At the last NCAA Div I Womens Volleyball Championship game in Oklahoma City, two Rancho Santa Fe residents faced each other on opposite sides of the net.
Lacey Fuller played for Penn State, which won the championship title, and Cosy Burnett played for Brigham Young University. Both girls were introduced to volleyball in Rancho Santa Fe at R. Roger Rowe School, where volleyball has been a tradition in excellence for more than 30 years.
It’s unusual that two players in the championship match would both emerge from a small community like Rancho Santa Fe, but it’s not the first time, according to computer sciences teacher and RSF Volleyball Director and coach Jackie Mendez.
“We have had about seven or eight different girls playing in the NCAA finals in different divisions over the years,” said Mendez, who has directed the volleyball program at RSF for the past 23 years.
Before Mendez, the program was started 10 years earlier by Lindy Delaney, now superintendent at RSF. Mendez added, “I am very proud that several of my players have become successful high school, club, and collegiate players, but more importantly, I am more proud of the leading women they have become as students, professionals, and amazing moms. It has been awesome to watch our alumni on TV compete at the national level, knowing they started their volleyball career right here every Tuesday and Thursday morning in a little program called ‘The Breakfast Club.’”
The Breakfast Club is a volleyball program at R. Roger Rowe School starting kids as early as kindergarten. Kids meet in the school gym with coaches at 7 a.m. twice weekly before school starts. They learn the basics at a young age. Starting in fourth grade, teams are formed and play competitively throughout the school season.
“We field about six or seven school teams each year,” said Mendez.
Cosy Burnett remembers first learning to play volleyball in second grade. “Breakfast Club for me was first about learning to wake up and be active. I loved getting up and spending time having fun and learning something new in a positive atmosphere.”
Cosy added that volleyball was new to her. “I always wanted to work hard to get better because Jackie made me feel so great about my improvements. Jackie taught me teamwork. It was my first time playing for something greater than myself and learning how to be a good teammate.”
Mendez reflected on the program: “The goal of our program is to first introduce the game of volleyball to teach our young athletes the basic fundamentals. At this point, we hope they develop a love and passion for the game and continue to play in the program and join grade-level teams (grades 4-8). My emphasis of coaching is weighed heavily on discipline, teamwork, camaraderie, sportsmanship, and teaching them how to be caring and conscientious.
“Most of these girls are also very active in competitive club volleyball outside of school, so it’s important that we create a safe, positive team environment to learn the game. I want to instill lifelong skills so that these young student athletes will perform at life with the foundation of character that started here at this school.”
Mendez runs volleyball camps each summer for kids to prepare for the fall season. This summer, camp will be held Aug. 10-14 for grades 3-8. Information and registration is available on the Rancho Santa Fe School website: www.rsfschool.net.