Bockrath in middle of it all for Sailors

Carolyn Bockrath has come a long way during her career with the Newport Harbor High girls' volleyball team, but the distance that could best represent her progress might be a mile exactly.

Players need to run a seven-minute mile as part of varsity tryouts. Bockrath was able to do so in the past, but only with the help of Newport girls' cross country and track coach Eric Tweit.

"Last year, I got 6:54 with a lot of help," Bockrath said. "[Tweit] rode his bike next to me. There was no way I wasn't going to make my mile."

That changed this summer. Bockrath, now a senior, said she was able to run a 6:56 all by herself. It meant quite a bit to her.

"Running was probably my worst nightmare up until this summer ... but it's not going to be given to me," Bockrath said. "I needed to consciously make an effort to bust my butt every single day. My entire mind set has changed on what hard work is. At this point, I'm able to get on other people and make sure they're keeping up their end of the deal. Before, I would have never been able to do that."

Bockrath, a three-year starter at middle blocker for the Sailors, also has been able to play some of her best volleyball during Sunset League play this year. She's a senior leader on a young team that's short on them. Newport has just one other senior this year, middle blocker Sara Button, who is a first-year varsity player.

You can ask Los Alamitos, the top-ranked team in CIF Southern Section Division 1-AA and Orange County, about Bockrath. The Daily Pilot Athlete of the Week pounded down 24 kills as the Sailors upset the Griffins in four sets on Oct. 14.

Bockrath has led the Sailors (6-18, 4-3 in league) in kills in each of their seven Sunset League matches. Each time, she's tallied at least 19 kills. She's averaging more than five kills per set in league for Newport Harbor, which sits in third place after a road loss to Edison on Thursday.

The Sailors are certainly right in the thick of things in league. Some might be surprised by this development. Newport Harbor sat at 3-12 after a five-set loss to CdM in the Battle of the Bay match. There was talk that this could be the first team in Coach Dan Glenn's 28 years to miss the CIF playoffs.

Bockrath is the lone player still on varsity from the 2011 team that advanced to the Division 1-AA title match and the CIF State Division I Southern California regional semifinals. She wanted to provide leadership for her squad.

"Being a senior, it is 100% different than any other year," she said. "Just how you hold yourself has to be so much different than it ever has been. I had to get everyone onboard. We have to work our butts off together as a team, we have to fight as a team, we have to want this as a team. Everyone needs to be 100% in this to win it.

"I really don't think the outside pressures affected us, but we had never known what winning was together. Some of us lacked confidence, but it wasn't because of what other people were saying. It was because we had never experienced success ... They hadn't seen us play as a volleyball team yet. They had seen us as a bunch of individuals."

Bockrath is one individual who has improved considerably. At 6-foot tall already in the sixth grade, she was always the tallest kid in class. She signed up for some volleyball clinics after moving back to Newport Beach from Coto de Caza in the seventh grade.

From there, she's been a mainstay for the Orange County Volleyball Club and director Charlie Brande. Bockrath helped an OCVBC 14s team win the title at the prestigious Volleyball Festival in Reno in 2009. She's always played up at least one age level in club. After her freshman year at Harbor, she played up two, competing on a 17s team with Sailors teammates Cinnamon Sary (now a student at USC) and Tatum Norton (Oregon).

"They needed another middle " Bockrath said. "I was put in my place quite often. I don't know what I thought I was, but they definitely put me in my place and showed me who's boss. I got a lot of instruction that year. But me and Cinnamon we're really good friends, so it was nice to have her as an ally on that team. It was so much fun because of the competition, and how much we just wanted to win."

In high school, Bockrath has been an asset. She earned second-team All-Sunset League laurels last year. And it's improved work ethic that has impressed Glenn.

"She's gotten better every year," said Glenn, who called Bockrath up to varsity in the middle of her freshman year after two other middles suffered injuries. "She's playing like a senior this year ... When we can rotate and get her into the front row, we can compete with anybody. I feel like I'm a much better coach when she's in the front row."

Bockrath, whose younger brother Ben plays basketball at Harbor, also has had to show patience at times with the young Sailors. The primary varsity setter is a sophomore, Ellie Hagadorn, who played on frosh/soph last year. Prior to this year, the only two setters Bockrath had in club and high school were Sary and Torey Thompson, each Newport-Mesa Dream Team players. Sary was the 2011 Newport-Mesa Player of the Year.

"She had very high expectations, and she's definitely lived up to them," Bockrath said of Hagadorn, who dished out 42 assists in the upset win over Los Al. "I expect just as much out of her as I do anyone else. I definitely put a lot of pressure on her in every way. Sometimes it may be unrealistic, but I expect it. I want to be the best we can ... and I feel like Ellie really handles the pressure very well. She's very positive in her adjustments."

Bockrath plans to continue playing volleyball in college, but the two schools she's choosing from aren't the typical California schools. She's interested in either West Point or the Naval Academy, and she credits the structure she's received from her volleyball coaches Glenn and Brande as key reasons why.

"I've learned to like the structure, the work ethic involved," Bockrath said. "A lot of my friends don't understand it by any means. A lot of my friends are like, 'Have fun in college,' [but] I'm going to school to learn. I love coming to school every day. I love all my classes. I'm taking, like, three math classes right now, and I love them ... I'm going to college to figure out my life. I can enjoy everything later on. I don't need to be just another college kid."

Bockrath is far from just another volleyball player. The Sailors have three Sunset League matches left. They sit two matches back of Los Alamitos and Huntington Beach (both 6-1 in league), but a league title and CIF berth are both still in play.

Count this year's team out at your own risk.

A CIF run would be yet another run that Bockrath would love.

Carolyn Bockrath

Born: July 23, 1995

Hometown: Newport Beach

Height: 6-foot-2

Sport: Volleyball

Year: Senior

Coach: Dan Glenn

Favorite food: Sushi

Favorite movie: "The King's Speech"

Favorite athletic moment: Her sophomore year, helping Newport Harbor beat Mater Dei in a CIF Southern Section Division 1-AA semifinal match.

Week in review: Bockrath had a team-high 24 kills as the Sailors upset top-ranked Los Alamitos in four sets on Oct. 14. Two days later, she had a team-high 26 kills and two blocks in a four-set win at Marina.

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