Brande: Young guns in action

The Coastal Athletic League of Orange County held its Girls' Volleyball Championships last week at Harbor Day School's Blass Gymnasium. The league is comprised of the local Newport Beach and Huntington Beach schools with a seventh-grade division and an eighth-grade division.

There is a weekly league schedule, which starts in December, and the final tournament that is seeded based on the standings of the league.

Mike Coleman, Harbor Day School's athletic director, has created an outstanding organized and professional tournament that these young players (and their parents) remember for the rest of their lives. This is one of the first opportunities for these young athletes to represent their schools and have to "make the team" which are tremendously important in building self-esteem.

The Ensign eighth-grade team improved throughout the season. Coach Kari Rush's girls avenged a league loss to Dwyer of Huntington Beach with a three-set upset in the quarterfinals. Playing in the semifinals against No. 1-seeded Sowers (Huntington Beach), the Sea Bees lost in three, 28-26, 23-25, 15-7.

Ensign was led by the setting of Delaney DeCinces, serving and back-row play of Chloe Rettig, as well as the hitting of Claire Covina and Alyssa Sukow. Vivian Donovan was a force in the middle with Lauren Tucker and Bella Crafton contributing off of the bench.

Harbor Day's eighth-grade team had finished second in league. The Harbor Day girls battled with No. 3-seeded Corona del Mar in the semifinals and lost in two. Co-coaches Pam Coleman and Kim Coleman-Story credited the play of Ashley Humphreys, Raleigh Garner and Christina Davenport with the successful season. The coaches also enjoyed the great attitude and hustle of Graysen Airth and Brooke Kenerson.

The Corona del Mar eighth-grade girls had a great run in the tournament. After beating TeWinkle in the quarterfinals, CdM exacted revenge from its earlier league loss by beating Harbor Day, 25-20 and 25-14, in the semifinals. Sowers' eighth-grade girls were too tough for CdM in the finals as they won in two games.

CdM received outstanding play from outside hitters Jessica Kuo and Cosi Pearce, middle blocking from Haley Petrucci and Hope Garrett, the setting of Sydney Sharf, and the back-row play from Emily Freyman, who was playing her first season of volleyball. Corona was coached by the popular Mary Mix whose husband, G.W. Mix is the boys' lacrosse coach at CdM, Melissa Mathieson and Anthony Curci, whose daughter, Eva, was a developing middle blocker for CdM. Anthony, who enjoyed an outstanding volleyball career at Cate School and then UCLA, has landed a job as the announcer for UCLA men's and women's volleyball matches. His deep voice coupled with his knowledge of the game, create an exciting game atmosphere at those Bruin events.

Ensign's seventh-grade team had battled through league play to get the No. 1 seed in the tournament. Unfortunately, it ran into a Corona del Mar team that was on a mission in the semifinals and lost. Coach Ashley Curtis credited the play of hitters Quinci Miller, Olivia Cox, Jasmine Amirie and Kelcy Sweeney, as well as the setting of Mia Bagatourian and Jaida Morgan with their seasonal success.

The dynamic duo of Blair and Alli Cunningham created excitement and energy with their ball control and understanding of the game.

The Corona del Mar seventh-grade girls made it two CdM teams in the finals with upsets of Sowers in the quarters and Ensign in the semis. The final match with Harbor Day was a battle with Harbor Day winning in three very close games.

Coaches Katie Peters and Tammi Zamora relied on the play of Sophie Wallace and Hailey Glenn (yes, Newport Harbor Coach Dan Glenn's daughter plays for CdM) with their all-around play. Middle blockers Kendall Kipp, Tatiana Bruening and Kara Pauley (whose mother, Annie, played for Ensign) were dominant with their size at the net. Look out for CdM's height in the future!

Harbor Day's seventh-grade girls were "on fire" with their scrappy play and excitement. Coach Mike Coleman's team beat Costa Mesa in two in the quarters, before pulling out a three-set upset of No. 2 seeded Dwyer. With the second set on the line, Coach Coleman relied on Bella McKinney's serving to win with two aces.

The final with Corona del Mar was the highlight of the tournament. Going three close games, Harbor Day pulled it out in front of an enthusiastic crowd.

Mike Coleman's championship team featured the setting of Ella Abbott and Nicole Nourse and the outside hitting of Audrey Nourse, Sydney Schell, Carter Britt and Reese Simpkins. Back-row phenom Chlarissa Sargeant was everywhere and middle blocker Emily Johnson provided the power, serving and defense to capture the championship.

With "standing room only" crowds throughout the tournament and volleyball play that was at a very high level, the Coastal Athletic League tournament was again extremely successful. This is truly an event that these girls will remember fondly forever.

CHARLIE BRANDE, a local club director, is a former volleyball coach at Newport Harbor, Corona del Mar and UC Irvine.

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