The San Gabriel Elite, a local volleyball club that includes several students from La Cañada, placed fourth during a recent nationwide competition.
The players competed in the Boys Junior National Championships in Dallas in July. The team earned a spot in the top bracket, which consisted of the best 32 teams in the country. After playing teams from as far away as Puerto Rico, Chicago, and Hawaii, the boys made it to semi-finals and placed fourth in the nation.
Connor Walbrecht, Connor Belcher, Ben Choi, and Mel Schroeder will be freshmen at this fall. Henry Smith is a La Cañada resident and will be attending Loyola. Greg and Max Luck, twins, will be at South Pasadena High School, Carl D'Aguiar will be at , and Dante Fregoso will be at . Kris Shepherd will be at Pasadena Polytechnic, Will Dalgarn at St. Phillips, and Chris Mercado will be attending Damian.
The team has been together for less than two years. In the 2011-2012 season, they earned their way in to the top 10 of the Southern California teams, ultimately finishing sixth.
Several of the "founding" members played several consecutive years on the local Spartan Basketball Travel Team together (Schroeder, Walbrecht, Choi, Smith). Two had older sisters heavily involved in volleyball (now playing or committed to D1 colleges), sparking an interest in organizing a boys' team.
The team pulled most of its members from La Canada 7/8 (Schroeder, Walbrecht, Choi, Belcher) and Holy Family in South Pasadena (Smith, Fregoso, Max And Greg luck). A home for the team was found at San Gabriel Elite under the direction of Kenji Mukai.
Ben Diaz (now coaching at SPHS as well) became the team coach. The team caused a stir on the SoCal scene as they improved. The vast majority of SoCal teams are based at the beach and coastal communities. These club volleyball organizations are well developed, generally sponsor multiple boys' teams at each age level, and are highly competitive. SGE was an "unknown" on the boys' circuit and parents from opposing beach teams often expressed surprise when learning of the team's location.
The final four at Nationals consisted of four SoCal teams this year. The boys battled it out with three teams they had encountered on the SoCal circuit several times in the 2011-2012 season. They took their final match to three sets (the maximum at this level) losing the bronze medal by just two points. Walbrecht (setter) was injured in the match determining which teams would move up to the semi-finals. As a result, the players had to eke out the win without their "quarterback.''
Walbrecht managed to play in the final two matches, though with a sprained ankle. All but one of the players are incoming freshmen and nine of them will probably be battling it out at the high school level.
The LCHS boys will play against the Luck twins at SPHS in Rio Hondo league. D'Aguiar (St. Francis) and Smith (Loyola) will play in Mission League, and Fregoso (Flintridge Prep) and Shepherd (Poly) may meet in Prep League.