At a school as distinguished as Mater Dei, seldom is an underclassman the star of a boys’ athletic team.
But that’s the case on the school’s indoor volleyball court, where sophomore setter Garrett Zolg led the Monarchs to a share of the Trinity League title last week with a four-game victory over fellow league champion Servite.
“He’s the glue,” says second-year coach Pat Connolly. “We’re fortunate to have him on our team.”
Zolg is from Huntington Beach, a city that’s been home to countless volleyball stars over the years. Quite naturally, most of those top players enroll at Huntington Beach High, where the boys’ volleyball program has won 94 straight matches as of May 1, including the last two CIF state regional championships.
But as exceptional as Zolg is at digging, passing and setting, volleyball doesn’t dictate where he goes to school. Other aspects of campus life are more important.
“I went to Mater Dei because it’s a Catholic school,” he says. “That’s really important to me. I went for that first, then the academics and then sports last.”
Zolg was confirmed the day before he went out and led the Monarchs to a 29-27, 18-25, 25-12, 25-21 victory at Servite on May 5, completing a turnaround from his freshman season, when Mater Dei finished 2-8 in league play. None of the players on the current varsity roster had appeared in a Southern Section playoff match until this season.
“Worst to first, baby,” Zolg says after the win. “It was all the hard work, every day, coming in, weightlifting, practicing, and just honing our skills for this moment. We did it and it just feels so amazing.”
The victory over Servite was especially satisfying because Mater Dei had lost in four games to the visiting Friars just three weeks earlier. A loss to Servite in the second meeting would have dropped the Monarchs into third in the team standings.
“We’ve been through this before, been in multiple game 5 scenarios,” Zolg says. “We were kind of playing this like it was our game 5. This was our do-or-die game and we showed up.”
Connolly believes the Monarchs were able to turn things around this season because he implemented a strict strength and conditioning program that has the players in the weight room three or four times a week.
“Kids are answering their alarm clock at 6:30 a.m. and making it into weights, lifting before school, he says. “So hats off to them and all their hard work. It’s a testament to them that it’s paying off at the right moments and we’re starting to peak and play our best volleyball toward the end of the season, which is what any coach can want.”
Zolg is usually the first one in the weight room. It’s just another example of the leadership role he has taken on, despite being one of the youngest players on the team.
“He’s kind of taken the bull by the horns and led us along the way, quite well,” Connolly says. “He’s definitely matured significantly, as a leader, from the beginning of the season up until now.”
Whenever this season eventually comes to an end, the Monarchs can look forward to even more success next season. In addition to Zolg, the rest of their starting lineup is eligible to return.
“We’re where we need to be right now.” Zolg says.