By Matt Szabo
11:50 PM EDT, October 4, 2013
The key chain isn't really gaudy. It simply says "Team USA," but Corona del Mar High junior Hayley Hodson smiles when it's brought up.
Those two words encompass many of Hodson's hopes and dreams. They are most likely part of her past, present and future.
In this way, the key chain is more than just an inanimate object for Hodson, who is one of the best high school outside hitters in the country.
"I think I got it at the Olympic training center," she said. "I think I also have a 'London 2012' one sitting around at home. We're kind of Olympic nerds in my family."
Though she was just 5 years old at the time, Hodson went with her family to the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics in 2001. They went to last year's London Olympics as well. Hodson said her mother Sonya, who was a sports television producer, worked the Sarajevo Winter Olympics and Los Angeles Summer Olympics, both in 1984.
Hayley Hodson again smiles.
"Hopefully we get to go to a few more," she said.
Don't be surprised if the next time Hodson heads to the Olympics, it's as an athlete, not just a spectator. She brings that type of talent to the table for the CdM (8-2) girls' volleyball team, ranked No. 4 in CIF Southern Section Division 1-AA.
Hodson had a match-high 25 kills as CdM outlasted Newport Harbor in five sets in the Battle of the Bay match on Sept. 28. Seven of her kills came in the fifth set, helping the Sea Kings hang on for a 25-18, 25-22, 23-25, 22-25, 18-16 victory in the Sailors' gym.
She can again smile when the Battle of the Bay is brought up. She's never lost the match, as the Sea Kings have now won it four straight years.
"I guess I kind of got my runner's kick there at the end," Hodson said of her strong finish. "I wasn't going to lose. I wanted three [Battle of the Bay wins] in a row. Hopefully by the end of my high school career, it will be all four in a row. I don't know. It was time to end it."
The next match for Hodson isn't in Newport Beach, but Mexico. That's where that Team USA thing comes in. Hodson is on the U.S. team for the FIVB Women's Under-23 Volleyball Championships, which begin Saturday in Mexico. Hodson said she is one of four high school girls on the team, coached by volleyball legend Karch Kiraly. Since the college women's volleyball season is currently underway, many of the players on the team are college graduates, so there is a bit of an age gap.
That's just one way the tournament should be interesting. Hodson said that sets will be to 21 points, not 25, and there will be a total of just 15 seconds in-between each play.
"We're kind of guinea pigs for the FIVB this time around," said Hodson, who helped the Americans win silver at the U18 World Championships in Thailand in August. "We're all a little perplexed at how this is going to work. I guess it's going to be like a shot clock kind of deal. Your huddle's kind of just like, 'Great job guys, let's go get in our spots.'"
Hodson will miss at least three Pacific Coast League matches for CdM while in Mexico, as well as the California Challenge tournament hosted by Torrey Pines High Oct. 11-12. The Sea Kings opened league with a sweep of Irvine on Thursday night.
First-year CdM Coach Steve Astor knows that the Sea Kings will miss their co-captain, but it is a good opportunity both for Hodson, and for others to step up on his young team.
Senior opposite Jules Pouch and Hodson, who are each three-year varsity players, are CdM's co-captains. But others also have shined. Junior Paige Migliori and sophomore Jessie Harris are both setters who have ensured a smooth transition after CdM graduated one of the top setters in the country, Kelsey Humphreys, who is now at Stanford. Harris also is third on CdM in kills.
Hodson leads the Sea Kings in kills with 143, nearly five per set. But Astor said what sets her apart, ultimately, is her humility.
"We've only had a few bad practices all year, and usually you have more than that at this point," Astor said. "I think it's because of the strength of our leadership, and they're willing to be servant leaders, too. They're not above anybody else. They never put themselves on a pedestal. I think servant leadership is something that's kind of a dying trend lately in our world, but I think people like Hayley and Jules are great examples of that. It's very powerful when you have a servant leader like that on your team, especially with these girls going through the things that they go through in high school, socially and culturally. It's past just volleyball for me, their leadership, how great it's been."
In terms of volleyball. Hodson has been versatile. She also is a very dangerous blocker, and her serving has improved.
"She just impacts the game so much, even if she's not hitting the ball," Astor said. "Teams have to worry about her always. You saw it late in Game 5 [against Newport Harbor]. We were up 13-12 coming out of a timeout, and their outside hitter had to really bunch in and help the pipe [back row attack], just in case we set Hayley. We were able to set Jessie Harris and get a kill, and it was a great decision by our setter in that situation.
"Much like a great wide receiver or running back in football, you have to worry about that person, even when they're not touching the ball. It's hard to count the ways volleyball-wise that she helps us. It's kind of innumerable, in that aspect."
Hodson will do whatever she can to help the Sea Kings succeed.
When she isn't playing for her country, she's playing for her school.
"I think we've been doing well," Hodson said. "Being a young team [Pouch is the only senior starter], I think the girls have adjusted really well and we've been playing hard. There's always room to improve, but I'm pretty proud of us so far."
Born: Sept. 8, 1996
Hometown: Pacific Palisades
Coach: Steve Astor
Favorite food: Sweet potato fries
Favorite movie: "Les Misérables"
Favorite athletic moment: Wearing the USA jersey for the first time at age 13, at the High Performance Championships.
Week in review: Hodson had a match-high 25 kills, seven in the final set, in CdM's five-set victory at Newport Harbor in the Battle of the Bay on Sept. 28.