Olympic setter Thornton honed his skills at Balboa Bay

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By Mike Miazga

Brian Thornton didn’t start playing the sport until he was a freshman at San Clemente (Calif.) High School.

“My best friend’s mom coached the freshman team,” he says. “I was strictly a basketball player at that point. They asked if I wanted to try it. I tried it and it snowballed from there.” Thornton eventually made his way to the Balboa Bay Volleyball Club in Newport Beach his 17s year. And it changed the course of his career. “Balboa Bay was very influential for me,” he says. “You don’t realize all the things you learn. Balboa Bay was a big part of me becoming a complete player and learning to work with people and bonding together for one common goal. I learned a ton of lessons playing there.” Thornton played his 17s year for longtime area coach John Hawks (current UCLA men’s assistant coach) and his 18s year for club co-director Travis Turner. Thornton ended up playing at UC Irvine where he won an NCAA championship as a setter his senior year (he is a 2007 Irvine graduate). “I was glad I was able to sneak one in there,” he says with a laugh. For Thornton the educational aspect at Balboa Bay went well beyond just Xs and Os.

Brian Thornton sets/Phot by Glenn Feingerts
Brian Thornton sets/Photo by Glenn Feingerts

“I was a setter, so you are kind of the quarterback of the team,” he says. “I ended up spending a lot of time with coaches. I learned to set, of course, but I also learned the mental aspect of the game. The mental side of it ended up as a strong point for me. That’s where it got ignited for me.” Thornton says the coaching he received at Balboa Bay was second to none.

“They have successful coaches who care,” he said. “They are very knowledgeable. Looking back, at the time I didn’t realize it, but I received some high-level coaching. Any time you can get some good instruction it’s a good thing. Sometimes at the club level you get a lot of cheering going on. At Balboa Bay it was all about technique and the mental side of the game. There was a lot of instruction going on.” Thornton’s career highlight was being on the 2012 U.S. men’s Olympic team roster. He spent six years in the U.S. men’s program. “That was thrill,” Thornton says. “It was very cool to go to the Olympics. I was very lucky to be able to experience that.” And Thornton, now a copywriter in the Los Angeles area and coaching girls’ volleyball at the San Gabriel Elite club, throws a ton of credit Balboa Bay’s way for the level of success he achieved in the sport. “No way would I have done that without the experience I had at Balboa Bay,” he says. “They did all the right things and helped get me to the right college. At the time I didn’t think I’d even be good enough to play in college. Balboa Bay did a ton for me and it ended up being my life’s path.”

Top photo of Brian Thornton courtesy of USA Volleyball

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