First published in the Sept. 17 print issue of the South Pasadena Review.
The change first started four years ago. Ivy Chew took over the South Pasadena High School girls’ volleyball program and inherited a group of players whose skills would grow exponentially.
This season, with Chew’s original freshmen now seniors, the Tigers have developed a winning culture and set a new standard. In her first season as head coach, Chew and South Pas were Rio Hondo League runners-up. The following year, they went undefeated en route to the league championship.
“That was the goal for the length of the career I’m having so far at South Pas,” Chew said. “To step in and into the league title contender and keep having that result every single year.”
Naturally, a Rio Hondo crown is the goal once again this year. The Tigers are also working to replicate the success of 2019, when they reached the CIF Southern Section Division 4 semifinals and went on to the CIF State Division III finals.
Because of the success, South Pasadena has been moved up to Division 1/Division 2 in the CIF-SS. The team feels it can compete.
“We want to get back to where we were in 2019,” said senior Abby Garner, a four-year varsity player. “It’s going to be harder this year because we did move up to D1/D2 but I feel like with the talent we have, we’re so capable of that.”
Ally Sokolow, another senior, sees the bar set even higher than that.
“Our standard is winning state,” she said. “Our goal this season is to win state, especially because we went so far our sophomore year and we’re an even better team this year. We really believe we have the potential to go far.”
Garner is part of a senior class that returns after a one-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The outside hitter is a team captain along with Sokolow, a libero, and middle/opposite Kennedy Taylor.
All three are four-year varsity players and have been key to South Pasadena’s rise in girls’ volleyball. Their experience and abilities give the team strength in every area.
“We’re really well-rounded in defense and offense,” Chew said. “I have a lot of options that I can utilize in different rotations. I haven’t really continuously used the same lineup because my team is capable of being able to switch up the rotation and do other positions. That’s how dynamic my team is.”
The sophomore class is strong, too. Outside hitter Jenna Garner, setter Kendall Taylor, outside Ingrid Zahn and Helena Foord are starting to look like the future of the program. And, of course, they’re getting some good guidance from this year’s senior class.
“I’ve learned how much supportiveness can affect the game,” Jenna Garner said, “because we’ve been connecting more and more each game and you can just see how much we’ve gotten better. And I think being supportive of one another is a big deal and a big factor in that.”
The Tigers won 18 of their first 21 matches of this season, which includes a sweep of Division 1/Division 2 opponent Flintridge Sacred Heart and Division 3 Burroughs.
La Salle of Pasadena and Marlborough of Hancock Park, two teams named to the CIF-SS Division 1/Division 2 preseason watch list, and Montebello Schurr were the only ones to beat South Pas.
After having the 2020 season taken from them due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Tigers are off to a strong start. They’re even finally playing in the school’s renovated gym, part of a $13 million athletic facilities upgrade.
Although the gym brings a brand-new feeling to the season, the Tigers are still rooted in the foundation that developed four years ago.
“We know what we have to do to win and we’re very focused on the fundamentals,” Garner said. “We make sure we built a good base. You can’t build if you don’t have a base. So I feel like that is something we focus on every practice. We focus on the basics and then from there, we build.”