On Nov. 19, Vista Murrieta freshman Claire Little delivered a career-high 22 kills in the California Interscholastic Federation Southern California Regional Division I final versus La Costa Canyon, a five-set win. Three days later, the 6-2 outside hitter obliterated her career best with 30 kills – a record for a freshman in a California state final – as the Broncos captured their first California state title in their first championship appearance, a four-set win over Campolindo.
When you do something in California that no freshman has ever done before, and it results in a state title, you make a statement befitting PrepVolleyball.com’s 2019 National Freshman of the Year!
Vista Murrieta went 26-7 in the season before Little arrived, but when the season ended in the first round of the Southern Section Division 1 playoffs, the team was facing a total rebuild. Ed Taitano, the team’s third-year head coach, was graduating 10, among them his top four hitters, top blocker, top three diggers and one half of his terrific setting tandem. Finishing even .500 in 2019 seemed like a stretch.
Enter Little and, with her, a glimmer of hope. The six-rotation outside came to her first practice carrying a big reputation — having given a commitment to Division I power BYU before she even played a high school match — and bigger expectations. Little got to work to prove her bona fides.
Experiencing the expected growing pains, the Broncos started the season by dropping their first three matches and came to the prestigious Durango Fall Classic in Las Vegas just 4-4 overall. Seeded 50th in the field of 64, Vista Murrieta swept through its pool, defeating two nationally-ranked teams in straight sets in the process.
The next morning, the Broncos faced an even more daunting opponent: No. 2 overall seed Torrey Pines. Vista Murrieta dropped the first set to the team that would go on to win both the California Open Division State Championship and the mythical national championship, but rallied to win the next two, handing the Falcons one of just two losses on the season. Little played a huge role in the upset, notching 11 kills, 11 digs and two blocks.
“Her energy/intensity is super positive and she works hard all the time on and off the court,” said Taitano.
Though Vista Murrieta would go on to lose to national powers Louisville Mercy, Louisville Assumption and Mater Dei to close out the tournament, the team’s performance in Vegas shifted their expectations into high gear. Led by its high-powered hitting tandem of Little and senior Reka Monteleone, middle Juliette Russell, setter Molly Wilson and libero Chloe Scheer, the Broncos lost just four more times the rest of the year, all to nationally-ranked teams.
Little was a huge catalyst in the team’s surge.
“She took over matches and was a primary reason they won,” noted Forza1 director Dana Burkholder.
Vista Murrieta rode its strong play to a berth in the Southern Section Division 1 playoffs. Unlike 2018, the Broncos won a match, sweeping Corona del Mar, before losing on the road to national No. 9 Marymount.
The Broncos would not lose again.
Seeded fifth in a Southern California Division I regional field of 16, Vista Murrieta knocked off La Jolla Country Day then defeated nationally ranked Mira Costa, Sierra Canyon and La Costa Canyon to reach the state championship match. Little had 16 or more kills in each of the wins, setting the stage for her 30-kill, 10-dig masterpiece, where she hit above .400, versus Campo for the title.
“The only thing ‘little’ about her is her name,” Taitano quipped. “She was a dynamic contributor to our program and one of the main pieces of our team that helped contribute to our overall success this season.”
Little, who was named First Team All-League and First Team All-Area, led the 25-11 Broncos in kills with 461. She was second in digs with 247 and third both in aces (35) and serve-receiving passing. In other words, her fingerprints were all over the team’s 2019 state title.
“She has to be one of the top 3 if not the No. 1 player in her class,” noted Burkholder. “She is doing things that players like [BYU All-America] McKenna Miller never did at her age. She has a steady game much like [Stanford All-America Kathryn] Plummer.”
In winning the award for National Freshman of the Year, Little edged other talented freshmen like Mele Corral-Blagojevich of California’s Redondo Union, Brooklyn Deleye of Kansas’ Washburn Rural and Lakin Laurendine of Mississippi’s Clinton HS. All had outstanding seasons worthy of recognition, but Little’s record-setting performance in the most important match in school history clinched it for her.
The Vista Murrieta program always had talent and never came close to winning a title. One year after graduation gutted the roster, the Broncos went all the way, led by a freshman.
Congratulations to Claire Little, PrepVolleyball.com’s 2019 National Freshman of the Year!
In the era of the fax machine, letter-of-intent day on college campuses were a lot like those in Dave Rubio’s Arizona volleyball office, 1998.
Deep-dish anxiety ruled. Sometimes chaos prevailed.
When Rubio entered his McKale Center office on letter-of-intent day, he expected a program-changing fax from Dana Burkholder, probably the nation’s No. 1 setter prospect, a Bakersfield, California, whiz who had told Rubio she planned to sign with Arizona over USC, UCLA, Ohio State and Wisconsin.
No fax arrived. On the worst possible day, the fax machine in Rubio’s office failed. It took a full day for Burkholder’s binding letter-of-intent to reach the coach’s hands.
Once delivered, Rubio compared Burkholder’s potential impact to that of Arizona basketball All-American Mike Bibby, who had helped the Wildcats win the 1997 national championship.
