Lauren Clifton will guide her team in the San Diego Section Open Division playoffs
Eastlake’s Lauren Clifton is walking around with two pieces of tape wound around the middle and ring fingers on her right hand.
Good thing the Titans star volleyball player is left-handed.
“I think they might be broken but it only hurts on a block, and then the adrenaline kicks in so I hardly notice,” said the 17-year-old senior, who has led the Titans (32-7 to start the week) to No. 5 in the Division I power rankings, all but guaranteeing a berth in this year’s Open Division playoffs.
It says a lot about Clifton’s competitive spirit in that she’s not going to let a little pain get in the way of having such a good season Concordia University in Irvine has offered her a beach volleyball scholarship, which she has accepted.
The 5-10 ½ opposite hitter, who earned first team All-Mesa League honors a year ago, is among the team leaders in kills with 225 and blocks with 33 heading into the final week of the regular season even though she hasn’t played much against some of the less-challenging opponents.
She and coach Erwin Macalaguim’s reaction to being in the Open Division, where all of the section’s top teams will battle, instead of Division I like last year, is also revealing.
“I’m so excited, so fired up about being in the Open Division,” said Clifton, a two-year starter who improved dramatically after being on the JV team as a sophomore. “It’s just a different level, and we’ll learn from it. If we close down our errors, we can play with anyone.”
The coach agrees.
In the recent SoCal Invitational, the Titans won their first two matches before facing Torrey Pines, ranked No. 2 in the section. Eastlake led the Falcons by three points late in the first set before losing 25-22 and lost to Hamilton of Arizona in the next match, 2-1, falling 15-12 in the third set.
Torrey Pines beat Hamilton for the Platinum championship.
Moving into the Gold Division, the Titans swept the next three matches to capture that division.
Earlier in the season, Eastlake took No. 1 Cathedral Catholic to 32-30 before falling and they have wins over No. 3 La Jolla as well as the team that beat them in the state Division II playoffs last year, Sun Valley Village Christian.
“It’s Lauren’s motor, her energy that makes her good,” said Macalaguim. “She goes 100 percent, even in practice, and she demands her teammates do too. She’s a sideline-to-sideline player.”
The coach recalled an unforgettable play last year where a teammate made a huge save with Clifton going from her position on the right front 35 feet to the opposite corner to not only get the ball over the net, but allow the Titans to win the point.
“I love the closeness of the crowd, even when they’re hostile, but I also love being the team captain. Overall, we’re a young team but the seniors have stepped up to help the others. We do everything together as a team and we’re better this year because of the closeness. There’s a lot less drama.”
Clifton says she wants to make a difference with her life, so she’s looking into eventually working with the Center for Disease Control.
“I love medicine, and I’d really like to help stop a dangerous disease some day,” she said.
But for right now, leading the Titans into the Open Division playoffs has all of her focus.
Brand is a freelance writer.