Celeste Chen once thought volleyball was too girly for a tomboy like her.
Raised an only child, Chen played a bit of everything growing up. Soccer seasons usually bled into basketball seasons, but before long, tennis consolidated her spare time. Then, the summer before her freshman year at Valencia High, Chen returned from vacation and, at a friend’s behest, attended what was left of the school’s volleyball camp.
“Celeste wasn’t on our radar because we didn’t know who she was,” said James Thorne, Valencia’s longtime coach.
Though Chen missed most of that first camp, Thorne said, when she was there, she flashed plenty of talent.
Chen remembers her summer trial a tad differently:
“I had no idea what was going on,” she said. “I hated it. I guess volleyball is an acquired thing, since it’s not a natural way to move your body. I remember going through hitting lines, and when I’d get near the front, I’d go back to the end. It was difficult, but for some reason, I didn’t quit.”
Chen apprenticed on Valencia’s frosh/soph team, and later joined a local club program. She earned her first letter as a sophomore.
Valencia increased its win total in each of Chen’s three seasons, cresting this fall with 17, Thorne’s most since 2010.
The 2015 Tigers finished second to Cypress High in the Empire League, and advanced to the second round of the Division 2A playoffs.
Chen, Valencia’s starting libero, received first-team all-league laurels.
“She was the rock of our defense,” Thorne said.
And Chen prospers elsewhere.
A 4.8 grade-point-average student in Valencia's international baccalaureate program, Chen’s extracurriculars include coaching, volunteering and participating in several after-school clubs.
She’ll play volleyball next year at Minnesota’s Carleton College, a Division III school, where she’ll also pursue a degree in biology and a career as a veterinary orthopedic surgeon.
“The only thing I’m worried about is the weather,” Chen joked.
Q. How does someone play varsity volleyball and take IB classes without losing it?
A. I’m really focused when I need to be focused. I have practice. I go to games. I use up a lot of energy there. But when I’m home, I’m ready to work and do what I need to do for school. Being organized is a big thing, and time management is important. It’s been hard, but nothing I can’t handle.
Q. Have you always been able to balance several responsibilities at once?
A. I started doing that my freshman year, and it was difficult. There were more late nights. But I also played club volleyball, so when the high school season was over, I’d get two weeks off, then get into the club season, practicing three times a week and playing games. I’m more focused because of volleyball. I think it helps me manage my time better, gets my mind off things.
Q. When did you know you wanted to challenge yourself?
A. I was at a private school before I went Kraemer (Middle School), and Kraemer has the GATE program. I came to Valencia because of the IB program, because it was a natural transition from GATE to IB. I don’t know, I like challenges, taking the most rigorous classes. That’s what attracted me to IB. I figured it’s the best program our school has to offer, why not try it out?
Q. Why become a vet? What relationships do you have with animals?
A. I’ve had dogs, other pets my whole life. I feel a certain connection with them, and I want to do something that I love for the rest of my life, something that doesn’t involve just me. I want to be able to help animals because they can’t help themselves a lot of the time. It’s something I’m really passionate about.
Q. What’s the neatest thing you’ve learned this year in one of your IB classes?
A. In my IB history class I wrote an expose, an internal assessment it’s called, a mini thesis, I guess, on LSD in the ‘60s, and how it went from being a pharmaceutical drug to being a recreational drug. So I looked at FDA and CIA documents, I went to the library to find resources. It was one of the coolest things I’ve done, learning something I wouldn’t have learned anywhere else.
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