Cinnamon thrives when it matters

Cinnamon Sary is not the most vocal player on the court for the Newport Harbor High girls' volleyball team.

It would be a big mistake to doubt her will to win, however.

"She's got a lot of game," Coach Dan Glenn said. "The bigger the match, the bigger she plays."

The Newport Harbor High junior setter is a big name now for the Sailors.

It's obvious to those who watch Sary, the Daily Pilot Athlete of the Week. She was one of the two Sailors named to the Dave Mohs all-tournament team, after helping lead Newport to the championship match Monday.

There, the team fell to Los Alamitos, but Sary said it was still a breakthrough tournament.

"We were finding ourselves," she said. "We played really well together for the first time."

Sary has played well individually. Last year, she was first-team All-Sunset League, a Newport-Mesa Dream Team selection and the ESPN Rise national Sophomore of the Year for girls' volleyball. She tallied 889 assists and helped lead the Sailors to Sunset League, CIF Southern Section Division I-AA and CIF State Division I titles.

Glenn has seen his setter blossom and continue to progress. She was also all-tournament last month at the Ann Kang Invitational in Hawaii, where the Sailors finished third.

Not bad for someone whose age won't match her uniform number, 18, until she's already in college. She turns 16 next month. But Sary's development has helped the transition as Newport Harbor lost a wealth of talent from last year's team, including Kirby Burnham (USC), Katey Thompson and Kelly Heenan (UC Santa Barbara). Mackenzi Campbell, who was the team's starting setter until Sary stepped in following a finger injury, is now setting at Montana State.

Those four are not just on those college teams but contributing as freshmen, showing just how much talent the class of 2010 possessed. But players like senior outside hitter Maddy Brown, as well as junior middle blocker Alex Holbrook and Sary, are making sure "rebuilding" isn't in the Newport Harbor vocabulary.

"We have to defend a lot more," Sary said. "It's not as easy. Last year, it was just set Kirby, set Katey. We have to spread it around a lot more."

It seems to be working. The Sailors came into this week as the top-ranked team in Division I-AA.

"[Sary's] just been getting better figuring out our hitters this year," Glenn said. "She's done a really good job at that. They've all got a different style, and she's pretty good at adapting. It's kind of like a quarterback throwing to receivers. If they're running a different pattern, you have to throw a different ball."

It's a sweet situation for Cinnamon, who has the unique first name because of some advice her mother, Candi, gave to her father, Tony, in college. They were best friends at the time and Candi told Tony if he had a girl he should name her "Cinnamon" to match his cinnamon-colored skin.

Originally, she played soccer and danced growing up. That changed after Tony took her to one of Charlie Brande's Orange County Volleyball Club clinics.

"I didn't really want to do it," said Cinnamon Sary, who now plays for OCVC herself. "I cried."

Now it's second nature. It helps that her older brother Rusty, a senior at Harbor, also plays. They support each other and can practice at the volleyball court in their backyard, as well as at the beach.

She admits she's not "super peppy." She said she's working to improve in that area, but again, don't think Sary's not competitive. After all, though the team won CIF and state titles last year, she said she wants to add an in-season tournament title.

The Sailors (7-2) have a chance this weekend at the Durango Fall Classic in Las Vegas, which Glenn called the deepest tournament his team will play in all year. They're seeded No. 8 after losing in the final last year to Archbishop Mitty.

"I was really, really disappointed we lost last year," Sary said. "I'm kind of banking on it this year to win it. I've never won a tournament at Newport Harbor."

Sary will continue doing everything she can to assist Newport Harbor in getting there.

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