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JWS Player of the Year: Julia Blyashov, the ultimate champion

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Julia Blyashov led Cathedral Catholic to a 42-0 record, a state title and the No. 1 national ranking. (Photo by Peter Dunsford)

When Cathedral Catholic’s Julia Blyashov steps onto the court, she turns heads. At 6-foot-3, it’s hard to miss her. But during the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) Open Division State Championship against Saint Francis on Nov. 19, she wasn’t on the court.

The senior outside hitter and future Stanford freshman suffered an ankle injury in Cathedral Catholic’s semifinal win, forcing her to miss the biggest game of the season. But if Blayshov was feeling cheated or frustrated by the situation, she didn’t show it.

“I wouldn’t have changed anything about that night,” she says.

Blyashov stayed active on the sidelines, offering guidance from her new vantage point as the team rolled to a straight-set victory and handed Saint Francis its first loss of the season.

“Even though I was out, I was still trying to contribute. I was cheering everyone on,” she says. “When I say all these girls are my best friends, they are. Being able to be there, and just being in that environment was awesome. I was so excited during, and especially after.”

Though she didn’t step foot on the court during the state title game, Blyashov made an indelible mark on the team during the season. Cathedral Catholic dropped one set all year on their way to a 42-0 record and the final No. 1 ranking in JWS’ season-long poll. Blayshov led the way from beginning to end, earning 2022 JWS Volleyball Player of the Year honors as a result.

“We got where we were because of Julia … she’d be the one terminating a lot of the plays,” Dons head coach Juliana Conn says. “We need a point, set — Julia.”

Blyashov led the team in kills this year and is often lauded for her powerful swings, but Conn is most impressed with Blyashov’s passing.

“Passing is the hardest skill in volleyball. Throughout the year, her ball control has increased tremendously,” Conn says. “People are going to give the most credit to the kids who are terminating plays. But Julia is more than that. She’s always been more than that.”

Cathedral Catholic had 10 seniors on the team this year, and each of them took on a different role. Blyashov, Conn says, is an approachable leader. Not known for being loud or seeking attention, Blyashov instead instilled confidence in her teammates through her calm demeanor and measured approach to the game.

Blyashov started playing volleyball around the age of 7, after a stint as a rhythmic gymnast. Even when she was young, Blyashov’s height set her apart.

“I realized I was a foot taller than everyone,” Blyashov says. “My parents were like, ‘I think it’s time to find another sport.’”

So they took her — against her wishes — to a volleyball camp. And while she wasn’t excited at first, the moment she felt her hands hit the ball, she knew volleyball was the sport for her.

In the decade since that first camp, Blyashov has amassed a laundry list of accomplishments. In addition to starring on Cathedral Catholic’s indoor and beach volleyball teams and WAVE, a premier club team in California, Blyashov has represented USA Volleyball at the highest youth levels.

In 2021, she won a bronze medal with the U.S. U18 team at the Federation Internationale De Volleyball (FIVB). This year, she went a step further, winning gold at the U19 Pan American Cup and tying for the most kills in the championship match with eight. With the victory, Team USA qualified for the world championships next year in the Netherlands.

“It’s such an honor to be on the team and represent the USA and red, white and blue,” Blyashov says.

With the Dons season over, she’ll turn her attention to WAVE, where Conn is also a coach. The two have known each other for six years now. When that season ends and Blyashov packs her bags to head to Stanford next fall, she jokes that she wouldn’t be surprised if Conn follows behind.

“I’m grateful for everything she’s taught me. She’s tough, but I like tough coaches,” Blyashov says. “I’m expecting her to be there. I love her, not only as a coach but as a person.”

Stanford has always been Blyashov’s dream school. For as long as she can remember, she’s been going to the campus to watch her brother’s water polo tournaments, and she has fond memories of watching two-time National Player of the Year Kathryn Plummer win three national championships with the Cardinal.

“I was in love with the campus,” she says. “I just have chills talking about it right now.”

She says she’s looking forward to being challenged by the best teams in the country. With so many of her childhood dreams coming true, Blyashov has her sights set on new ones — a national championship and a spot on the U.S. Olympic team.

“I’m definitely excited for baby Julia,” Blyashov says.

Nika Anschuetz is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @nlanschuetz.