Renowned Coast Union volleyball coach Pam Kenyon has had numerous opportunities through the past 25 years of her mentoring, to work with excellently talented young women. Whether they come to the volleyball program with experience or not, Pam’s legacy is to bring out their strongest skills, mold them into team players, and make them perhaps better than they thought they could be.
Sophie Flemion was blessed to be one of those gifted players under Pam’s leadership. Sophie was skilled enough as a freshman to climb right into a varsity position. Pam saw her playing while Sophie was in her final year at Santa Lucia Middle School.
“I was very well aware that she was a great player and coming to play for us at the high school,” Pam wrote in an email interview. “She made a great impression in summer workouts” prior to her freshman year. “She hit the ball harder than most of the older girls.”
As a sixth-grader, Sophie already knew the path she planned to follow, that would lead her to the hallowed ground where elite high school volleyball players flourish.
“It was definitely a major goal of mine to play club volleyball and get experience before I got to high school at Coast Union,” Sophie explained in a coffee shop interview in mid-March.
Learning the basics through highly competitive club team dynamics was a grind involving a lot of travel. Nearly every other weekend in the years leading up to high school — and the off-season during her high school experience — her mom, Karen, or dad, Bill, would drive her to club volleyball tournaments in San Diego, Los Angeles, Reno, Nevada, and elsewhere.
“So that once I got to high school, I had all the skills, I had the technique down and getting to play varsity my freshman year was really neat.”
I can’t wait to work with her. She is inspiring! Already my players are scared, excited and in awe.
Pam Kenyon, on working with Sophie Flemion, who will be a volunteer assistant coach with Coast Union’s volleyball team in the fall
Pam said she remembers that the team was 13-5 in Sophie’s freshman year, 2008. Coast Union was not in a league so they played — and defeated — teams from schools with much larger enrollments.
“Sophie did a little bit of everything that year” to help beat Pioneer Valley, Paso Robles, Nipomo, Taft, Templeton and Morro Bay. She set, hit, played tough defense and “was one of the keys in the powerhouse team we had that year,” Pam explained.
Pam’s coaching assistant, Dennis White, recalled that Sophie had good hands and was enthusiastic. She was “oh so quick to the ball and could jump. The future was bright with her on the team, although we were reluctant to have her on varsity because she was so young. But she rose to the occasion,” Dennis said.
“You’re on a team with juniors and seniors, playing other high schools,” Sophie explained. “It was all just a wild experience as a freshman. We were all very equal.”
As to her older teammates, “They loved me! I was their little freshman sister on the varsity team. It was a blast being with all those older girls.”
In her sophomore year, she stepped into a leadership role, notwithstanding that her teammates were much older.
“She did a great job,” Pam recalled. “She played larger than life. We pulled out every trick in the book to try to get Sophie to hit the ball as well as be our primary setter.”
Her first three years of practicing, competing, grinding and learning Pam’s tactics and strategies paid off handsomely in 2011, her senior year. Coast Union won a CIF Division 5A championship in front of a very loud packed house at Cuesta College.
That pivotal playoff match came down to the dramatic third game. Coast’s opponent, Coastal Christian, had three chances to seal a win and extend the match. But the Lady Broncos (led by Roxy Mertens, Nicky Ortiz, Katelyn Lorenz and Sophie) prevailed, to the sheer delight of the fans.
“That’s the kind of experience at that age, you expect to see in sports movies. To have that happen for Cambria, to have that mob of people come down on the gym floor after winning a game like that — it was so special,” Sophie explained, with the earnestness and passion friends and teammates have come to expect from her.
Sophie was honored that season as CIF 5A Division Player of the Year, and Pam was named CIF-Southern Section Division 5A Coach of the Year.
Meanwhile, Sophie, Coast Union Class of 2012, was an invited walk-on for Cal State Bakersfield’s Roadrunners. She used the knowledge and savvy gained from Pam to carve out a successful university volleyball career on the hard court — and in the sand, as she also excelled in beach volleyball.
That’s the kind of experience at that age, you expect to see in sports movies.
Sophie Flemion on Coast Union’s 2011 CIF playoff victory over Coastal Christian
Today, a graduate fresh out of school, she is helping her dad — who manages Hearst’s San Simeon Arabians stable — as a ranch hand. But the circle is unbroken when juxtaposing her career with Pam’s, because Pam is a Coast Union graduate who returned to her alma mater to coach, and Sophie is following in those big footsteps: She will assist Pam as a volunteer coach this fall.
“I can’t wait to work with her,” Pam said. “She is inspiring! Already my players are scared, excited and in awe.”
As the interview with Sophie was ending, Sophie said, “Can I mention one more thing about Pam?”
She remembered a “very sweet moment” after that emotionally uplifting CIF playoff win at Cuesta College. Pam was driving the team van back to Coast Union, and Sophie was riding shotgun.
“We had let our emotions out right after the game, and we were a little quiet in the van. But Pam reached over, put her hand on my shoulder, and said simply, ‘We did it!’ I will never forget that moment.”
Freelance journalist and Cambria resident John FitzRandolph’s column appears biweekly and is special to The Cambrian. Email him at email@example.com.