Year after year, Weston Nielsen grew.
Everyone could see that maturation, but it was most evident on the volleyball court for Corona del Mar High. Sea Kings' Coach Steve Conti watched with fascination a boy turn into a young man, a quiet role player turn into a vocal leader.
It was easy to notice during Nielsen's senior year.
"He matured just as much physically as he did mentally," Conti said of his star 6-foot-5 outside hitter. "He also developed into a strong leader. You don't see guys really develop both physically and mentally like that. It was really neat to see him step up in that leadership role. He did a great job of making everyone feel a part of the team."
Nielsen, bound for UC Santa Barbara in the fall, also found success as the top player in the Newport-Mesa area. He is the Daily Pilot Dream Team Player of the Year.
He ended his senior season as the top player in the county, named by the Orange County Register. He was also the Co-MVP of the Pacific Coast League and he made the All-CIF Southern Section Division I first team.
Nielsen said a lot of the credit needs to go to his coach.
"He's the biggest reason I've been getting all these awards," said Nielsen, who also credited his ability to buy into the team concept. "This year, I just did my part on CdM's team. We knew not one guy was going to win a match for us. I improved because I became more of a team member. I became more of a team leader. I felt that I improved a lot."
Nielsen's improvement helped the Sea Kings reach the Division I semifinals, and capture their eighth straight PCL championship. He led CdM with 294 kills. Conti was impressed with how Nielsen did his best to improve all facets of his game. Nielsen finished with 122 digs, 40 blocks and 37 aces.
But Conti sees Nielsen developing even more, as he continues his career at UCSB, where his older brother Blaine also plays. Blaine was the Dream Team Player of the Year in 2007.
"There's no doubt in my mind that his best volleyball is in front of him," Conti said. "He's going to develop a ton over there."
Nielsen is excited for the future, especially since he gets to play with his brother. He always wanted to play for the Gauchos. He committed to UCSB during his junior year at CdM. USC, Pepperdine, UCLA and Penn State showed interest in Nielsen, but he had his mind set on being a Gaucho.
Nielsen will share an apartment with Chris Hartig, an incoming freshman out of Esperanza.
"My brother lives near campus about a five-minute bike ride from where I'll be," Nielsen said. "I'll be at his house every day. I couldn't be more excited. I'm excited to go and be with my brother and hopefully play with him on the court."
Here is the rest of the Dream Team:
The 2009 Newport-Mesa Player of the Year followed up his stellar sophomore season with an impressive junior year. He earned first-team All-CIF Southern Section Division I honors, as well as first-team All-Sunset League accolades. He picked up his game as the season closed, helping the Sailors (20-10) reach the Division I quarterfinals. He recorded 513 kills, 121 digs, 55 blocks and 50 aces.
"Cody just keeps continuing to improve," Newport Harbor Coach Dan Glenn said. "As he gets stronger he'll only get better. The thing he improved most was his serving.
"He's a solid all-around player and a real smart player, a phenomenal passer. His defense is improving."
The senior came into his own as the Sailors' setter, finishing with 990 assists. He earned All-CIF Division I second-team status and was also named to the All-Sunset League first team. The Newport Harbor team captain will continue to play at UCLA.
"Jackson had a great senior season," Glenn said. "He was on the all-tournament team at the Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions. He was one of the top setters I saw all year long. He worked hard and had a lot of success."
Corona del Mar
The 6-foot-6 senior outside hitter teamed up with Nielsen to give the Sea Kings (23-9) one of the best 1-2 combinations in CIF Division I. Booth, bound for USC, recorded 247 kills, 120 digs, 36 blocks and 31 aces. He shared the Pacific Coast League MVP award with Nielsen, and was also named to the All-CIF Division I second team.
Conti said Booth provided leadership.
"He gave us a lot of energy," Conti said. "There were times when he was injured and he didn't practice and we looked different out there without him. Our team seemed to have good energy when he was on the floor."
Corona del Mar
The sophomore grew up quickly in Conti's system, displaying versatility for the Sea Kings.
"We ran a 6-2 so he set and hit for us," Conti said. "He did a little bit of everything for us.
"He definitely has a love for the game. He likes to play the game hard. He was able to step up in some big matches for us."
Brown finished with 397 assists, 134 kills, 94 digs, 33 blocks and 33 aces on his way to collecting third-team All-CIF Division I and first-team All-Pacific Coast League honors.
The 6-4, USC-bound senior used his speed to contribute as valuable middle blocker for the Sailors. A team captain, he recorded 261 kills and earned first-team All-Sunset League honors.
"I thought he had a great year," Glenn said. "He's always played in the middle for us, but I think USC might take him outside. He has such good speed and that has helped him be successful."