By Dick Dornan
MyBurbank Sports Editor
Life can be a series of twists and turns in one’s journey to fulfilling a dream or aspiration. For Burroughs’ volleyball standout Max Chamberlain, it wasn’t supposed to be like this. Then again, maybe it was.
After graduating from David Starr Jordan Middle School, Chamberlain entered John Burroughs High School with the intention of becoming a football star and being a part of the storied Indians football tradition.
“Volleyball wasn’t the sport I would ever play or ever see anybody playing,” Chamberlain said. “It was all about the (Burbank) Vikings and I played flag football way back when. All I ever wanted to do was play football. My brother, Jesse, was the starting left tackle for JB as a sophomore. We are a football family.”
Chamberlain, 18, played three years only to make a tough decision to leave the football program last summer and focus on volleyball. It was a move he hasn’t regretted.
The 6-foot-6 outside hitter has played a major role in the Indians’ success this year as they won a remarkable sixth consecutive Pacific League title. He leads the team in kills including 21 against Glendale (tied for 5th most ever in JB history) and is second on the team in aces. A year ago as a middle blocker, Chamberlain crushed 167 kills and recorded 33 blocks, 29 digs and 13 aces.
His sudden ascent as one of the elite volleyball players in the area earned him the opportunity to play at Pepperdine University next year. The Waves were ranked No. 3 in the country most of the season and have been coached by Marv Dunphy for the past 32 years.
“When people ask where are you going to play next year it feels good to say, ‘I’m going to Pepperdine,’” Chamberlain said. “To be with the legendary Marv Dunphy and be in his presence and all he has to say is incredible. Going up there and watching those guys play and seeing what they are all about, just how much better they are and how much I have to improve, I’m looking forward to it. It’s exciting.”
Before Chamberlain sets foot on the beautiful campus high above the Pacific Ocean, he has other goals to accomplish including winning a CIF title. Burroughs (27-3, 12-0) is currently ranked No. 3 in CIF Division 2.
“I have high expectations for this team,” said Chamberlain. “There was some doubt from other people about this year’s team because we lost a lot of seniors. But I knew our bench was deep last year. We have a lot of great volleyball players coming into this season so I wasn’t worried. I think we can take CIF but we got to keep everything day to day, game by game.”
Chamberlain has been guided by Coach Joel Brinton who has done a superb job of building Burroughs into a recognizable and formidable volleyball program. Brinton switched Chamberlain from his natural position of middle blocker to outside hitter this year for the best interests of the team.
Chamberlain embraced the move and has excelled every step of the way. His growth has been very evident as he has become a much more polished player in all aspects of volleyball.
“The growth really came this year when we asked him to change positions especially when we asked him to change in late January. It took a lot of vulnerability on his part because he had to accept the fact that he was going to make mistakes which is something he isn’t used to doing,” Brinton said. “We all knew he had the drive and the skill to play a new position. He has put in the work every day. It’s really set a tone for the team.”
Chamberlain’s rise to excellence first began the summer before his sophomore year.
“I remember the first practice when they had me hit my first true one-ball and it clicked. It was so easy,” he said. “I was like, ‘This is sweet. This feels good crushing balls.’”
A year later Chamberlain took his game to a new level playing club volleyball and competing against the best players around.
“From then, it took off playing with high-level club players two or three times a week. They would force me to push myself. I loved working hard,” said Chamberlain. “We won a bronze medal that summer in JO’s. That’s when I was sold. This is the sport I want to play. It’s been definitely worth it.”
Brinton has witnessed first-hand a player blossom right before his eyes. Chamberlain’s leadership and work ethic has been a tribute to his dedication as a player in the Burroughs’ volleyball program and the athletes Brinton develops during their time at the school.
“I hope it says follow the system and work hard like he does. Do what your coaches ask and things will work out,” Brinton said. “It’s really exciting to watch him be able to do it. More than anything else it speaks about his willingness to work hard. As coaches we try to model it and what a better way than to have one of your captains model it as well.”
It’s been quite a journey for Chamberlain. Football to volleyball; Jordan to Burroughs with Pepperdine on the horizon to play Division I volleyball. Destiny has a special way of changing one’s direction in life.
“I’ve put in a lot of hours. It didn’t come easy. I’ve come a long way,” Chamberlain said. “I’ve met some of my best friends through volleyball. Some of the best people I know. It opened up my life and given me opportunities I definitely probably would not have had if I didn’t play. I’m super grateful for that.”