On Sept. 7, Hayley Hodson received a phone call from Karch Kiraly she will never forget.
The volleyball legend called Hodson the day before her 17th birthday. He told Hodson he had a spot for her to join his U.S. under-23 women's team for an international volleyball tournament.
"He said it was in Mexico and in two weeks, and I was like, 'OK,'" said Hodson, whose junior season with the Corona del Mar High girls' volleyball team had just started, barely one match old. "With Karch Kiraly as your coach, it was an incredible opportunity I wasn't going to pass up."
Hodson accepted the opportunity of a lifetime, but she just had to make sure it was OK with her coach, Steve Astor, and teachers at CdM. They cleared the trip, allowing her to miss 10 days of school and eight matches.
The day after, on her birthday, Kiraly wished Hodson a Happy Birthday. The time away from the Sea Kings turned out to be a gift for Hodson, the Daily Pilot Newport-Mesa Dream Team Player of the Year, and her high school teammates.
They each had to grow up very fast.
Hodson competed in the FIVB Volleyball Women's Under-23 World Championships with and against older players. The Sea Kings learned to play without their lone returning starter.
Astor called it a win-win situation for Hodson and CdM. She earned a shot to play in the tournament because it coincided with the NCAA women's volleyball season.
"None of the colleges were going to release any player during the middle of the season," Hodson said.
When Hodson returned from helping the U.S. finish fourth, CdM caught fire, winning 12 of its next 13 matches.
Hodson spearheaded the run. The run ended in the quarterfinals of the CIF Southern Section Division 1AA playoffs, much earlier than in Hodson's past two postseason trips.
Nevertheless, Hodson said the season turned out to be a success. The team went into the season with many new faces after it lost 13 seniors to graduation. The Sea Kings went on to win their eighth straight Pacific Coast League title and finish 25-6 overall in Astor's first season in charge.
"We went pretty far this year," said Hodson, whose third-seeded team bowed out in the quarterfinals at home against Mater Dei, the eventual runner-up. "Even though we didn't finish how we wanted [in the playoffs], we had a great tournament [right before] in Santa Barbara [at the Tournament of Champions by placing fifth]. It was encouraging."
Hodson expects CdM to be back in contention for her senior season. Every starter returns, except for senior opposite Jules Pouch.
Hodson has a lot to look forward to, especially after high school. A lot of the top Division I colleges are heavily recruiting the 6-foot-2 outside hitter, and with good reason. She produced another stellar season, finishing with 407 kills and a .356 hitting percentage, and averaging 5.2 kills per set.
Hodson earned Dream Team honors for the third straight year, and for the second time made both the All-CIF Southern Section Division 1AA team and All-Orange County second team. The Pacific Coast League named her the MVP.
She doesn't want to say what colleges she's considering, but whoever lands Hodson will be lucky.
"There is no player that affects the game in so many ways as she does," Astor said. "Everyone will look at the obvious skill of her attacking, which is superb, but it is the other parts of her complete game that set her apart. Her passing, blocking, defense, and even her setting [have] been great. Above all, her character and leadership qualities are what truly separate her."
Below are the rest of the players on this year's Dream Team: