In some ways, this wasn't the senior year that Cinnamon Sary could have envisioned.
Newport Harbor High finished third in the Sunset League for the first time since rejoining it five years ago. From the summer to the end of the regular season, Sary said four seniors quit the team.
At the end of the year, though, the Sailors played their best volleyball. And there was no question who was the catalyst behind that.
It was Sary, pounding down kill after kill from the outside hitter spot even though her normal position is setter.
In seven playoff matches the Daily Pilot Athlete of the Week totaled 153 kills, leading the Sailors in kills every time. She helped Newport Harbor, unseeded in the CIF Southern Section Division I-AA playoffs, make the championship match. She had a season-high 37 kills in a road upset of Clovis West in the first round of the CIF State Division I Southern California regionals, then 29 more in the next round as the Sailors nearly did the same at Los Angeles Marymount.
The USC-bound Sary is a special talent. In terms of girls' setters at Newport Harbor, Coach Dan Glenn has seen nobody better.
"Misty [May-Treanor] only set her freshman year," Glenn said. "[Sary] is as good as any setter that's ever come out of Harbor, on the girls' side. She's just a phenomenal volleyball player. She's one of the best setters in high school, and this year she showed she was one of the best outside hitters in high school too."
The Sailors moved their best athlete to outside hitter out of necessity, while junior Torey Thompson took over as the primary setter. Both players thrived, but at times during the season Sary said it was definitely a physical grind.
She said she woke up on Thanksgiving and had trouble moving her neck. The chiropractor helped, but Sary was hurting at the very end against Marymount two days later.
"I always want to hit," Sary said. "I always ask my coaches, 'Please let me hit? Can I just hit in this one rotation?' I love to hit, but after this season, I've never been so excited to be a setter again … My body was so beat up. I just had to keep on thinking, 'I'm going to be a setter in college.'"
The team captain also dealt with other issues. Sary said by the beginning of the high school season, seniors Maddy Trammell (setter), Maddy Ridgeway (outside hitter) and Stephanie Verheyen (defensive specialist) had left the team. Sary said Trammell is her best friend.
"Maddy Ridgeway was injured, and she wouldn't have been able to finish out the season really," Sary said. "I think they all just had other things going on. It wasn't like a big heartbreak [situation], like the Alex Holbrook one … It wasn't them, but it was just the fact that we were losing so many people. We dealt with a lot of things."
Holbrook, a senior middle blocker, quit the team in the days after the Sailors' five-set loss at Edison on Oct. 19. Glenn said at the time that he had never had a player quit one of his teams at that point of the season in his 26-year coaching career.
Sary said the loss of Holbrook, another of her friends, was undoubtedly a big blow.
"She was one of our best players," Sary said. "I think the coaches had to convince us that we were going to be fine. We just had to get our act together. With Alex, we had a lot of talent. Losing her was losing like 50% of our talent. I think after that, we had to just get it together emotionally.
"It was like losing anything, like losing a big tournament. You know that you have to make a change. You have to pick it up in another category, because you obviously are lacking in one."
The Sailors still did not wilt down the stretch. Glenn gives a lot of credit to Sary. He said she improved her attitude on the court, which had a positive impact on her teammates.
"As an outside hitter, you're going to make errors," Glenn said. "Later in the year, it didn't affect her as much. [At Clovis West] she basically said 'set me every time,' and we did."
Sure, it might have taken a toll on her, but the highs were very rewarding. One of them came when Sary helped the Sailors upset Mater Dei in the Division I-AA semifinals.
"There's a picture of me on the ground," Sary said. "I've never played a harder match in my entire life. I've always been a setter, for one, and hitting is so much more tiring. In the very last point, I wanted to rush with the team and the crowd, but I literally fell to the ground and I couldn't even move. I was just so happy. I've never pushed my body so hard."
It's now been a week since the Sailors' season ended, enough time for Sary to reflect on it. Individually, she was named all-tournament at the Ann Kang Invitational in Hawaii, the Asics Challenge in Chicago as well as the Dave Mohs Tournament.
After losing to Marymount on Saturday night, she at least had a reason to smile. She went home and watched her future school, USC, beat up on UCLA, 50-0, in the annual rivalry game in football.
Sary has become somewhat of a football fan. She said her favorite player is receiver Robert Woods. In volleyball, she will help the Trojans, who already feature Newport Harbor product Kirby Burnham. Burnham was a senior outside hitter on the Sailors' team, also featuring Sary, that won CIF Southern Section and State Division I titles in 2009.
In high school, the Sailors may have had to overcome obstacles. But they bounced back. Glenn said Allison Schelin chipped two teeth in the fifth set at Clovis West but came back in to help Newport win. Another senior, Claire Castillo, overcame two different ACL injuries.
Sary said she is proud of everything she and her teammates accomplished this year.
"I think we definitely exceeded our expectations, and everyone else's expectations, of where we were going," Sary said. "We didn't really have a really solid beginning or middle of the season. I think that was the best part to me. After everything we went through … we just thought the year was bound to be unsuccessful from the beginning. But in the end, we just fully became a team.
"It wasn't about our talent in the end, it was just about what we were doing. I guess that was my favorite part. I think it was a good way to end. Obviously, you don't want to end on a loss, but I think it was a good end of the season overall."
Born: Oct. 22, 1994
Hometown: Newport Beach
Coach: Dan Glenn
Favorite food: Fruit and yogurt
Favorite movie: The "Harry Potter" series.
Favorite athletic moment: Winning CIF Southern Section and State titles with Newport Harbor her sophomore year.
Week in review: Sary, a senior setter/outside hitter, had a match-high 37 kills at Clovis West on Nov. 22, helping the Sailors win the first-round SoCal Regional Division I match in five sets. She also had a match-high 29 kills in Newport Harbor's five-set loss at Marymount four days later, in a SoCal Regional Division I semifinal.