team for a little bit, and they let me come in the gym.
“I was still like 11, 12 or 13 around that time. I just kept falling in love with the sport as it went on.”
For the past three years, Karlous has served as the starting setter for the Sailors, leading them to some major accomplishments. In his sophomore season, the Sailors went undefeated in the Sunset League. Over the last two years, Newport Harbor is unbeaten in the regular season.
As the Surf League schedule approaches, Newport Harbor (23-0) is once again undefeated deep into a regular season. The Sailors took their first loss in the CIF Southern Section Division 1 championship match last year.
When asked if he could have imagined his team being in this position again, Sailors coach Rocky Ciarelli offered up an answer that he was afraid would provide bulletin-board material for future opponents.
“We have a very good volleyball team, and just like last year, we had a very good volleyball team,” Ciarelli said. “I don’t care what it is, CIF, NCAA, pros, it’s hard to win. We’ve got to keep improving and keep working hard and keep working towards that goal.
“I knew we had a good team. I think some people were surprised by this or that. I’m not surprised. I knew what I had. They’re a good group of kids, and they work hard and they do what they’re supposed to do. As a coach, you can’t ask for anything more.”
Some of the names have changed for Newport Harbor, but the goal has not. The Sailors maintain that their goals are to win the Sunset League, then the Division 1 title, and to cap it off with a Southern California regional championship.
Karlous, who has signed with Pepperdine, was named the MVP of the Best of the West Tournament in Poway last week. In seven matches, he provided 190 assists, adding 21 digs, five blocks and four service aces.
The Sailors’ setter has worked with some new pieces this year, and he was particularly complimentary of the performances turned in by middle blocker Alec Patterson and outside hitter Blake Ludes in the Gold division playoffs of the Best of the West.
Karlous said that Ludes was a go-to option for him in a 21-25, 25-19, 15-10 win against Manhattan Beach Mira Costa. He also said that the senior outside hitter has excelled in serve receive as of late.
“People really key in on him on the serving, but he’s passing dimes,” Karlous said. “Everyone wants to keep away from Dayne [Chalmers] and [Ryan] Schroeder, but he’s doing really well right now.”
Ciarelli said that Karlous checks all the boxes when it comes to volleyball intelligence, and he also carries himself with an infectious confidence.
“You touch the ball every play, so just for the other kids to see somebody that believes in himself and understands volleyball, that’s the ultimate for a setter,” Ciarelli said. “It’s like a quarterback or a point guard, anyone who touches the ball most of the time. For the other kids to see that he is confident, that helps your team.”
Born: Oct. 16, 2001
Hometown: Costa Mesa
Height: 5 feet 11
Weight: 175 pounds
Coach: Rocky Ciarelli
Favorite food: Sushi hand rolls
Favorite movie: “WALL-E”
Favorite athletic moment: Karlous’ favorite athletic moment was hearing the national anthem play while he was competing for Team USA in the NORCECA U19 Continental Championships.