Prep volleyball: Meet GALA, the team that engineered its own net

Girls' Academic Leadership Academy players hit over their makeshift net at a Wednesday practice.

It’s more an invention than a volleyball net. A do-it-yourself-engineering project. It’s built on a delicate pulley system with ropes that dangle to the court, carabiners bought on late-night Lowe’s runs and pure, unadulterated vibes.

The Girls’ Academic Leadership Academy (GALA) volleyball team practices in a tiny gym a winding walk away from main campus, where trash is swept into a dusty pile in the corner. Their coach, Katie Clark, is a 25-year-old science teacher in her first job out of college. The court gets slippery because of sandbags that players pile on the bottom of the poles to hold up that net, leading Clark to once slip like a cartoon character on a banana peel while running lines with the team.

Oh, and GALA won the City Section Division IV title in the program’s inaugural season last year last season.

“We’re still a second-year program with low funding, a weird net, and everyone’s just like, ‘Have a good time,’” junior India Clark said.

GALA junior India Clark, the City Section Division IV girls' volleyball player of the year last season.
(Luca Evans / Los Angeles Times)

GALA, a sixth-12th-grade school with an enrollment of 760, broke ground in 2016. Katie Clark said she’d have interest in coaching a volleyball program after her first year teaching, and it got off the ground last season after remote beginnings during COVID.

Their first day practicing in the gym, they discovered what India Clark called a “weird net” in a storage closet. After discovering it collapsed any time a ball touched it, their coach got to work with a fellow teacher devising that pulley system — ropes fed through holes in the poles of the net hooked to the walls by carabiners. When the net dips, players tug on the loose end of the rope to pull it back up.

“We’re science teachers,” Katie Clark said. “That’s physics.”

Sandbags stabilize the net at GALA's practices.
(Luca Evans / Los Angeles Times)

Slowly, teams at the top of the City Section have noticed that GALA has quite a bit of talent. India Clark was last year’s Division IV player of the year, while another five players made the Division IV All-City team.

“When they have a little more time, watch out for GALA,” San Pedro coach Sean Zuvich said.

No one expects much from them, India Clark said, and the team embraces it. They bet coach Clark if they won a game against King/Drew last year that she’d have to Irish dance for them. They did. She did a jig.

Already this year, they’ve beaten last year’s City Division I and II champions in Sylmar and Eagle Rock, respectively. Perhaps if they keep winning, they feel, they’ll gain enough donor interest for an actual, non-engineering-project net.


“We’re going to go through this together,” junior Jasmine Hailey said. “We’re going to get a net.”

Until then, they’ll hook up what they have and let the good times roll.


Southern Section

Rk. School (W-L): Comment

1. Mira Costa (10-2): Setter Charlie Fuerbringer and outside hitter Drew Wright form unstoppable one-two punch.

2. Sierra Canyon (13-1): Senior Pittsburgh commit Olivia Babcock is ready to tear up the Mission League.

3. Redondo Union (9-4): Took out Mater Dei in four sets Tuesday.

4. Marymount (4-1): Were rolling again until Mira Costa dismantled them in three sets.

5. Mater Dei (3-2): Rocky start but got back on track against Huntington Beach.

6. Huntington Beach (7-1): Young roster could soar to the top of this list — or crash like their Mater Dei match.

7. Lakewood (5-3): Can’t be counted out, but doesn’t face the overall level of competition of top six.

8. Palos Verdes (8-2): Strong showing at season-opening tournament in Hawaii.

9. Harvard-Westlake (15-5): Beaten up on weaker competition but swept by others on list.

10. Vista Murrieta (0-1): BYU commit Claire Little is trying to make the leap from good to great.

City Section

Rk. School (W-L)

1. Taft (13-2)

2. Venice (11-3)

3. Granada Hills (5-4)

4. Palisades (7-4)

5. El Camino Real (6-5)