LJ’s Hoolko second at championships

Also makes all-tourney v-ball team

Jonny Hoolko has been playing volleyball for only four years, but already he has been through the experience of a lifetime.

Hoolko, a La Jolla resident who will be a junior at Cathedral Catholic High School this fall, recently returned from Atlanta, where his Epic 17-and-under club volleyball team placed second in the open division at the USA Volleyball Junior Olympic National Championships. Hoolko was also one of three players from Epic named to the all-tournament team.

“It was an amazing experience,” Hoolko said, just days after returning from the East Coast.

Hoolko’s team qualified for the national championship event in Atlanta via its strong play in a regional championship event held this winter in Anaheim. There, Epic played against some of the nation’s best teams, due to the fact that Southern California is one of the country’s strongest areas for volleyball.

The team flew to Atlanta on July 2 and played multiple games before landing in the championship match on July 8. Epic lost, 25-14, 25-18, to a team from Newport Beach named Quiksilver, but Hoolko said he wasn’t disappointed with the results. Simply getting to the title match was an amazing experience, he said.

“We had advanced to the final the previous year as well, and coincidentally we played the same team in the finals,” Hoolko said. “I don’t know if there was a mental block on our part, but it was a great opportunity. We know what we went through to get there. It was easier this year to accept being second - that’s second in the nation, and I’m fine with that.”

Hoolko will have plenty more club volleyball matches to play before next year’s spring boys’ high school volleyball season comes around at Cathedral Catholic. Between now and then, he’ll play with players from other schools and will compete with and against players better than him, which should only stoke his fire to get better.

Hoolko had a solid season for Cathedral Catholic last year and has developed into one of the top players in the North County, if not all of San Diego County. His experience playing club volleyball has been the most instrumental aspect to his quick improvement, he said.

“High school is a lot different than club,” Hoolko said. “I think playing club has really strengthened me as a player. It’s cool to compare yourself against your club teammates when you see them in high school matches. I think it has definitely made me a better player.”

Hoolko’s older sister, Dana, was a standout runner, soccer player and volleyball player at La Jolla High School. He said he elected to attend Cathedral Catholic partly to escape her athletic shadow and to make his own name for himself. So far, it seems to be working.

“At Cathedral, it was kind of like a blank slate,” Jonny Hoolko said. “I got to start over and kind of see what I could do on my own.”