It is a testament to the incredible historical success of Del Norte High volleyball that no high school class has graduated in nearly 40 years without seeing the Warriors win at least one Humboldt-Del Norte Big 5 League title.
The program holds 28 league championships in all, including 22 straight from 1989 to 2009, largely under the direction of current coaches Debbie and Pablo Lorenzi. The Lorenzis returned to the Warriors’ sideline in 2012 after a six-year hiatus from full-time volleyball coaching.
Del Norte’s current crop of seniors, who entered the school in 2010 as freshmen, would be the first class in that time not to see a league championship.
“We want to have a banner up there,” senior Kaitlyn Clemann said in an interview Aug. 26. Clemann gazed up at the northeast corner of Thunen Gymnasium at Del Norte High, where the volleyball league title banners are displayed, as she spoke.
“This is a really great program. We want to keep up its good name (and) get it out of a rut because we’re kind of in a rut right now.”
Del Norte finished the 2012 season with a 9-10 overall record (5-3 HDN Big 5 League) and qualified for the California Interscholastic Federation North Coast Section playoffs, finishing second outright in the HDN Big 5 League. Inconsistent play and communication marred many of the Warriors’ early-season games; Del Norte dropped to 1-3 in league play before winning its last four.
In some ways — hindsight helping out greatly — the Warriors’ season had two endings. There was the very end, a 25-13, 25-7, 25-16 defeat at the hands of Analy High of Sebastopol in the North Coast Section playoffs on Nov. 5. (Del Norte traveled to Sebastopol for the contest.)
The regular-season finale, a 25-23, 25-23, 25-15 home victory over league champion Arcata on Oct. 30, 2012, is the happier result. It was Del Norte County’s last memory of the season, and the Warriors’ most complete performance.
“The Arcata game is more memorable to me than the NCS game,” Clemann admitted. “I kind of want to block that one out.”
Asked about how it felt after the Warriors lost to Analy in the NCS playoffs, senior Ashton Smedley pondered the question before replying, “I don’t really remember.”
Asked about the Arcata game a short time later, Smedley’s face lit up.
“That was a good one,” she said.
Clemann and Smedley, two of the Warriors’ four seniors, are looking to lead Del Norte back to the top of the HDN Big 5 League.
Clemann began playing volleyball as a sixth-grader at Redwood Elementary School, playing on Redwood’s seventh-grade volleyball team. When she entered high school, intent on playing for the Warriors, she grew “five or six inches” to her present height of 5-foot-11.
Clemann’s adjustment to her body has been progressive, a year-over-year ordeal. Now, she’s one of the Warriors’ top outside hitters. Clemann attributes much of her improvement entering the season to the Lorenzis’ weight training program.
“The weight room has helped my coordination,” she said.
Smedley has always been among the tallest on her teams — even when she began playing the sport as a sixth-grader at Redwood. She was Del Norte’s starting middle blocker for the 2012 season and is versatile enough that she excels at both left and right outside hitter as well.
“She’s become a very strong hitter,” Clemann said. “Her ball is the hardest to dig — it’s the heaviest ball (off a hitter’s hand).”
Del Norte’s starting six and rotations are far from set; the Lorenzis will continue to adjust the lineup through the Warriors’ first matches.
Del Norte’s season begins today with a jamboree at Hidden Valley High in Grants Pass, Ore. Immediately after that, the Warriors will head east for Reno, Nev., where they will play in a two-day tournament.
Clemann, Smedley, senior Kiera Davis and sophomores Regin Loftin and Joely Tynes have been used as outside hitters. Juniors Sarah Levi and Katelyn Eninger have been working at middle blocker as well as outside hitter.
Senior Ericka Alcala is the Warriors’ most experienced libero; junior Grace Bruschi and Tynes are next in line at the defensive specialist position. Junior Kayla Costello will move from backing up the graduated Marissa Van Dyke at setter to the starting role, with sophomore Sam Lundin her backup.
The Del Norte players have now completed one full year of the Lorenzis’ weight training program, and the players have noticed changes on and off the court.
“We have strength now on the court that we didn’t have last year,” Smedley said.
Is it enough strength to lift another banner?
(Home and away games begin at 6:30 p.m. and JV games at 5:30 p.m. unless otherwise noted)
Aug. 29: at Hidden Valley Jamboree
Aug. 30–31: at Reno Tournament
Sept. 3: Illinois Valley at home
Sept. 5: at Gold Beach
Sept. 9: at Brookings-Harbor, 5 p.m./6 p.m.
Sept. 11: Brookings-Harbor at home
Sept. 18: Gold Beach at home
Sept. 20–21: at Red Bluff tournament
Oct. 3: at Arcata
Oct. 8: McKinleyville at home
Oct. 15: at Eureka
Oct. 17: Fortuna at home
Oct. 18–19: Junior varsity at Fortuna
Oct. 19: Varsity at Marshfield Tournament
Oct. 22: Arcata at home
Oct. 24: at McKinleyville
Oct. 26: Junior varsity at McKinleyville
Oct. 31: Eureka at home
Nov. 5: at Fortuna