Bingo. Four years later, Burkholder, a two-time first-team All-American, led Arizona to volleyball’s Final Four. A year earlier, she was the key part of Arizona’s first (and only) Pac-10 championship.
It all came true.
Now, director of the vast Forza 1 volleyball organization in Southern California, a performance and training center with more than 60 coaches and 1,000 athletes, Burkholder speaks of her Arizona days modestly. True to her role as a setter, it’s about the team, not about Dana Burkholder.
But one thing does draw a tone of awe from the Bakersfield High School graduate.
When reminded she was the 2000 Pac-10 Player of the Year, sandwiched by 1999 winner Kerri Walsh and 2001 winner Logan Tom — perhaps the two leading volleyball players in conference history — Burkholder momentarily grows silent.
“They were at the top,” she says. “I’m fortunate to be in that type of company.”
Burkholder, now 39, graduated from Arizona with degrees in art history and creative writing but really never considered a life that didn’t include volleyball.
“I spent a year working for a newspaper — Bear Essential News for Kids — mostly in ad sales and as an ad rep, but I definitely wanted to be a coach,” she says. “Dave was such a good role model; it has been a rewarding way to make a living.”
Forza 1 is a titan of the youth volleyball industry in Southern California. Burkholder directs training centers in Pasadena, Hemet, Ontario and Temecula, which is her day-to-day headquarters.
There are so many moving parts — so many travel teams, training sessions and weekend tournaments — that Burkholder isn’t likely to be spotted on the beach near her childhood home in Mission Viejo.
“I’ve learned to create time and space for myself; I don’t have typical time off that others do — weekends are very busy — but I do my best to refuel,” she says.
“A lot of coaching is giving of yourself, it’s what I enjoy. It’s what I wanted.”
How did Arizona land a franchise-type recruit of Burkholder’s level?
Part of it was that Burkholder’s summer league club coach, Jennifer Nickels, played for Rubio’s Cal State Bakersfield teams of the early ’90s. Part of it was Burkholder was impressed by the way Rubio had built Arizona’s program into a steady Pac-10 contender.
The recruiting class of 1998 included Burkholder and San Diego’s Jill Talbot, who was also a first-team All-American in Arizona’s Final Four season of 2001. It was a right-place, right-time scenario.
The ’01 Wildcats went 14-4 in the Pac-10, surely the most difficult conference in women’s college volleyball, finishing No. 3 behind 17-1 Stanford and 16-2 USC. But the Wildcats got a second shot at USC in the Elite Eight. It was probably the most significant volleyball match in Arizona history.
“It was a one of those breakthrough moments you dream about,” Burkholder says now. “We were behind in the fifth game, and I don’t think many people gave us much of a chance. I remember thinking ‘I don’t know if this is going to happen,’ but all of a sudden we turned it around and won. I was awestruck.
“I’ll always remember that feeling.”
Arizona will remember Burkholder, too. The Wildcats went 96-28 in her career. She ranks No. 1 in five career statistical categories, the most impressive of which is 5,424 assists. That’s 212 more than anyone else in school history. It would be almost impossible to pick the top volleyball player in UA history — Talbot, Kim Glass, Madi Kingdon, Caren Kemner and Melissa McLendon were either first-team All-Americans or Olympians — but Burkholder is in the conversation.
After graduating from Arizona in 2002, Burkholder became the boys and girls head volleyball coach at Mountain View High School, spent two years with the USA Volleyball program, played professionally in Italy and even served as one of Rubio’s assistant coaches, in 2005-06.
Burkholder’s goal to be part of America’s 2004 Athens Olympics team took a different path.
“I competed so hard in college that by the time 2004 rolled around, I felt like my competitive drive had subsided a bit,” she says. “As much as I enjoyed training with the national team — I felt I was at the level that I could’ve made the Olympic team — I just didn’t make the commitment needed. You have to give your life to the sport, and I had already done that in college. I moved on. I have no regrets.”
On one continent, Cindy Marina is a 5-foot-11 setter on the USC women’s volleyball team. The pride of Great Oak High in Temecula, Calif., was a PrepVolleyball.com high school All-American and a nominee for California Gatorade player of the year.
Volley to the other side of the globe and Marina wears the crown as the new Miss Universe Albania.
The soon-to-be 21-year-old will represent the country at the 2019 Miss Universe pageant in South Korea in late December — not too long after the upcoming USC volleyball season ends. She won the title Saturday at the Palace of Congresses in Tirana, Albania.
Known in Albania as a professional model, Marina also has been a model athlete as a setter on the country’s national volleyball team since 2015. The team finished second in the European Volleyball League last summer.
Marina, who was born in Chicago, connects to Albania through her mother, Kristina, who played pro volleyball there, and her father, Ardian, who played college soccer there. Her parents are from the municipality of Shkoder.
Marina, who will be a senior next season, has compiled 711 assists, 214 digs and 45 service aces in 48 matches over two years with USC. She is a business major who transferred after an all-ACC academic freshman season at Duke.
KRISTINA MARINA NAMED AN ASSISTANT COACH WITH ALBANIAN NATIONAL TEAM
Congratulations to Kristina Marina for being named an Assistant Coach for the Albanian National Team. Kristina is one of the owners of Forza1, as well as a coach for our 17UA and 14 Elite Boys team, and is the Director of Forza1 International. Click here to read more about Kristina’s background.
