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Daily Pilot High School Male Athlete of the Week: Jack Higgs shining at opposite hitter for Newport Harbor

Daily Pilot High School Male Athlete of the Week: Jack Higgs shining at opposite hitter for Newport Harbor
Jack Higgs of Newport Harbor High boys' volleyball had 14 kills and three aces as the Sailors beat rival CdM 25-18, 25-20, 26-24 in the Battle of the Bay match on April 7. (Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Jack Higgs enjoys playing indoor volleyball and beach volleyball, and he can thank his parents for their influence in both.

Beach volleyball is what Higgs actually picked up first. It wasn't hard for him to find a game. He would just head out the front door of his house near 62nd Street in the Newport Shores neighborhood of Newport Beach. At the age of 12, he would try to hang with his dad Tom and his friends.

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"They have the local courts, and we'd bring nets," Jack Higgs said. "It was a pretty big Saturday gig. We'd spend the mornings down there, hang out at the beach."

Soon after, Jack got into indoor volleyball while attending Ensign Intermediate. He cites his eighth-grade coach Kari Rush, who played setter at Stanford, as a big influence. But so was Jack's mom Krissy, who played indoor volleyball growing up in Minnesota and later in an adult league.

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Jack Higgs still enjoys competing in beach volleyball during the summer. Right now, though, indoor is his focus. Both Tom and Krissy can watch their son as a junior opposite hitter for the Newport Harbor High boys' volleyball team.

Jack has become a big threat for the Sailors, the top-ranked team in CIF Southern Section Division 1 as well as the country as ranked by MaxPreps.com. The Battle of the Bay match last weekend offered further proof.

Higgs had 14 kills and three service aces as the Sailors earned a 25-18, 25-20, 26-24 sweep of rival Corona del Mar at Newport Harbor High. It was Newport Harbor's first Battle of the Bay win in five years.

Higgs made sure the Sailors started strong, recording four kills early in Game 1. And it was his ace in Game 3 that gave the Sailors (22-0) their first match point, at 24-22.

"He was really good," Newport Harbor coach Rocky Ciarelli said. "Fourteen kills, it keeps our offense balanced between the two outside hitters and the middles. It spreads the court out. He just does a lot for us. The best thing about him is that he doesn't make a lot of errors. He might get blocked occasionally, but he very seldom hits the ball out of bounds. That's a big plus, for a young kid to hit as many balls as he does and not make very many mistakes."

"Young kid" would apply to Higgs coming into this season, at least in terms of varsity experience. As a sophomore he earned four or five starts, Ciarelli said, but more often Higgs sat on the bench. He was an outside hitter on a team with two standout ones already. Cole Pender, who led the Sailors with 15 kills in the Battle of the Bay, is a senior bound for UCLA, while Dayne Chalmers is a highly regarded junior.

So Higgs moved to opposite this season, replacing graduate Landon Monroe, who also set. It has been a smooth transition.

"I think it helped me playing outside, because I'm comfortable with passing," Higgs said. "Going to [a] non-passing [role], then I can just focus on blocking, hitting and serving. That kind of just drops the load off your shoulders, because passing is definitely a big thing in the game. I think it was a lot easier of a transition for me.

"I just took the opportunity. I was talking to my parents and I was saying, 'If I want to start, I might as well take the open position.'"

Higgs is one of many weapons for the Sailors, a list that also includes senior middle blocker Ethan Talley. Junior setter Joe Karlous had 44 assists in the Battle of the Bay, a large number for a three-set match, and does a good job of spreading the ball around.

"I think that's what helps our team get advantages on teams," Higgs said. "We've got Cole and Dayne, who are definitely a daunting pair. When [Karlous] mixes it up through all three hitters in the front row, that just kind of messes with their defense. It kind of gets them all scrambled."

Newport Harbor has definitely established itself as the team to beat. Higgs had nine kills in the Sailors' Sunset League sweep of Los Alamitos on Friday night, as Newport improved to 5-0 in league, a match ahead of Huntington Beach.

Newport Harbor has won 15 of 16 sets in league play. The only opponent to win a set off the Sailors in the first round of league was Huntington Beach (4-1 in league), which visits Newport Harbor on Tuesday night.

Higgs said the mantra is one match at a time. Winning the Battle of the Bay was a big one, though, for sure.

Tom and Krissy can be proud of their son, who also has a younger sibling trying to make her way in the sport. Gabbi Higgs is an eighth grader at Ensign, and she plays middle blocker.

"She's very tall for her age," Jack Higgs said. "She's 13 and she's 5-9, 5-10. A lot of people ask me, 'Is that your sister or is that one of your friends?' They have no idea that she's 13 years old.

"I've been helping her a lot with beach volleyball. That's definitely a passing game and a ball control game. As a middle, she's not really getting that much influence on passing, so helping her out with the beach is definitely a big factor in what I do."

The summer on the sand will come soon enough. For now, Higgs is committed to the gym.

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Jack Higgs

Born: June 17, 2001

Hometown: Newport Beach

Height: 6 feet

Weight: 155 pounds

Sport: Volleyball

Year: Junior

Coach: Rocky Ciarelli

Favorite food: Sushi

Favorite movie: "21 Jump Street"

Favorite athletic moment: This year's Battle of the Bay boys' volleyball match.

Week in review: Higgs had 14 kills and three service aces as the Newport Harbor High boys' volleyball team swept visiting rival Corona del Mar on April 7, winning the Battle of the Bay match for the first time in five years.

Twitter: @mjszabo

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