Elia Rubin was just 7 when she had the random thought that she wanted to play volleyball.
“It’s a really interesting story,” Rubin said. “One day … I went up to my dad and said, ‘Hey, I want to play volleyball.’ I was playing basketball at the time. My dad had no idea how it came to my mind.
“We looked up volleyball clubs in Santa Monica, and Sunshine was practicing at Lincoln Middle School, which was two blocks from our house. Dad dropped me off, and I was hooked.”
And the rest, as they say, is history. Rubin, a senior outside hitter at Marymount High School in Los Angeles, has gone from being a curious 7-year-old to being named the 2021 VolleyballMag.com National High School Player of the year.
Rubin developed into one of the nation’s top talents — a national-championship-winning club player with Sunshine and an outside who helped Marymount to a 35-0 record (against a schedule flush with out-of-state opponents and the usual Southern California powers), another CIF Southern Section crown and the CIF Open Division title (akin to a state championship).
“I got better with consistency in pretty much every aspect, especially with what we are really focusing on in games,” said Rubin, who will play at Stanford. “We had games where we played super-high levels of competition, and then maybe the next week it was a little lower, but I was able to stay consistent day-to-day and game-to-game.”
Rubin, Gatorade’s California player of the year, finished the season with a team-best 396 kills in 89 sets (she sat out 11 sets) and was the most-set attacker by 150 attempts. She also had 226 digs, second behind USC-bound libero Megan Verbiest. Rubin leaves Marymount with 1,135 career kills, a total that would have been higher had the pandemic not wiped out all but two 2021 spring matches of her junior season.
Rubin, the CIF Southern Section Division I player of the year, was particularly cash money in the two segments of the CIF playoffs. She had kill totals of 13, 11 and 17 in helping the Sailors win the CIF Southern Section title (with wins over Mira Costa in the semifinals and Mater Dei in the championship) and had kill totals of 14, 18, 13 and 10 as Marymount plowed through the CIF Open Division tournament (including a win over Costa in the quarters and San Diego Section standout Cathedral in the semis). Rubin had 10 kills and hit .474 in a 25-11, 25-5, 25-14 blowout of San Jose Archbishop Mitty in the Open Division final.
“Elia is amazing. She is a gamer,” longtime Marymount coach Cari Klein said. “She sees the game so well. She reads the court, and she can pass. She’s a defender and a competitor. Everyone that plays against us says she’s 5-10. She’s not. She’s 6-2 and passes like someone who is 5-10. She passes at that level. She is so coordinated and powerful.”
Rubin saw other aspects of her game blossom as well.
“I would say my serving got a lot more difficult and a little bit more consistent (team-high 47 aces this season) — my serving, defense and serve-receive got better,” she said. “In some big matches, I was able to keep the pressure on.” But beyond the X’s and O’s and the numbers, Rubin said she took a giant step forward as a leader.
“I think I played a pretty big role, took a leadership position,” she said. “I knew as a captain, I would be someone the team would look up to on and off the court — getting everybody focused. This group of seniors took it seriously and wanted to be the best leaders this team could have, always being focused and keeping the mindset in the right place. On the court, it was being a rock for everyone. Being someone my teammates could rely on was really important.”
Klein added: “Elia is a great leader. We had 22 girls on this team, so at times with her, it was like, ‘This is how the drill goes, put the first ball here.’ She had a lot to do. With 22 girls, you need more than two coaches. She was a coach on the court and definitely a great leader for us.”
Before long, Rubin will head north to begin the next chapter at perennial national power Stanford, something she’s excited about.
“Would I have ever dreamed this? I mean, who knows?” said Rubin, who has a 4.12 grade-point average. “I would like to say so. If you were to tell seven-year-old me where I would be now, I wouldn’t believe it. I always have had high hopes and dreams for myself, so who knows? Possibly.”
Rubin said she hasn’t yet decided on a major.
“I am going to kind of go in there and feel it out,” she said. “I would like to get into something that’s involved in psychology or sports. Stanford has high expectations. I have to balance school and volleyball and sometimes put school ahead of volleyball.”
Right now, Rubin is having a blast coaching a 12s team for Sunshine, for which she played her entire club career. She hopes her competitive nature rubs off on her players.
“I don’t like to lose,” she said. “The second I get on the court, I do everything I can to bring up my teammates and help them play their best, and for me to play in a way that is respectful of our opponents. I would like to be remembered as a super-fierce competitor.”
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