The Albanian Volleyball Team is competing this summer in the European League with play beginning June 7th. Kristina played for the Albanian National Team as a youth and her daughter, Cindy, who played for Forza1 and attends the University of Southern California (USC) is now a member of the team and the starting setter. They will compete against Finland, Austria and Belarus this weekend. Congratulations and good luck in the international competition!
2017 Albanian National Team (Kristina back row center, Cindy Marina #9 front row)
Cindy & Kristina in the Olympic Center, Tirana, AL
Ardian and Kristina with the President of the Albanian Volleyball Federation and his wife
LOCAL TEAM SUCCESS IN THE VOLLEY-FEST LEAGUE!
Congratulations to our Forza1 Local Teams! In EVERY age group of Volley-Fest League, Forza1 is the highest finishing club from the Temecula/Murrieta area! Great job coaches & players! We guarantee everyone plays at the local level and this is great TEAM success!
Final Standings as of 6/1/17
4th – 12 Silver Jolene – 12 Club Division
9th – 12 Red Jolene – 12 Open Division
10th – HS Red Sue – 16 Open Division
10th – 14 Red Mary Jo – 14 Open Division
11th – 12 Black Lisa – 12 Open Division
11th – 13 Red Chris – 14 Club Division
11th – 14 Red Mary Jo – 14 Open Division
12th – 14 Black Iggy – 14 Open Division
Performance Cup Division Winners:
18U – 1st place 18 East Elite – Cory
14U – 1st place 14 Local North – Sam
12U – 1st place 11 Elite – Gale
Congratulations to our Local Champions:
HS – Top finisher HS Local Red – Sue
14U – Top finisher 14 Local Black – Iggy
12U – Top finisher 12 Local Red – Jolene
Performance Cup 2017
FORZA1 HOSTS USA VOLLEYBALL WOMEN’S NATIONAL TEAM
In May 2017 Forza1 was the host to the USA Women’s National Team for a Red Blue Scrimmage! It was such an incredible event where everyone got to meet the players, watch great volleyball and celebrate the game and the very best in our Country. Good luck to USA on their tour this summer around the world! See their schedule here and catch some games on the internet! Or better yet, see them in person on June 13th at 7pm at JSerra High School vs Canada!
GIRLS FORZA1 CHAMPION
18 Under Armour
|Jayden (Jade) Lucas||S|
|Ky Davis, Natalie Littell||All|
BOYS FORZA1 CHAMPION
Under Armour Gear Samples
Forza1 Volleyball is excited to be partner with Under Armour.
Under Armour is the official supplier of the apparel and accessories for training and game day uniforms for all Forza1 women’s and men’s volleyball teams. “I will” Under Armour!
CONGRATULATIONS FORZA1 H.S. PLAYERS!
Karli Koza-1st Team All League
Kaili Downs-1st Team All League
Jessica Haynie-2nd Team All League
Morgan Johnson-2nd Team All League
Temecula Valley HS
Peyton McBride-1st Team All League
Jasmine West-2nd Team All League
Kali Uhl – 1st Team All League
Leimoni Arscott- 2nd Team All League
Haleigh Wicks-2nd Team All League
Josie Collier-2nd Team All League
Kiara Lampkin-1st Team All League
Haylee Templeton-1st Team All League
Ashley Farmer-2nd Team All League
Morgan Spencer-1st Team All League
Calvary Murrieta Christian
Faith Hayden-1st Team All League
Jenna Hillenbrand-1st Team All League
Hailee Oviatt-Devillier – 1st Team All League
*Many additional players received scholar athlete honors as well as various team awards. Congrats to all!
CINDY MARINA PLAYING WITH ALBANIAN NATIONAL TEAM
In recent weeks Cindy Marina, senior setter on Forza1 18-1s, was invited to play with the Albanian National Team. Cindy is the daughter of Forza1 owners Ardian and Kristina Marina who are both natives of Albania. This is a tremendous honor for Cindy as she will practice and compete with the National team starting May 18th. They will compete in two international tournaments and get to play against power house teams like Poland.
Cindy has been setting since she was 9 years old and has accomplished a lot as a youth player. In 2015, she helped Great Oak reach its 3rd consecutive semi-finals in CIF and she was named MVP of the Southwestern League. She was also nominated for Gatorade Player of the Year. In 2015, she led Forza1 17-1s to a 13th place at Open USA Nationals and her 18-1s is currently ranked 16th in Southern California. Forza1 18-1s will be going to AAU Nationals in Florida in late June and Cindy will return to play with her team.
Cindy is a talented setter with quick hands and graceful movement. She is a solid all around player who jumps well and blocks and attacks from the front line. She will be attending Duke University in the fall of 2016 and is expected to be an impact player for their program. She will join other local standouts, who also played for Coach Dana Burkholder, junior middle blocker Alyse Whitaker and sophomore outside hitter Cadie Bate. It’s going to be a busy summer of volleyball for Cindy and we wish her all the best in her training and competitions!