May 20, 2024

The Southern Section girls’ volleyball playoffs start this week and Palos Verdes has earned the eighth and last Division 1 spot thanks in large part to twin sisters Molly and Mallory LaBreche.

Molly plays libero and defensive specialist while Mallory is a setter and outside hitter for the Sea Kings (21-8), who wrapped up the regular season with back-to-back sweeps over Santa Monica and Peninsula to finish second in the Bay League behind Mira Costa.

The juniors are straight-A students and have committed early to prominent Division I beach programs — but they happen to be exceptional indoor players too.

“When we were little we played softball, but started playing indoor volleyball when we were 10,” says 5-foot-7 Molly, who is six minutes older but four inches shorter than her sibling. “I played outside at first, but got switched to libero and I liked it. The best part is being able to read the hitters.”

Mallory explains how she ended up in her current position: “On our 12s team we didn’t have a setter so I volunteered and took to it fast. I like being in control of where the balls go.”

Opposing volleyball players raise arms to the net as a ball is in mid-air.

Palos Verdes High’s Mallory LaBreche (12) is a setter who was second on the team in kills (135) and blocks (48) this season.

(Steve Galluzzo / For The Times)

No one knows them better than Lacey Minzlaff, who was their first club coach and took over the reins of the Palos Verdes program this fall after eight years as an assistant to Patrick Lynch.

“It’s been special coaching them again because they’re like family and they were super even at age 11,” Minzlaff recalls. “I knew then they were going to play in college. They’re both so smart that I don’t have to tell them anything — they see things before I can. They’re easy to coach and very durable. They’ll play through any illness or injury and most times I don’t even know there’s anything wrong. Also, they’re not driven by ego at all.”

Teammates recently voted Molly “the player most likely to become a great coach someday” and she confessed she can see herself doing that in the future, but her immediate goal is to make a deep postseason run. Mallory was named “most serious player” although she also knows when to crack a joke to relieve the tension in a tight match.

“Yes, we’re very competitive but we know each other so well that when one of us is struggling a little the other one won’t say anything,” Mallory says. “We usually just let each other figure it out.”

Mallory has dished out 331 assists and is second on the team in both kills (135) and blocks (48). Molly leads the Sea Kings in digs (354) and aces (44).

The twins’ success from a young age can primarily be attributed to hours upon hours of practice but also to the ingenuity of their father, John.

“Our dad dug out the dirt in our backyard and built us a beach volleyball court — that was like our little project,” Molly says. “It allowed us to continue playing and hone our skills, especially during COVID when everything shut down.”

Two weeks before their 17th birthday in July, the twins paired to win the 16U division at the Junior AVP Nationals in Hermosa Beach. Six weeks earlier they partnered to win the Cal Cup, also in Hermosa. They have grown to love the beach game so much that now they only play indoor for their high school team. They enjoy competing for their club, MBsand (based in Manhattan Beach) but for them, nothing beats a backyard game at their house near campus.

“We had it done over the summer of 2018, it took four or five months and 100,000 pounds of sand, which we poured in one wheelbarrow at a time over eight days, it was a labor of love but it worked out perfectly,” John says. “We even had people asking us if they could rent it out and I said no but come on over anytime you want! My son and I play against the girls and it’s been a ton of fun. It’s regulation length but not quite in width, so we consider anything off the roof or the bushes in play.”

A girl leaps up to hit a volleyball.

Molly LaBreche led Palos Verdes High with 44 aces this season.

(Steve Galluzzo / For The Times)

Hardly a day goes by when Molly and Mallory aren’t bumping and spiking. In addition to playing indoor and beach for Palos Verdes, they play in beach tournaments on weekends. They like the specialization of indoor, but prefer the outdoor version.

“In beach you have to be good at everything,” Mallory says. “I like beach because you’re touching the ball on every point,” Molly adds.

As close as they are, both insist they made their college choices independently. If they ended up picking the same school, great, but in the end it was no package deal. Going to several camps at UCLA, Mallory fell in love with the campus and the atmosphere and on June 18 she committed to play beach for the Bruins. Ironically, their brother Jake is a student manager for the USC women’s beach team.

“The smack talk started immediately,” John jokes.

Five days later, Molly committed early to the beach program at Louisiana State, citing the dorms and football program (she is a big fan of the Tigers as well as Michigan, her father’s alma mater).

The future looks bright and with another year of high school on the horizon the LaBreches are not looking too far ahead.

The Division 1 playoffs begin Wednesday at 6 p.m. The eight teams are divided into two pools of four, with the winner of each pool meeting for the championship Nov. 4. First-round matchups in Pool A have No. 1 seed Mater Dei hosting No. 8 Palos Verdes and No. 4 Sierra Canyon hosting No. 5 Marymount. First-round matchups in Pool B are No. 7 Los Alamitos at No. 2 Mira Costa and No. 6 Bishop Alemany at No. 3 Huntington Beach.

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