Vision Volleyball has long been one of the most prestigious clubs in Northern California. So, when Vision Blue 16U head coach Will Yuen lavished this year’s setter Selina Xu with a supreme compliment, it really said something about the San Carlos native’s talents.
“She, in my opinion, is the best setter that’s ever played with our club,” Yuen said.
Xu was honored as one of the best high school setters in the nation when she was one of 12 players named last Friday to the 2017 U.S. Girls’ Junior National Team. One of just two California products to make the cut — the other was Kendall Kipp of Newport Beach — Xu now embarks with the mostly-senior team on a trip to Santa Fe, Argentina to compete in the FIVB Girls’ U18 World Championship from Aug. 18-27.
One of the few non-seniors on the team, Xu will have to put her junior season at Menlo School on hold. Menlo’s first day of classes in Monday, Aug. 28. But the reigning Division IV state champions have already resumed fall workouts, with tryouts having been held last week and Monday marking the first day of official varsity practice.
Menlo head coach Marco Paglialunga said Xu’s absence presents some obstacles in getting the team fully prepared for the 2018 season — beginning Aug. 29 with Menlo taking on Gunn High School-Palo Alto — but that it’s definitely for a good cause.
“I’m super happy about it,” Paglialunga said. “I know it’s an issue for preparing the team the best as we can. On the other side it’s a great honor and a great pride for one of players playing in a competition like that one. … I cannot be prouder and happier about it, absolutely.”
Through just her underclassman years, Xu has already etched a legend as a fierce competitor. In 2016, she not only paired with setter Kristin Sellers in Menlo’s 6-2 offense — she and Sellers each surpassed the 500 assists plateau — to lead the squad to five straight wins through the state championship bracket, dropping just one set along the way. Xu also emerged as Menlo’s best all-around player, ranking second on the team in scoring, blocking and serving.
“Selina is really a great athlete so you can ask her to do many things,” Paglialunga said. “Whatever you want. She is a strong player, she is a good jumper, she is an athlete overall. So it was super easy to ask her for something more than just setting.”
Make no mistake though. Xu is a natural setter, and quite a Division I college prospect at that. Her exceptional performance in the classroom aside, she also owns legitimate Division I height at 6-feet tall.
“There are a lot of good setters in the area and in the USA overall,” Paglialunga said. “But many of them, the best setters … a majority of them are small. So it’s hard to find good setters who are also tall, who can jump and block. … The advantage is, one, she’s a good athlete … but at the same time she’s a phenomenal setter. She can make a difference in the back row like many setters do but also in the front row. It’s something that’s hard to find.”
Xu’s championship run at Menlo carried over into club season, as she worked exclusively as a setter in the 5-1 offense to lead the team to the gold medal in the Patriot Division at the USAV Girls’ Junior National Championships. While that doesn’t equate to an outright national championship — that honor belongs to winner of the Open Division — the team still brought home gold medals from the second-tier Patriot Division after posting a 10-2 record in Minneapolis in June.
It was Yuen’s first year coaching Xu, but he quickly entrusted Vision’s offense — fronted by opposite Elizabeth Waters-Leiga of San Leandro High School and middle blocker Lizzie Fleming of St. Ignatius — in Xu’s careful hands.
“She has a really strong upper body, strong hands, which is pretty unique for a female setter,” Yuen said. “She is very dynamic, consistent … and she’s a great student of the game.”
Xu also showed off her service chops to close out the Junior Nationals, scoring the final six points of the championship match, including as assist to Waters-Leiga to end it.
The U.S. Girls’ Junior National Team left Friday for Brazil, where it will train with the junior national teams of Brazil, Japan and Italy until leaving for Argentina.
Saturday, the Junior National Team played its first scrimmage in Brazil, taking on the Italian Girls’ Junior National Team, featuring four of Paglialunga’s former club players — Alessia Populini, Alice Tanase, Virginia Peruzzo and Valeria Battista
— from when he coached in his native Italy. The Italian team is coached by Paglialunga’s best friend and mentor, Marco Mencarelli.
The U.S. Junior National Team opens play in Santa Fe, Argentina Aug. 19 against Russia.