Brande: Lots of action on next level

With the rich girls' high school volleyball tradition at our local schools, it is always exciting to follow these players as they continue to play through their college years. Since the late 1970s through today, the number of local college players has been steady.

At UCLA, Madie Smith (Corona del Mar High) just completed her senior season as a setter and back-row specialist. She is the last Smith to play at UCLA following her sisters, Morgan and Jordan. Also at UCLA, is Newport Beach's Monica Stauber (Mater Dei) who competed two years at the University of Hawaii before transferring this season to help with the Bruins' setting.

Across town at USC, Kirby Burnham (Newport Harbor) has ended her indoor career, but returns for her senior season on the USC sand team. As the defending NCAA doubles champion, Kirby is hoping to follow in the footsteps of another former Sailor and Trojan, April Ross.

After completing her undergraduate studies at Cal, Mary Buckingham (Newport Harbor) will compete for USC sand as a graduate student.

Another former Sailor, Cinnamon Sary, competed last year both as an indoor player and with the sand team at USC (finished fifth at the national championships). Cinnamon has been accepted to the USC Film and Cinema School (quite an honor) and will no longer compete in volleyball. She is extremely happy with her educational direction.

At UC Irvine, Mackenzi Campbell (Newport Harbor) has completed her senior season as a setter and back-row specialist.

Another former Newport player, Katey Thompson, is finishing her senior year at UCSB with a flourish. Leading the Gauchos in kills per game and aces, Katey was a first-team All-Big West Conference selection.

Britton Taylor (Corona del Mar) is a sophomore middle blocker who suffered a sprained ankle early in the season and has not returned to early season form.

Along with Katey, the other Thompson sisters are also doing quite well. Kasey, a sophomore at Hawaii Pacific, was a third-team All Pac-West performer as she started every match at opposite for the Sea Warriors. Torey Thompson was the starting setter at Chico State, where she was first-team All-California Collegiate Athletic Assn. as well as CCAA Freshman of the Year. Adding to that, she was named as the NCAA Western Regional Freshman of the Year for Division II. People always ask how Tristin, Torey's twin sister who has recovered from two major knee surgeries, is. She is at University of Hawaii-Manoa and enjoying school and other activities like hiking and surfing.

Amanda Nichol (Corona del Mar) just completed her senior season at Brown University as a starter. Newport Beach resident Kathryn Connor (Santa Margarita) also competed for Brown, where she was the starting libero and also the dig leader for the Bears. Another former Corona del Mar player, Sydney Brombal, suffered a severe knee injury last spring and could not compete for her senior season at Princeton.

Kelly Heenan (Newport Harbor) has taken the ball control at Vanguard University to a new level. As a first-team All-Golden State Athletic Conference libero, Kelly led the Lions in digs for two consecutive seasons. They are currently competing at the NAIA National Championships in Sioux City, Iowa.

Stanford's No. 3-ranked volleyball team has three former Corona del Mar High School players. Morgan Boukather is a junior opposite whose energy and constant support is key to the Cardinal success. Freshmen Kelsey Humphries and Grace Kennedy are also very much in the mix.

Kelsey's setting has improved tremendously and Grace is being used as a back-row serving and digging specialist at six-foot, two inches.

At Cal, Mary McKennon (CdM) is playing very well as a back-row specialist. Another former Sea Queen, Katie Curci, is on the roster and was going to be a serving specialist for the Golden Bears with her tough serve but dislocated her shoulder in preseason and is out for the season.

Lauren Demos (Newport Harbor) is playing at UC San Diego as a middle blocker. Unfortunately, an injury has shortened her season.

Tatum Norton (Newport Harbor) has quite a success story. Turning down college scholarships, Tatum walked on at the University of Oregon and earned a spot serving in big games. The Ducks went all the way to the NCAA national championship match in her freshman year. Now starting her sophomore season, Tatum has earned a scholarship as a defensive specialist and is in the rotation every match.

At the University of San Diego, Hunter Jennings (Newport Harbor) has earned a spot as a regular defensive specialist and leads the Toreros in service aces.

At San Diego State, Alexis Cage (CdM) is redshirting her freshman season.

Newport Beach's Reegan Dennis (Orange Lutheran) is a backup middle blocker at Pepperdine.

This week is the first two rounds of the NCAA Championships (the sub regionals). UCSB led by Katey Thompson plays at the University of San Diego (Hunter Jennings) on Friday night, which should be interesting.

Stanford has a home match with Hampton, while Oregon is on the road at Nebraska where the Ducks draw Miami (Florida) and a second round with Nebraska.

Cal plays at North Carolina, which is quite a road trip. These playoffs are the most special time in the women's collegiate season.

Oh, also, the word is that at UCLA, the sand coach, Stein Metzger, watched freshman Shannon Griffin (CdM) play some "pick up" on the sand and thought so highly of her that he has asked her to join the UCLA sand team this spring.

CHARLIE BRANDE is a former coach at Newport Harbor High, Corona del Mar and UC Irvine.

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