Taylor Hits Everything Hard, Including the Comeback Trail : Volleyball: Huntington Beach senior hopes to make up for last season, when surgery and illness prevented him from being at the top of his game.
With his teammates serving as little more than targets, Matt Taylor sent volleyballs bolting around the Huntington Beach High School gym like exploding kernels of popcorn.
One ball buzzed a nearby photographer, trying to get pictures of Taylor. Others ricocheted off the rafters. Everyone was ready to duck or dive out of the way.
Looking on with delight was Rocky Ciarelli, the Oilers’ coach.
“Matt has to be one of the top three players in the county,” Ciarelli said. “When you look at all the things he can do, he ranks right up there. He’s one of the best I’ve coached here. And he can really hit the ball, too.”
Taylor, a 6-foot-4 outside hitter and swingman, quickly made Ciarelli’s last sentence an understatement.
Taylor blasted a set high above the net. The ball shot straight down and hit teammate Jason Tanaka in the . . . well, let’s just say it hurt. A lot.
Tanaka doubled over, mostly because of the pain, but partly because of embarrassment. He was was ready to return Taylor’s kill. But it was just moving too fast.
Ciarelli’s point had been painfully well-taken. As for Tanaka? He lived to play volleyball again.
And Taylor was quick to apologize.
“I wasn’t trying to hit him,” he said.
The workout wasn’t so much a demonstration of Taylor’s aim as his potential.
Many coaches say he’s one of the best players in Orange County, and shows potential to be a top college player. He’s being recruited by Stanford, UCLA, USC and Pepperdine.
Jason Bilbruck, Huntington Beach’s assistant coach, said Taylor already hits as hard as some current college players. Bilbruck should know. Taylor’s hit him in a few pickup games.
"(Former Laguna Beach star) Dain Blanton could hit the ball hard,” Bilbruck said. “But Matt can hit the ball hard, anywhere on the court. His jump serve is very strong. Is he a dominating player or what?”
He’s also a frustrated player, looking forward to his final season at Huntington Beach. He’s hoping to make up for an injury-plagued junior season in which he underwent hernia surgery.
“The (injury) was a gradual thing,” Taylor said. “It started from playing basketball. It really set me back.”
Taylor missed four weeks while recovering from the surgery. He never made it back to full strength, coming down with the flu and a cold shortly after returning to the lineup.
“The drugs the doctors gave me to fight off the infection after surgery started attacking everything in me, good and bad,” Taylor said. “It cut down my immune system, and I was very vulnerable to sickness.”
Taylor, a part-time starter on the Oilers’ basketball team last season, sat out this season to concentrate on conditioning for volleyball. He said a combination of weightlifting, sprints and playing volleyball has brought him back to full-strength.
Finding games in the off-season wasn’t easy for Taylor. Gyms are filled with basketball games in the winter.
“It’s hard with volleyball because you’re always trying to find someone else to play against,” Taylor said. “It’s not like basketball, where you can find a hoop and shoot by yourself.”
Taylor didn’t like running sprints alone, so he brought along his 2-year-old boxer, Hannibull, during his nightly sprint workouts at the Huntington Beach track.
Hannibull proved to be tough competition.
“He’s fast,” Taylor said. “He runs by me easily. And he can stop on a dime, too.”
But Taylor still holds the advantage on the volleyball court.
Marina returns four starters from last year’s 11-7 team, but the Vikings also have a newcomer in Coach John Burns. Burns, formerly the Westminster girls’ coach, is Marina’s third coach in three years. The Vikings are considered one of the top three teams in the county this season.
One of the biggest questions surrounding the Vikings this season is whether 6-11 Cherokee Parks will play.
Parks, who played volleyball as a freshman, said he’s sitting out the volleyball season because he wants to work on basketball conditioning. He will attend Duke this fall on a basketball scholarship.
Newport Harbor lost its top returning player, Billy Nguyen, who was suspended from school for violating the Newport-Mesa district’s alcohol policy.
1991 BOYS’ VOLLEYBALL PREVIEW Top teams: Capistrano Valley, Corona del Mar, Edison, El Toro, Esperanza, Foothill, Huntington Beach, Laguna Beach, Marina, Santa Margarita, University, Woodbridge.
Top players: Todd Beebe (Woodbridge), Ryan Benn (Capistrano Valley), Josh Borella (Laguna Beach), Matt Fuerbringer (Estancia), Russell Gan (Newport Harbor), Brian Godshaw (Capistrano Valley), Greg Gratteau (Marina), Nate Haugh (Woodbridge), Doug Hesse (Corona del Mar), Mark McAnlis (Newport Harbor), Joe McCarthy (Edison), John Mull (Marina), Rod Nelson (Garden Grove), Ryan Rauch (Woodbridge), Brant Shelor (Marina), Matt Taylor (Huntington Beach), Jon Upham (Corona del Mar), Martin Wagner (University), Dennis Winners (Marina).
Important dates: Orange County Championships (March 9 at Estancia), UCLA Tournament of Champions (April 20), Southern Section playoffs (beginning May 10 at various sites), Southern Section finals (May 25 at Cerritos College).
Notes: Six of the best teams in the county--Corona del Mar, Edison, Laguna Beach, Marina, University and Woodbridge--start the season with new coaches. . . . Mark Rivadeneyra takes over as Corona del Mar’s coach. He replaces Charlie Brande, who was suspended for one year by the Southern Section for coaching high school players in the off-season. Rivadeneyra also will coach the Sea King girls, who won the state Division I title last season under interim coach Dale Flickinger.