Two players in particular established themselves early on in their career at Mary Star before a sudden transfer by one of them to crosstown San Pedro High shook things up a little, but the friendship between them and their families is still solid.
San Pedro High senior outside hitter Jacob Branch and Mary Star High senior outside hitter Neven Skoblar continue to rip with deadly efficiency even though they’re not teammates anymore. Both possess incredible leadership qualities off the court and a devastating attack on the court.
The two longtime allies have been chosen as our 2014 San Pedro News Pilot Prep Boys Volleyball Co-Players Of The Year
“I have a lot of great memories playing volleyball with Neven,” says Branch. “Our freshman year (in 2011), we were the only two freshmen on varsity, so that was a very fun and exciting year for us. Our sophomore year was even better because our squad was basically made of all our friends and we had fun on and off the court.”
That 2012 Mary Star team won the Camino Real League championship and won a playoff game in the CIF-Southern Section playoffs.
Skoblar remembers his time teamed up with Branch: “It was enjoyable having Branch on our team. We’ve been friends since the summer going into freshman year. He was a very valuable asset to our team and made sure to do his absolute best when it came to the sport he loved.”
Mary Star, who finished the 2014 season 16-8 overall, and 8-2 in the Camino Real League was no doubt led by Skoblar, who posted a team-high 288 kills to go along with 53 aces, 20 blocks and 100 digs. Skoblar was named the Camino Real League MVP for the second straight year despite the Stars finishing runner-up to Bishop Amat of La Puente.
What many people may not realize is, Skoblar is also pretty good at football, as a tight end and defensive end for the Stars, and that sport, which is extremely popular in San Pedro, also helps Skoblar, who finished with a 3.3 GPA and is headed to Northern Arizona, with volleyball.
“Football does help my volleyball game in a crucial way,” says Skoblar. “The game of football is fast-paced and you have to make split-second decisions that can either negatively or positively affect your team. Without playing football, I don’t think I would have the critical thinking skills to know where to pass the ball, how my footing should be, and where exactly to kill the ball.”
After transferring to San Pedro for his junior year, Branch had to wait 30 days before making his debut in April 2013, and from there, he was immediately welcomed at his new home, helping the Pirates not only clinch a share of their second straight Marine League title with Carson, but also reaching the CIF-Los Angeles City Section Division I semifinals.
Branch says it wasn’t the level of competition that led him to cross over from the Stars to the Pirates, but being in the Marine League and dealing with the likes of Carson and Narbonne, two schools that push San Pedro to at least four or five sets almost every time they meet in a match, has proved to be challenging.
“Both the Mary Star and San Pedro teams I played on have competitive leagues in their respective divisions,” Branch says. “But going from a small school in CIF (Southern Section) Division 5 to L.A. City Division I, the level of play has been higher, as well as the competition from opposing teams. The tournaments we have entered when I played at San Pedro have been much more competitive than the tournaments I played at Mary Star.”
Branch, who has made both All-Camino Real League and All-Marine League in his three-year prep career, led San Pedro (18-14 overall, 10-2 in the Marine League) with 205 kills, while also chipping in with 50 aces, 97 digs and 19 blocks.
So far, the Pirates have been able to defeat Narbonne both times, and their only two league defeats were to eventual CIF-Los Angeles City Section Division I champion Carson, a team San Pedro beat two out of three each of the last two seasons, including last year’s quarterfinal match at Carson where Branch played a pivotal role in San Pedro’s dramatic five-set victory that propelled them into the semifinal round, where they lost in five sets to then-defending Division I champion Palisades.
Branch, who was the Camino Real League MVP as a sophomore at Mary Star, currently owns a 3.1 GPA and has been on several college visits, but plans on staying in California.
“I am very proud to be able to say I have won league at both schools and I have great memories of both league championships,” says Branch, who’s trained by two-time NCAA champion and professional volleyball player Chris Austin. He’ll also continue to play in beach volleyball tournaments, something Branch “truly enjoys.”
As for Skoblar, he and the Stars are currently on a collision course with Bishop Amat of La Puente, the only team to beat Mary Star thus far in Camino Real League competition.
“I feel that we have a very good chance for another league title,” says Skoblar, whose Stars swept POLA three straight sets earlier this year in a nonleague match. “With the dedication of our team and the strength of our coaches, we have now put ourselves in a position where now we are strong, persistent, and eager for whatever comes at us. Nothing is going to stand in our way in our minds and that type of mindset is why I love my team.”
Mary Star's season ended in the CIF-Southern Section Division V quarterfinals in a loss to Vistamar, while San Pedro's season ended in a five-set first round loss to South Gate in the CIF-LACS Division I playoffs, but neither of those setbacks will diminish the extraordinary journey of both Skoblar and Branch.