Local volleyball club Legacy has been a staple at national tournaments for years.
Legacy’s 18 Elite team was the most recent of champions after coming out on top at the Junior Nationals tournament in Columbus, Ohio, in late April.
Playing in this tournament, which is widely regarded as the top club tournament in the U.S., has been a dream and goal for head coach Jamey Ker’s superstar team.
“It’s a culmination of a dream and a whole lot of hard work for these girls,” Ker said in a phone interview. “I can’t think of a better way for them to end their careers here at Legacy. They were happy to finish it in this way and with this group. It’s kind of a storybook ending. It still feels surreal. I’m getting the same tingly feelings talking about it now.”
The bulk of the roster won national titles last year at the AAU National Championships and wanted to cap off their club careers with a gold medal at Junior Nationals. The local club became just the second Legacy team to qualify for the event, and the first in 14 years.
Elite runs a hybrid 6-2 offense, in which a pair of Long Beach State-bound setters, Milani Lee and Madison Maxwell, share the court in every rotation. A typical 6-2 features two setters who play in the back row, giving the team a hitting advantage on the net. However, Ker’s father and club director Walt Ker developed the offense to maximize his two stars.
“When one is in the front row, the other passes,” Jamey said. “It’s a funky rotation but that’s how good of all-around volleyball players those girls are. They’re pretty invaluable.”
The team got off to a rocky start before even taking the court as Lee missed her flight to Columbus.
The adjustment forced Maxwell, possibly the team’s best hitter, into the primary setter role. Maxwell dealt with some nerves, especially since she was already dealing with a hand injury.
“We were devastated when Milani missed her flight,” Maxwell said in a phone interview. “I was a little scared because I’ve never run a 5-1 and my hand was hurt at the time. We were so happy to see her come back. Luckily she got there for the second day, which was the biggest relief for all of us.”
Ker needed to find the best adjustments for his star-studded team and called upon outside hitter Hannah Shaffer to step into a starting role.
Ker says Shaffer hasn’t played a whole lot but has still been the heart and soul of the team from the sidelines. The All-CIF outside hitter for Santa Clarita Christian School loves her role of being the team’s motivator and emotional leader.
“For me, one of my favorites is whenever Tori (Davis) got a deafening kill or an amazing block or when Madi had a huge kill, Jaydin (Watts) and I would go crazy,” Shaffer said in a phone interview. “That’s how we get them hyped. We don’t care what other people think, we’re just having fun. If my teammates do something great they deserve to be celebrated.”
Shaffer immediately made an impact and it was clear she belonged on this Legacy team filled with college-bound volleyball players. Even upon Lee’s eventual arrival, Ker elected to ride the hot hand and keep Shaffer at outside for the remainder of the tournament.
“(Shaffer) came off the bench and played unbelievably well,” Ker said. “She started for the rest of the weekend. She’s been an emotional leader for us all season long. Having that on the court while following it up with unreal play was awesome to see.”
The team opened up the tournament with a pair of three-set victories, where Legacy dropped the opening set in each. Elite took one loss to Roots 181 Green before heading into bracket play upon Lee’s arrival.
Legacy picked up more wins but took a second loss to Coast Victor. For the team, the loss helped shine a light on what they’d need to improve on.
“It was a blessing in disguise because it showed us what kind of team we’d need to be to win that weekend,” Ker said. “The girls didn’t want to walk away from this without any hardware.”
The loss dropped the team into a lower part of the bracket and Legacy promptly played one of its best matches of the tournament. The win was the first of three straight including the championship, a rematch with Roots for the title.
Roots Green had beaten Elite before but was surprised to see Maxwell, who they thought was the team’s only setter, now swinging away. Maxwell shined in the semifinals and finals match, hitting over .800 in each.
“Considering I’ve been in this club for years and this being my last year, this year was the year we all truly wanted,” Maxwell said. “It’s most of our last years before going to college and we wanted to end it on something special. Jamey really wanted it, so we wanted to do it for him too.”
Maxwell took home MVP honors while middle blocker Tori Davis and libero Laurel Barsocchini were each named All-Tournament.
Legacy had achieved what it set out for years ago, but the fun wasn’t over yet. The team headed down to Long Beach for what was the final club tournament for most of the players. Elite ended with the cherry on top, a gold medal finish at the JVA West Coast Cup.
Elite was able to storm through the tournament and add one more piece of hardware to each player’s decorated trophy case.
For Shaffer, the talent of the team spoke for itself but the character of each individual is what made being part of this team so special.
“Obviously the skill is totally there, anyone with eyes knows that,” Shaffer said. “The thing that makes us stand out is the character of the girls. It’s so great. They’re going to have such a great time in college because they care about their teammates and know what it takes to be an all-around great teammate. The fact that we all had one goal in mind, to get better and have fun, I’ve never been on a team like that.”
Players looked forward to club practices every day for the opportunity to compete and hang out with their closest friends.
“Anyone could say this about a team but truly there was not one girl that I didn’t form a special bond with on and off the court,” Maxwell said. “Our coaches were also our best friends. They knew when to be our coaches but were still our friends. They made it feel like a family and we looked forward to going to practice, seeing each other and getting better every day.”
Most of the girls will now focus on their collegiate careers. Tori Davis will play at Baylor, Laurel Barsocchini will join San Jose State, Caroline Toberman is headed to UC San Diego, Shaffer will play at Dordt, Bridget Conley will likely play for USC, Brooklyn Cohen is heading to Arizona State University while Lee and Maxwell will both head to Long Beach State.
Maxwell will return to Hart before graduating early in the fall while the team’s lone junior, All-CIF Gabriela Cascione, has two more years left at Saugus.
Ker had no hesitation to say this was the best team to ever play for Legacy. The club has been around for decades but this group of recent graduates, with one senior and junior to-be, shined brightest among the rest.
“This is the best team we’ve ever had in Legacy history,” Ker said. “You’ll see these girls’ names in the future. You’ll see them playing collegiately, internationally and playing on TV.”