Torrey Stafford gives rebuilding Marymount a great start

Every week was hell week. They trudged into the gym at 5:45 a.m. and left with soaked shirts, rubberized limbs and empty tanks.

Perhaps Torrey Stafford knew what she’d found last year after a promotion from Torrance Bishop Montgomery at Los Angeles Marymount High. She knew the sailors had a ridiculous talent. She knew they had expectations of winning every game. But she hadn’t expected this grind.

“Is it going to be like this all season?” She would ask her older teammates for another grueling workout.

“Yes,” they would confirm, poking fun at her for asking the question, because it was all season.

A year and a one-off volleyball team later, Stafford is sitting on the sidelines at a summer practice session. The group running behind her is no longer an undefeated juggernaut, but a fresh team with no wins and no losses. Gone is Elia Rubin’s fire, Kerry Keefe’s power, Kelly Belardi’s steady hand.

What remains is Stafford. And suddenly it’s her job to answer that question she once asked.

“We’re going to do it again this season,” said the now senior Stafford imperturbably. “We’re going to do it again … I’m confident we can repeat what we did last year.”

This was 35-0 with just a handful of lost sets, the nation’s best team, a state champion somehow feeling even better. This was a collection of talent that was hard to find in California girls’ volleyball history. This is something virtually impossible to replicate, a group of graduated seniors who are virtually impossible to replace, something coach Cari Klein and assistant Tuan Le and almost anyone trying to fill in impossible shoes know.

But for Stafford, that just means she knows what matters.

“People think Marymount is going to be out this year,” said Santa Ana Mater Dei coach Dan O’Dell. “But I don’t see them being down if they have Torrey Stafford.”

The praise comes from everywhere. Klein said Stafford is the most complete player in the state. Mira Costa coach Cam Green called her one of the best in the country.

“Their game is growing exponentially,” said Harvard-Westlake coach Natalie Morgan.

When asked if she felt like she was at the top of the Southern Section’s talent pool, Stafford paused for a few seconds.

“…Yes,” she replied, and a gentle smile spread across her face.

It’s not boastful. Stafford’s power is devastating, her serve strong. Her attacks are tactical, her block is high. Her death went from good to great.

Incidentally, this all describes a player who, as a junior, was a runner-up in kills on one of the greatest girls’ volleyball teams of all time.

“I got a message from a coach that said, ‘Holy cow — I haven’t seen that kind of improvement in anyone in a year,'” Klein said.

She has hardly left the court since winning the state championship. Next came the club season with Sunshine Volleyball, then practice with Marymount, then Junior Olympics, then a month-long stint in Tulsa with USA Volleyball.

Amidst all the Oklahoma Target runs and hotel room hangouts, Stafford took home another trophy — a gold medal.

“This kind of play matures people,” Le said.

But for all of Stafford’s accolades, all of their talent, all of their fire and their experience, will that be enough?

Marymount has some strong returnees in support: Dior Charles patrols the middle, Lauren Brooker finds her own Belardi-neighboring rhythm at the setter, breakout candidate Alexa Trapani at the libero. When push comes to shove in the Southern Section, the Sailors’ fate rests squarely on Stafford’s shoulders.

“Last year she had good games … this year she needs great games,” Klein said.

Stafford is the leader. Everyone from Klein to Le to Trapani has recognized it. She’s going to be the one setting the pace, the one telling her teammates that’s the way it is all year long. It will be a test of their concentration, Klein said – but Stafford feels no pressure from it. She just wants to make sure that every sailor has the same mentality on the journey to finding a new team identity.

Could she be okay with actually losing a game this year?

“I think so,” said Stafford. “But I hope that doesn’t happen.”

Rounding out the rest of The Times top 10 girls volleyball programs:

2: Mater Dei

The Monarchs have to be ranked in the top 5 by default almost every year. A strong junior class led by underdogs Babi Gubbins and Isabel Clark makes this Monarchs team particularly strong. Keep an eye on junior Cymarah Gordon’s breakthrough as she defeated Marymount in the Open Division Finals last season.

3: Manhattan Beach MiraCosta

The only other player mentioned by Southern Section coaches as often as Stafford was Mustang junior setter Charlie Fuerbringer. Signed as a sophomore in Wisconsin, she’s the face of a dynamic offense that relies on Northwestern Drew Wright as a finisher. If Mira Costa clicks on all the cylinders, they could dismantle everyone.

4: Redondo Union

After a bad year, the Sea Hawks appeared poised to contend for a title. They’re bringing back five starters and adding an intriguing talent in 6-4 softball and basketball star Ella Zimmerman. Also, Senior Mele Corral-Blagojevich, the heart of the group, could be the hardest hit of all in the southern section.

5: Huntington Beach

Looking for a sleeper? The Oilers went 28-7 with a group of mostly freshmen and sophomores last year, and all signs are pointing to an impressive win at a summer Oxnard tournament. Most of the team played on the beach during the spring and summer, which helped their movement and ball control, coach Craig Pazanti said.

6: Vista Murrieta

Coach Ed Taitano’s team is off the radar of some schools due to its location, but the Broncos were a top team in the section last year. Senior Claire Little is a match for anyone — she’s been at BYU since eighth grade, and O’Dell predicted she’d be the top player in the Southern Section this fall.

7: Chatsworth Sierra Gorge

Senior outside hitter Olivia Babcock is a top talent and Cornell signing Jada Cione, moving back to Sierra Canyon after a year in Texas, adds a new dimension – but depth can be an issue.

8: Studio City Harvard-Westlake

The Wolverines have a dynamic duo of Ava-Marie Lange and Grace Thrower and can keep up with the best from the outside, but it will be “difficult” to score points from the middle, Morgan said, as they lost three key seniors from last year to have .

9: Lakewood

Coaches consistently pay attention to the Lancers, who beat Huntington Beach last season and took two sets from Mater Dei.

10: Palos Verdes

Kaci Demaria averaged three kills per set as a freshman last year and is poised to lead the Sea Kings for years to come. Junior Kendall Beshear appears to be in line for a breakout, replacing graduate Suzy Jellison on the outside. Torrey Stafford gives rebuilding Marymount a great start

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