When Julia Blyashov
was about 7 or 8 years old, she was "dragged" on to a volleyball court. Less than a decade later, the Cathedral Catholic (San Diego)
outside hitter is a CIF Open Division state champion, MaxPreps National Champion and now the 2022 MaxPreps National Player of the Year.
Not bad for the girl who gave up rhythmic gymnastics for the volleyball court.
"I wound up loving it (volleyball) the moment I started playing," Blyashov said. "There was no career for me there (in rhythmic gymnastics)."
She admits, however, it took a bit to get the volleyball thing down.
"I was so bad when I started," she laughs. "I had no coordination."
Now, she's the best player every time she steps on the court according to Cathedral Catholic coach Juliana Conn, an impressive compliment considering Dons went 42-0 this season and dropped just a single set in 104 played.
Previous MaxPreps National Players of the Year
2008 — Lauren Cook, Pius X (Lincoln, Neb.)
2009 — Rachel Williams, Archbishop Mitty (San Jose, Calif.)
2010 — Tiffany Baker, Hebron (Carrollton, Texas)
2011 — Nicole Dalton, Chaparral (Parker, Colo.)
2012 — Amber and Kadie Rolfzen, Papillion LaVista South (Papillion, Neb.)
2013 — Courtney Eckenrode, The Woodlands (Texas)
2014 — Alexis Smith, Lewis-Palmer (Monument, Colo.)
2015 — Nicole Peterson, Jesuit (Portland, Ore.)
2016 — Lexi Sun, Santa Fe Christian (Solana Beach, Calif.)
2017 — Erin O'Leary, Novi (Mich.)
2018 — Kenzie Knuckles, Yorktown (Ind.)
2019 — Paige Flickinger, Byron Nelson (Trophy Club, Texas)
2020 — No award due to pandemic
2021 — Elia Rubin, Marymount (Los Angeles)
In addition to leading the Dons to the pinnacle this season, Blyashov also competed for USA Volleyball, winning gold in this summer's U19 Pan Am Cup. In the championship match, she was tied for the team lead with eight kills. She also was on the bronze-winning 2021 U18 World Cup team and led Cathedral Catholic for a beach volleyball state title in 2021.
"She does all the little things well," Conn said. "She touches the ball every single rally. She's a great passer, blocks well and has by far the best understanding of the game."
And she's a tremendous swinger with both power and precision.
"I don't think I'm the alpha," Blyashov said. "I don't focus on the talk around me. I worry about the team.
The Dons rostered 19 players, including 10 seniors, and Conn said the attention paid to Blyashov paved the way for girls like Oregon-bound Noemie Glover
, Michigan commit Jenna Hanes
, Colgate commit Milan Bayless
and Harvard pledge Ryleigh Patterson
to load up and swing freely.
"We've got firepower from everywhere," Conn said.
That was evident after Blyashov went down with an ankle injury in the CIF semifinals as Glover, Hanes and Bayless led the Dons in kills at the Open Division finals. But like a true team leader, she spent the first part of the Dons warmup shuffling balls to coach. She was leading the bench cheers and the first to gingerly walk out to greet her team during a timeout.
"Obviously, it wasn't the best of timing, but it was easy to be happy for everyone," Blyashov said. "I've been dreaming about winning state since before high school. It was a special moment to be able to do it with this group of girls."
Conn said Blyashov had great seniors when she was a freshman and has learned to be that kind of role model.
"She's been getting all this hype since she was like 12 and we've always told her ‘People are going to look up to you, so make sure they look up to the right thing,'" Conn said.
Blyashov is joining last year's MaxPreps National POY Elia Rubin
at Stanford and is excited about the path ahead. She said watching her brother Dennis play water polo at Harvard taught her the discipline needed to be a scholar-athlete. A 4.55 student with interest in medicine, research and science, she is considering majoring in pre-med.