Dana Hills senior Chris Knowles knew the varsity volleyball team was going to be good this season, and he didn't want to spend another season on the bench.
Knowles, an outside hitter, did not get much playing time last year, when the Dolphins won the South Coast League and advanced though the playoffs until finally losing in the CIF Southern Section 4-A final to Corona del Mar, 3-1.
This season, the team would be dominated by five starting seniors and ranked No. 1 in the county at the start of the season.
Knowles wanted to be part of it.
He concentrated on improving his digging, setting and shot selection during the summer and finally worked his way into the starting lineup.
"It was funny last season," Dolphin Coach Oz Simmons said. "He was probably our hardest worker, but he was only a little behind our other starters at outside hitter. This season, he was at every single practice and worked to become a starter. He is a team leader in many ways. He is a good student (3.7 grade point average) and has become a very good volleyball player."
This season, Dana Hills compiled an 18-2 record and won its first Southern Section 4-A volleyball title Saturday night, defeating Edison, 14-16, 15-10, 15-6, 6-15, 15-4.
Leading the way was Knowles, The Times' Player of the Week.
Dana Hills advanced to the championship match with a three-game sweep of Newport Harbor in Tuesday night's semifinals, 15-10, 15-4, 15-12.
"I don't really like sitting on the bench," Knowles said. "This season I was pretty confident I could play. I worked hard last summer and just tried to play a lot to improve. Winning the championship was the best feeling I've ever had."
The dedication Knowles showed this season was first exhibited six years ago. Simmons, then the coach at Newport Harbor, ran a nighttime summer clinic, and Knowles didn't miss a night.
The pair met again when Knowles' family moved to the Dana Hills area.
"A lot of people don't like to work out when there are only a few people," Knowles said. "I like to work out one-on-one. I was out there to have fun, and where there are only a few people, that's when you get the best workout."
Dana Hills High School
Position: Outside hitter
Height, Class: 6-1, Sr.
Last Week: Led the Dolphins to the CIF Southern Section 4-A volleyball championship Saturday night with a victory over Edison.
Season: Was one of five starting seniors who helped the Dolphins (18-2) win the South Coast League and the CIF 4-A championship.