Practice made perfect for Robert Adamson, South Pasadena High boys' volleyball

Robert Adamson got a late start to his senior season with the South Pasadena High boys’ volleyball team.

The 2012 All-Area and All-Rio Hondo League first-teamer, who figured to be the Tigers’ best hitter again, missed the first few weeks of the team’s practices with an illness. When the 6-foot-4 opposite hitter joined the team for the first time in 2013, he quickly realized he couldn’t take anything for granted.

The reason was because of a new addition to the team. Richard Yu, a 6-foot-3 outside hitter, transferred to South Pas from China and quickly showed he’d be giving Adamson a run for bragging rights on the team.

“Richard was able to put the ball away the hardest on our team and that used to be Robert,” second-year Tigers Coach Ben Diaz said.

Fellow South Pasadena seniors David Barker and Quinn Hutchings recalled Yu and Adamson going back and forth with each other in practices. Barker said it helped Adamson get back up to speed after his sickness.

“It probably took him a good month to fully recover. Watching him recover and battle, it’s the best I’ve ever seen him play before,” said Barker, who’s played with Adamson since they were both about 10. “With the competition we had on our team in practice, he really developed into a lot better player.”

Adamson’s improvement, along with a similar Adamson-Yu competition through the whole team, helped the Tigers hit new heights in 2013. South Pasadena went on win its first CIF Southern Section Division III championship with a victory over Camarillo, which eliminated the Tigers in the quarterfinals the year before.

At the end of the season, Adamson was deemed the key ingredient to South Pas’ run, earning All-Rio Hondo League and All-CIF Division III Player of the Year honors. He was also unanimously voted the All-Area Boys’ Volleyball Player of the Year by the writers and editors of the Glendale News-Press, Burbank Leader, La Cañada Valley Sun and Pasadena Sun.

“It definitely is [weird being singled out], I am not used to all of this attention,” Adamson said of all the postseason awards. “It’s nice to look back and be appreciated, but I wouldn’t have been able to do any of it without the whole team.”

While Adamson was always a feared hitter and quality defender, he added a different dimension to his game. Diaz, Barker and Hutchings all listed maturity as the big difference in Adamson from his junior to senior year, as he stepped into a leadership role.

It was even evident to the competition over at La Cañada High, as first-year Spartans Coach Otto Lacayo, an assistant coach with the Tigers in 2012, lauded Adamson’s leadership.

“As talented as South Pas was this year, they had a lot of opportunities to be complacent or be OK with a lead,” Lacayo said. “Every time they got comfortable, you could see Robert talking to his teammates. He was the sense of urgency for the team, he created it. They didn’t have to smash teams, but Robert was behind that. Obviously, Ben did a great job with the team, but Robert just was another leader on the court.”

The Tigers breezed through Division III with sweeps in three of five matches, including the win over Camarillo, 27-25, 25-13, 26-24. Adamson averaged 15 kills a match in the playoffs after a monstrous performance of 24 kills and 10 digs in a 25-21, 25-21, 25-27, 18-25, 15-7 win over La Jolla in the first round of the CIF Southern California Regional Division II Championships — South Pas’ only five-game match.

“He’s a smart hitter,” Barker, an All-Rio Hondo first-team setter, said of Adamson. “When I set him and he has that one-on-one block, he knows to put it down on the angle or if he has two blockers he’s not afraid to go up. He’s not afraid to get blocked, too, which is where he’s really progressed.”

Adamson, who averaged 15 kills a match in the playoffs, was the Tigers’ most versatile hitter. He could move from the front to the back row for a kill at a variety of angles and on good or bad sets.

“Robert found ways to hit around the block and it wasn’t hard for him, he’s a very good hitter,” Lacayo said. “He jumps and keeps the ball in front of him and he can see the blocks and he can see the defense. He powers through it.”

While the Tigers figured to lean on their five seniors, including libero Nathan Lee and middle blocker Jason Qui, they were boosted by the addition of newcomers Yu and freshmen twin outside hitters Greg Luck and Max Luck.

It gave South Pas two to three-player depth at nearly each position. That ratcheted up the intensity at practice for everyone, not just Adamson.

“I think the best way to get better is when you practice with someone better than you; our practices were insane,” said Hutchings, a middle blocker. “It made practices really good because we had two complete squads of really good players. Our back-ups would beat our starters all the time.”

“That was a goal,” Diaz said of the competition within the team. “I separated the seniors and everybody else, the young guys would kick the seniors’ butts and they’d get pissed and they’d come back and beat the young guys and then they got pissed. It just seemed to get a lot easier in matches when they were all on the same team.”

While there were a number of intriguing matchups in practice, it’s safe to say none were more fun to watch than the daily battles between Yu and Adamson.

“We were playing insane games, we’d put Richard and Robert against each other and just let them go,” Hutchings said. “It was so cool to watch that happen, because that’s top-notch volleyball happening. Our competition was nuts.”

Adamson had something to prove.

“Having Richard there made me play better,” he said, “because I was like, ‘Alright, this guy is really good, so I have to be better.’”

South Pasadena didn’t keep complete statistics for the season.

andrew.shortall@latimes.com

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