Evan Costley is a volleyball star who can spike, block, dig and serve just like the CIF South Section Player of the Year that he turned out to be.
His greatest strength is that none of these individual things matter to him. Costley considers volleyball the ultimate team sport.
“It’s the team aspect that I like the most in volleyball,” he says. “There are so many moving parts. Everyone has to win games. It’s never just one player.”
Costley’s selfless mindset made him the consummate team leader of a Royal High men’s volleyball team that became historic this season.
Twenty-eight years after his last crown in the Southern Section, Royal reigns again at the top.
A Coastal Canyon League championship was followed by a stellar post-season streak that culminated in a decisive win in the CIF-SS Division 3 Championship game. The No. 2-seeded Highlanders beat Upland , seeded number 2, 25-17, 25-23, 25-19, in the final at Long Beach City College on May 14.
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This is Royal’s first sectional championship since 1994 and fifth in program history. The well-earned run to the title chase was the first since 2009, when Royal lost in five sets to county rivals Thousand Oaks in Division 2.
Royal finished with a 30-7 record, including the program’s first-place finish in the CIF State SoCal Regional Division II championship game. The Highlanders lost in a dramatic five games to Upland, 21-25, 25-19, 25-19, 24-26, 15-13.
The program’s #1 goal has always been the Southern Section Championship. What does this mean for Costley and the Highlanders? Well, everything.
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“It means a lot,” he said. “Given the history of the program and the time that has passed since the last championship, it means everything to us that we are back on top where we belong.
“It means that all the hard work and effort has paid off. It tells us what we can achieve if we are willing to work for it.”
It may have been almost three decades since the last Championship banner hung on the wall of the Royal Gymnasium, but Costley said the Highlanders saw it coming.
“A lot of us have played together since youth volleyball,” he said. “Our team chemistry is incredible. We had a lot of confidence throughout the season. We expected to win a championship when we were seniors. It’s so good that we did it.”
The 6-foot-2 outside hitter became a dynamic force in his high school career, culminating in a scintillating senior campaign.
In sparking Royal’s surge in titles, Costley had 396 points, or 22% of the Highlanders’ total this season. That includes 301 kills, 55 aces, 30 blocks, and 10 assists.
He is the CIF-SS Division 3 Player of the Year and the Coastal Canyon League Most Valuable Player. He is now named The Star’s Boys Volleyball Player of the Year for the 2022 season.
Royal coach Dean Borth, the star setter for the program’s first Championship team in 1989, praises the priority given to his captain’s team.
“Evan is the consummate team leader,” Borth said. “He will sacrifice individual stats, games and accolades for the benefit of the team. He told me, ‘I was more than good with Derek (Bradford) getting a ton of sets in the final. He was doing it by getting us kills and blocks. He was awesome.
“All of my guys have embraced the team-first concept, especially Evan.”
Bradford, a 6-foot-8 first-team, all-CIF-SS hitter, had 16 kills in the win over Upland. Costley contributed eight kills and four service aces.
Borth notes that Costley excels in sports intangibles.
“Evan’s athleticism is also matched by his volleyball IQ,” the coach said. “He’s very cerebral on the pitch and his vision is one of the best I’ve seen. The combination of those three things makes him a great player to play against.”
There’s another trait that makes Costley special, Borth said.
“He’s also a great teammate,” said the coach. “He’s not shy about celebrating his teammates’ successes and cheering them on when they struggle.”
Costley has embraced his leadership role for the Highlanders. Not that it’s natural.
“It’s something I had to work on,” he said. “But we’re such a close team, my teammates made it easy. We all support each other. We all care about each other.”
Costley started playing volleyball in sixth grade and continued to evolve his game through Sinaloa Junior High. It was not his only sport.
Costley played football during his junior season at Royal. His football experience as a wide receiver has definitely toughened him up for the rigors of volleyball.
“In football I used to get hit every game,” he said. “I think it made me a lot harder. There are always great moments in a volleyball game and I think playing football helped me focus.”
The ability to perform under duress also helped Costley handle the inevitable ups and downs of a volleyball game. Every big hitter has to endure a missed smash or an opponent’s block. The resilient player bounces back.
“It’s part of the game and you have to accept that you’re not always going to be perfect,” Costley said. “But it’s such a special feeling when you land a big kill and do it for the team. It all feels so good.”
What’s next for Costley? He waits for the next opportunity.
He’s not 6-6 or 6-7 or 6-8, which means it’s not easy to generate interest at the college level. He agrees with that too.
“I had so much fun playing volleyball,” he said. “Playing at Royal was such a special moment for me. I’m happy with everything that happened for me.”
THE SECOND STAR’S ALL-COUNTY BOYS VOLLEYBALL TEAM
- Spencer Borth, Royal, Sr.
- Evan Ford, Royal, Sr.
- Braden Gonzales, Thousand Oaks, Sr.
- Oliver Herron, Thousand Oaks, Sr.
- Trent Rigney, Calabasas, Sr.
- Jackson Burrows, Westlake, Sr.
- Charlie Rosenfeld, Oak Park, Sr.
- Grant Osterhoudt, Simi Valley, Sr.
Loren Ledin is the editor of The Star. He can be reached at [email protected] or 805-437-0285.