John Zant: Smashing Sisters of Volleyball

Chloe Allen

San Marcos’ Chloe Allen is committed to play at UCSB next season. (John Dvorak/Presidio Sports Photos)

Chloe and Emily Allen are athletically gifted sisters who could have taken up any sport and achieved a degree of success. That they both became volleyball players can be attributed to their parents’ choice of babysitters.

“We wanted the kids to see positive, female role models,” said Ken Allen, their father. “Our neighbor was a good friend of [former UCSB coach] Kathy Gregory. We hired her volleyball players. They were really good babysitters.”

John Zant's column appears each week in the Santa Barbara Independent.


John Zant’s column appears
each week in the
Santa Barbara Independent


The sitters included Brooke Niles and Erica Menzel, who were really good hitters, too. They played on one of UCSB’s best volleyball teams (30-3 record) in 2002. That made an impression on the Allen girls. A decade later, Chloe joined her sister, who’s a year older, on the varsity volleyball team at San Marcos High. Their coach: Erica Menzel-Downing.

Chloe, a powerful six-footer — she throws the discus and shot on the San Marcos track-and-field team — has a knack for hammering the ball, usually off the other team or the floor. “I’m more aggressive,” she said. “Emily keeps the ball in and slows things down.” Together, they led the Royals to a share of the Channel League championship last year. Emily, a 5?8? outside hitter, is now at UC Davis. Chloe has asserted herself as the senior leader at San Marcos, which is again battling it out with Santa Barbara and Ventura in the league.

“Chloe does everything for us,” said Downing, who has taken a page from the playbook of Allen’s parents. “She babysits my boys,” the coach said.

On the court, Chloe Allen is such a go-to player that Downing worries about wearing her out. “She takes 60 swings a game,” Downing said, “and plays a lot of defense.” Compare what she does to a baseball pitcher’s work load: 60 deliveries a game is a manageable number, but what if he has to field a bunt or a comebacker for every two pitches he throws?

Downing tried to give Allen a break last week when the Royals hosted Santa Ynez in a non-league match, but when the visitors jumped out to a 12-5 lead, Allen came off the bench and played the rest of the way, leading San Marcos to a sweep. “I tried,” Downing said, “but it’s so comforting when she’s on the court.”

Allen had a terrific double-double of 22 kills and 22 digs in the next match, a hard-fought sweep of Arroyo Grande. She’s expected to draw plenty of attention in the Royals’ last two league matches: Tuesday of this week at Santa Barbara and next Tuesday, November 3, against Dos Pueblos. On the weekend, the Royals will play in Santa Barbara High’s Tournament of Champions.

“The Santa Barbara match is so emotional,” Allen said. “My freshman season, I was so nervous, I could barely stand still. I try to be calm now and help the younger players.”

Santa Barbara coach John Gannon professed admiration for Allen even as he concocted plans to make her nervous again. “Chloe is a unique talent,” Gannon said. “She wasn’t consistent as a freshman, but she’s progressively gotten better. She’s such a forceful hitter, people don’t notice other parts of her game.” Gannon’s Dons, who have a pair of skilled senior hitters in Jessyca Beksa and Lourda Weger, lost a four-setter at San Marcos in their first league meeting.

Emily Allen, foreground, who is now at UC Davis, with sister Chloe Allen (13) on the court together last year.

Emily Allen, foreground, who is now at UC Davis, with sister Chloe Allen (13) on the court together last year.

Allen has learned not to be one-dimensional in her attack, like a fastballer who develops an effective changeup. “I’ve gotten more points on tips,” she said. “I’ve worked on going down the line, playing angles, and reading the block.” She also mixes up her serves from hard and deep to soft and short.

She has announced her commitment to play at UCSB. That would put her across the net from her sister next year. The Gaucho women, who will host UC Davis on November 6, have struggled this season under third-year coach Nicole Lantagne Welch. “It will change when she has more time with her recruits,” Chloe said.

Allen surprised herself when she decided to stay in town. “I never wanted to go to UCSB until I thought about life after college,” she said. “I hope to play volleyball overseas. That will be my chance to get away.”

LOADED TOURNAMENT: An elite field of 16 teams will appear in the Tournament of Champions on Friday-Saturday, October 30-31, at Santa Barbara’s J.R. Richards Gym. It’s so strong that San Marcos and Santa Barbara will have to pull upsets to advance in the championship bracket. The Royals are up against Mater Dei, ranked No. 10 in the state, while the host Dons face No. 3 Great Oak of Temecula. The state’s No. 1 team, Torrey Pines of San Diego, and No. 2 Archbishop Mitty of San Jose hope to meet in the final at 6:15 p.m. on Saturday.

THE SANDLOT: There were smiles all around on October 16 when the ribbon was cut on the new Rich and Sallie Ridgeway Sand Volleyball Courts at San Marcos. Among the players breaking in the three courts just outside the entrance to the stadium was Todd Rogers, an alumnus of the school and gold medalist at the Beijing Olympics. The first San Marcos teams to compete in the AAU Interscholastic Beach Volleyball League will be the girls next spring.