When Aaron Simmons saw three sophomores three years ago during his first year as head coach of the girls’ volleyball at Victory Christian Academy, he brushed them off.
He told them that before they graduated, they would win a sectional championship.
Saren Rogers, Miranda Kaack and Sofia Velasco couldn’t be blamed if they wondered if Simmons hadn’t set the goal a little high. After all, Victory Christian had never won a women’s volleyball title, and the school of 150 students in grades 9-12 was no volleyball powerhouse.
The supply of K-12 classes did not stimulate enrollment, however, there was continuity.
It took all three years, but the Knights not only achieved Simmons’ goal, they came within a point of winning the California State Division V Championship.
“I promised the seniors that they would win a CIF championship when they were sophomores,” Simmons said. “I just knew.
“Looking back, the only thing I could have done differently was tell them to just enjoy the game. It’s high school, not the club ball.
It was like a puzzle, and this year all the pieces fit together.
The Knights were sitting at 16-8 when they caught fire. They went 10-0 to win the Frontier Sierra League and advanced to the Division V sectional playoffs where they did not drop a set, entering the Championship where they fulfilled Simmons’ prediction with a win 3 -0 on High Tech Mesa.
This qualified Victory Christian Academy for Southern California Regionals. The magic continued as they stopped a South Section and two Los Angeles City Section teams to reach the championship, where they beat No. 1 seed Los Angeles Marshall 3-2.
Now they were in very high altitude territory – the state championship.
Things went well for a while as the Knights won two of the first three sets against Walnut Creek Berean Christian. Berean came back to force the fifth set.
Still, Victory Christian pushed, leading 15-14 where just 1 more point would have won the match. But Berean held serve and eventually secured a dramatic 17-15 victory.
“Their focus was obvious after the first set,” Simmons said. “They wanted our best outside hitter, Saren Rogers, to be tired. Every bullet went to her. But she held on and finished with 27 kills.
“Against Marshall we had changed our rotation, and that put them off, but when we did it to Berean, they responded well. Give them credit. It was such a game of thumbs – there was a lot of games where if we were an inch closer, we would have won.
The three seniors were Rogers, the team leader with 501; Kaack, the assist leader with 1,161; and Velasco, a big opponent (5-10) who led the team with 177 service aces.
Simmons said he believed the Knights led the state in service, a weapon that proved unstoppable for 19 straight wins before Berean’s game. Rogers had 156, junior Kealoha Phillips added 131 and Kaack had 130. In total, Victory Christian Academy had 778 unreturnable serves.
Another key element was an unexpected bonus.
“When Calvary Christian closed at the start of the school year, their libero, Ayame Ebato, came along and she answered the puzzle perfectly,” Simmons said. “As a team, we got more and more confident and started beating everyone in three sets.
“This team has really bonded.”
Losing only the three seniors, Simmons knows not to make predictions about next year.
“We have a lot of good players coming back, but we only had seven in the JV squad and you miss the leadership,” he said. “We will probably move to Division IV, which will be another challenge.”
Granted, Simmons isn’t making any rash promises, at least not publicly, but the team’s experience can only work in their favor.
Steve Brand is a freelance writer.