The COVID-19 pandemic was a double-edged sword for the Marymount High School girls volleyball team.
“Last season was really hard,” said Elia Rubin, a senior outside hitter who noted that the Sailors played only two matches in an extremely truncated 2021 spring season because of pandemic restrictions.
“Those two matches didn’t count for anything more than to give the seniors a little something. It was really hard. My sophomore year, it did not end up the way we wanted it to, so we had hope for last year. We lost some seniors, so the majority of the girls were sophomores and juniors.
“When it got shut down, we kept saying maybe we’ll have a season in May and then it got to June, July and August, and we knew it wasn’t going to happen. It was very tough seeing that for the seniors last year — horrible. We were glad we got those two matches, but we wish we had that junior year back. It would have been special for us.”
Rubin said that there was a silver lining in all of it.
“I don’t think we would have done as well as we did this season if last year wasn’t taken away from us,” she said. “Because of that, it really put things into perspective.”
Rubin might be underselling things a tad by using the phrase “done as well.”
The Sailors — based on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles, near the UCLA campus — went 35-0 against a schedule filled with out-of-state opponents and the usual Southern California standouts. Marymount won the CIF Southern Section Division I title and the CIF Open Division crown, the latter akin to a state championship.
Marymount, under the direction of longtime coach Cari Klein, is the easy choice as the 2021 VolleyballMag.com Girls High School Team of the Year.
The Sailors have now won the equivalent of eight CIF state titles in Klein’s 24 years and 10 CIF Southern Section titles (and they made the final four other times). Klein, who played at Irvine (California) High School and Pepperdine, has 601 career wins.
“Having the COVID year taken away from them was horrible,” Klein said. “They really wanted to win it the year before. It was really sad for those seniors, but now this group had freshmen in college supporting them and making sure they knew they better win. There was a lot of support and energy for this group from the school and the community. I have been here 24 years and have never seen such amazing support with the whole community. The whole west LA community came out and supported this team.”
It didn’t hurt that Klein’s roster was bursting at the seams with elite-level talent. The eight seniors came from two Sunshine Volleyball Club squads that won gold at USA Volleyball junior nationals last summer. Five were on the team that won 17 Open, and the other three were part of the 17 American titlists.
“Both those teams played open schedules all year,” said Klein, who also coaches in the Sunshine program and was the coach of the Sunshine 17 LA team that won the Open title. “They came in here with some pretty great experience. You usually don’t get that many girls with experience like that. They like winning and came in here really ready.”
The Stanford-bound Rubin led the offense, posting 396 kills and 226 digs. Senior transfer Torrey Stafford (Pitt) had 320 kills and 207 digs as another six-rotation outside. Senior right side Kerry Keefe (Duke) hit .382 and pounded 170 kills. Senior setter Kelly Blardi (Stanford) ran an offense that had five players with more than 100 kills.
“You had a lot of talented players,” Klein said. “Elia is amazing and is a gamer. Kerry Keefe was really unstoppable as an opposite. Torrey was a six-rotation outside. Dior Charles (Wake Forest commit) is a junior middle, who the last three weeks of the season was a blocking machine. Kelly was a great setter who ran our offense so fast. Megan Verbiest (USC) is an amazing libero, and the juniors added in and were a huge part of everything.
“It was a fun group to work with. We had 22 girls on the team, and they jelled and were kind to each other. People knew their roles. We had a lot of help, and we had a lot of depth to go undefeated in a COVID year. We had a lot of energy from the seniors, and there was a lot of team-building that went on. We had a lot of great leaders. Each of the seniors offered something different.”
Rubin said that team chemistry was more than just a secret ingredient. “We were so close on and off the court,” she said. “I have never been on a team where each of the 22 players on the team were best friends on and off the court. When you have that, it translates onto the court. Everybody had each other’s backs. Five of the starters had just played a whole club season together, so the overlap into high school was a huge advantage. We wanted it. We were so focused in practice. It was a competitive environment and unlike any other team I have been on.”
Klein said the aggressive schedule the Sailors played helped as well. The Sailors won the Durango Fall Classic in Las Vegas, and Rubin was the tournament MVP. Marymount also won the Nike Tournament of Champions Southwest crown in Arizona and defeated Cincinnati Mount Notre Dame and Chandler, Arizona-based Hamilton at the GEICO girls invitational in Chandler. On the out-of-town ledger, Marymount recorded two wins over Mercy out of Louisville, defeated Hagerty out of Oviedo, Florida, Desert Vista out of Phoenix, Horizon out of Scottsdale, Arizona (twice), Oviedo (Florida), Cornerstone Christian (San Antonio), Mount Notre Dame and Hamilton.
Let’s not forget about the CIF playoffs, where the Sailors were even sharper, defeating Mira Costa (Manhattan Beach) twice, Mater Dei (Santa Ana), Cathedral Catholic (San Diego) and Archbishop Mitty (San Jose). In its postseason matches, Marymount dropped just two sets.
“We played against some great teams,” Klein said. “It’s tournament play, and they had to play on TV. It was crazy. If we didn’t win all those tournaments, I don’t think you can be No. 1 in the country. They kept wanting to play everybody good.”
PLEASE JOIN THE TEAM!
Keep free volleyball journalism free by becoming a VolleyballMag.com Sustaining Member: https://volleyballmag.com/sustaining-membership/
Or make a contribution through Venmo @VolleyballMag