It sure seems like there’s someone pulling the strings that keep UCLA seniors Thomas Amberg and Nick Vogel connected.
The tandem has journeyed together from playing for the same high school team as seniors to leading one of the top collegiate squads four years later.
But Vogel and Amberg had a history with each other even before they both played for Valhalla High School.
Dating back to their sophomore years in high school, their school and club teams in San Diego faced each other.
Amberg and Vogel, being two of the top players, were very aware of each other.
“I played against Nick in league, because he went to a rival high school in our league, so I had always seen him make noise,” Amberg said.
“I dreaded playing against Steele Canyon (High School), because, you know, Nick would come in and just dominate us.”
When Vogel transferred to Valhalla as a senior, however, the two foes were forced to put their past feelings aside and team up.
“We were always kind of rivals both in club and in high school,” Amberg said, “so when he transferred to my high school, it was very interesting, because it kind of went from this rival ““ the guy I don’t want to play against, the guy I don’t like ““ to the guy on my team who I like and now he’s helping me out.”
Vogel helped so much that the team won the Grossmont League and made it to the quarterfinals of the California Interscholastic Federation Tournament.
“You know, it was a good team,” Amberg said. “With the leadership of Nick and I, we were able to go pretty deep in the playoffs. We didn’t win, but we played well.”
Amberg and Vogel remained connected after high school, with both deciding to play for UCLA.
“It was a good find for us,” coach Al Scates said. “I don’t think anybody expected them to be as good as they were as freshmen. I mean, we didn’t.”
Both Amberg and Vogel were starting quick hitters as freshmen, a rare feat.
But playing the same position, their rivalry returned as their relationship became a battle for playing time.
“It’s been a back-and-forth battle, because Nick and I played the same position these past three, four years now, so we’ve kind of been at each other’s throats competing for playing time,” Amberg said.
“But finally this year, you know, Nick got moved to opposite, and he’s doing so well, and so now we can be on the same court and not be worried about losing each others’ spot to each other.”
Vogel’s position change has been key to the Bruins’ success this season. With Vogel and Amberg playing together, UCLA is one of the nation’s top defensive teams.
“They’re both very good athletes and we like them both in the lineup at the same time, because it makes us one of the stronger, well, probably the strongest blocking team in the league,” Scates said.
Four years after competing for a CIF championship, Amberg and Vogel are now eyeing a national championship.
“It’s awesome,” Vogel said. “I mean, I remember coming in as a freshman and just looking up on the wall and seeing all the championships that the team has won.
“And you know about it, you know the number, but when you come to the gym and compete with the guys and see the banners up on the wall, it really kind of changes something inside of you.”
Just as fate united Vogel and Amberg, it has aligned things to give No. 2 UCLA a great chance at the title.
“Everything is kind of coming together this year. We got a lot of seniors, we’ve got a lot of experience,” Vogel said.
“I know our freshman class had a lot of people who played and have been playing throughout all four years, so it’s a culmination of everything kind of coming together at once: Scates’ last year, lots of experience on the team. I think we’re going to make a solid run for it this year.”
Without Amberg and Vogel’s contributions, Scates believes the Bruins would definitely not be title contenders.
Even after college, their paths seem destined to cross.
“Nick transferred to my high school, then we went to the same college, played on the same national team, and we’re still going,” Amberg said.
“Odds are, we’ll probably play on the same professional team overseas, too.”
Through all their opposition and teamwork, the two have grown close.
“Really, there hasn’t been anything quite like the bond we’ve had here, just because of the sheer amount of time that we’ve spent playing,” Vogel said.
Fate pitted them against each other multiple times, but ultimately, brought them together.
“I think we just have so many shared experiences,” Amberg said.
“Just both coming from the same area, then the same college. I mean, I can’t get rid of this guy.”