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Summer Goes Sour for Palisades Spiker

Times Staff Writer

After a banner senior year in which he helped lead the Palisades High School volleyball and swimming teams to City 4-A championships, Kevin Shepard was looking forward to summer vacation.

Shepard, 18, typically spends summers romping on beaches in Hawaii, swimming and playing volleyball with his famous stepfather, Tom Selleck. But those plans were spiked when he had knee surgery this month.

“This has been the worst summer of my life,” said Shepard, whose left leg is encased in a blue fabric cast. “It’s been very frustrating not being able to do anything.”

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Shepard said he tore the patellar tendon, which connects the kneecap to the lower leg, at a volleyball camp last summer and played the entire year in pain.

Shepard said that except for “one split second of pain off the blocks,” the injury wasn’t bothersome when he swam. And even in volleyball, which involves considerably more jumping, the knee hurt only at the start of games “because the adrenalin starts flowing and I’m concentrating so much.”

Despite trying to downplay the the injury, he said that the doctors scraped enough calcium off his knee to make a marble.

The cast will come off in September and doctors have told him that his leg should be 100% by November, but that jeopardizes his prospects of playing volleyball at USC.

The Trojans, who finished 1986 with a 27-2 record and lost to Pepperdine in the national finals, begin practicing Oct. 1 for their season, which starts in January.

“He may have to redshirt,” said Bob Yoder, USC volleyball coach. “It’s really too early for me to make any kind of guess.

“We have a small squad, so we can use him if he’s healthy. But the main thing is that he come back right. And that means slowly. There’s no reason to rush.”

But Shepard, who has suffered numerous injuries, including two broken ankles, said he has always healed quickly and expects to be ready by October.

Too optimistic? A bit audacious? Hoping for a miracle?

Perhaps.

But then cutting a month off the estimated recuperation schedule is no less miraculous than his progress as a volleyball player or swimmer.

Shepard began swimming at 7 but abandoned the sport a year later. Still, he decided to try out for the Palisades swimming team as a sophomore.

Actually, it was somewhat of a miracle that he had the opportunity to try out.

He said his mother, Jackie, was close to sending him to a boarding school after undisciplined years in junior high school. But she gave in to his pleas and at Palisades he made the swim team as a sprinter and was named the squad’s most valuable performer that first season.

Injuries and academic troubles then blew him out of the water.

He broke an ankle playing outdoor volleyball and missed the City swimming finals that spring. And after he failed a photography class the next year, he was declared athletically ineligible.

As a senior he decided to forget swimming and try volleyball, despite never playing on a team.

“I mostly picked up beach volleyball from my stepfather,” he said. “My stepfather is very athletic. He played basketball in college (USC) and plays volleyball and softball all the time now. He raised me since I was 3 and he’s had a lot of impact on me, especially with sports.”

When Shepard joined the team, the Dolphins had won five straight 4-A titles and were again stocked with talent, including seniors Kent Steffes, Adam Unger, Chris Pennell and J. B. Saunders. Shepard was the starting middle blocker and helped Palisades to a 34-0-1 record and its sixth City championship.

“He’s an unusual kid,” said Howard Enstedt, the Palisades volleyball coach. “He developed quickly.

“He was a horrible passer but learned to pass.

He couldn’t serve but improved there, too. He just has so much natural ability.”

Shepard, who earned first-team all-City honors and participated in the U. S. Volleyball Assn.'s Junior Nationals in June, further demonstrated his talent by deciding to swim for Palisades after all.

Co-coaches Rick Goeden and Dave Anderson said they feared that one sprinter might be declared academically ineligible. So Goeden said the coaches talked to the team members, who in turn talked to Shepard.

“I went to a swimming practice, and after I got back in the water I wanted to swim,” Shepard said.

Although the time on the volleyball court left no time for swimming workouts, it didn’t bother him.

“I just don’t like swimming practice. It’s boring. I don’t mind the dedication, but the same routine every day gets to you.”

But Goeden said that because Shepard was in shape from volleyball, he needed only a minimum of workouts to make the team as a sprinter.

While the Palisades girls swimming team is a perennial power, the boys team had never won a City title.

Until last season.

The girls took their fifth consecutive team title, and it was the first time that girls and boys from the same school won the City title in the same season.

Shepard finished first in the 50-yard freestyle, anchored the winning 200-yard medley relay team and finished third in the 100-yard freestyle in the City finals.

“He’s one in a thousand,” Anderson said. “The guy’s just unbelievable.”

Neal Newman, the University High volleyball coach, said he is amazed by Shepard’s excellence in volleyball and swimming, sports that require strikingly different skills.

He said leaping ability is perhaps the most important asset for volleyball, while upper torso strength is a must for the swimmer.

“I knew what he could do in volleyball, but I was really impressed when he won the 50-yard freestyle,” Newman said. “There’s still a lot he has to learn about volleyball, but he has the talent to become one of the best.”

Shepard’s ability isn’t that unbelievable if one looks at his bloodlines. His mother was a diver; his natural father, Mike, was an accomplished swimmer and his paternal grandfather, Courtland, was a Golden Gloves boxer in Minnesota.

Coach Yoder, who agreed that proficiency in both volleyball and swimming is unusual, said the common denominator is Shepard’s speed.

“He’s got good quickness,” Yoder said. “That’s important in both sports and it’s something you can’t teach.”

Coach Goeden echoed those sentiments: “He’s totally loaded with talent. I’ve been coaching swimming since 1971 and I’ve never seen anyone else with that much quickness.”

And Yoder said Shepard’s only drawback, lack of experience, may even be a plus.

“He’s been in such a good program that he’s got a good base,” Yoder said. “But since he hasn’t played that long, he hasn’t been overexposed to the sport and probably is nowhere near burnout. There’s a good chance he hasn’t tapped his true potential yet.”

But when he returns to action at USC, he probably won’t be playing middle blocker. Yoder said that at 6-foot-3, Shepard is too small to play in a position usually occupied by players 6-7 or taller. “At that height, he’d have to commit early to block a shot, and if he guesses wrong he couldn’t recover in time,” Yoder said. “A bigger guy can make a block by just getting up on his toes, and if he guesses wrong he can still jump to block the side.”

So Shepard probably will be groomed to play outside hitter, Yoder said.

“I’ve never played that position before because I tend to hit under the ball and have poor eyesight,” Shepard said. “So I’m kind of nervous about it. It will take some adjustments.”

Still, he’s not planning on jumping ship and trying to swim for USC, even though Yoder said the Trojan swim coaches are interested in him and Shepard is scheduled to room with a swimmer.

“I know I can’t do both in college and I’m really into volleyball now,” Shepard said. “I know it’ll be a lot of hard work, but anything is better than sitting around not doing anything. I just want this summer to end and start school.”


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