When Shapiro's on the Court, She Delivers : Girls' volleyball: Laguna Beach setter, who averages 13 assists per game, runs the top-ranked team in Orange County.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

If Laguna Beach setter Shauna Shapiro has her way, she'll be playing volleyball next season at Stanford, California or Duke. But she would settle for just taking classes at one of the academic powers.

"Academics are the priority," Shapiro said. "I like volleyball because of the competitiveness, and it has helped me develop as a person.

"But I also know I'm a 5-foot-7 setter, and I'm not going to be an Olympian down the road."

For now, Shapiro is sharing her wisdom with Laguna Beach, the top-ranked team in Orange County. Shapiro is averaging 13 assists per game for the Artists (12-1).

"She's the Mailman of Laguna Beach," Artist Coach Michael Soylular said, "She delivers, just like Karl Malone with the (Utah) Jazz. She has good hands and knows the court.

"If she goes in the tank, the team goes in the tank."

Shapiro, who plans to study communications in college, has received recruiting letters from 15 schools, among them her three favorites.

Stanford is leading the list. Her parents, Deane and Johanna, met while attending Stanford and are now psychology professors at UC Irvine.

Although Shapiro's size might hurt her chances of landing at a strong program such as Stanford's, Soylular said she has a good shot at playing.

"She has a good volleyball body and mind," he said. "She could play at most Division I schools. But she picked one of the toughest to go to."

Shapiro knows she can handle the college course load. She is already taking college prep courses in calculus, economics, physics and English. She is in her fifth year of Spanish, and is teaching the language to students at a nearby grade school.

With extra credit from the college prep courses, her grade-point average has ballooned to 4.6 on a 4.0 scale. She scored 1,240 on her Scholastic Aptitude Test as a sophomore, but plans to take the test again in November.

"I've learned a lot since my sophomore year," she said.

The same could be said of her experience on the volleyball court.

Shapiro is running an offense this season that features two of the county's best hitters--junior Rachel Wacholder and senior Tori Scott. Along with juniors Anne Swayne and Donna Simchowitz and sophomore Hillary Kyle, Shapiro has plenty of hitters to set.

"Shauna's playing great," Scott said. "She's one of the best setters I've ever played with. We're lucky to have her."

Playing in the shadow of all-county setter Kealy Clarke the past two seasons, Shapiro has gone from understudy to one of the county's best at her position.

"I think both Tori and Rachel knew I was a capable setter at the start of the season," Shapiro said. "Kealy had so much publicity and she was so good, it has been hard to take her place. It was the same way with Rachel trying to replace her sister (Ashley, now playing at Duke)."

Soylular, a former women's volleyball coach at Virginia and Cal Poly Pomona, recognized Shapiro's potential when he took over the team this fall. With Clarke graduated and playing at Washington, Shapiro had her chance.

"Shauna's not just a one-dimensional player," Soylular said. "I can give her any signal from the sidelines and she can put the ball wherever it's supposed to be.

"She has good hands, great foot-speed. When you make eye contact with her, you can tell she's got a strong head on her shoulders."

Soylular said Shapiro also has the "good stubbornness" that he looks for in a setter.

"And she doesn't have an attitude," he said. "I like that."

Shapiro played opposite the setter last year, backing up Clarke.

Shapiro started every match until she sprained her ankle during a midseason match and missed a month. She returned just in time for the Southern Section playoffs, where the Artists lost in the quarterfinals to Mira Costa.

The injury set Shapiro back physically and mentally.

"It was hard just to stand there and watch," she said. "I think I tried to come back too fast. In my first practice back, I came up to hit, and I put it right in the net. My vertical jump had decreased quite a bit."

Shapiro joined a health club in the off-season, and worked her way back into shape. By the start of the season, she was back to 100%.

With Shapiro running the offense, Laguna Beach raced to an 8-0 start, winning the Orange County Championships. The Artists' only loss was two weeks ago to Newport Harbor.

"I think the Newport match was a good experience for us," Shapiro said. "It sobered us up."

A club volleyball player since seventh grade, Shapiro has learned to keep the victories and losses in perspective. She played for Laguna Beach Volleyball club for two seasons, then spent one year with Mission Valley before joining the Orange County Volleyball club two years ago.

"Club volleyball requires a big commitment," Shapiro said. "I started taking the sport more seriously when I got to Orange County. Volleyball has taught me a lot about how to deal with responsibility and pressure."

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