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Phillips Still Focused Despite Setback

The eye is not the window to the soul, at least not in the case of Canyon High senior volleyball player Brentt Phillips.

Last fall, Phillips covered his left eye with his hand while rubbing it and realized that vision out of the other eye was blurry and clouded.

Unknowingly, he had suffered a detached retina that summer because of a genetic condition known as Stickler Syndrome, which afflicted his mother and grandmother.

His condition went undiagnosed for four months, after which Phillips’ life abounded with questions and fears.

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He worried that he might not be able to see anymore--and that he might never again play the sport he loved.

“I really didn’t think I’d be playing volleyball anymore, and I kind of gave up on everything,” he said.

But Phillips’ inner strength and resolve have been strong and clear.

He underwent corrective surgery in November, one day after his 18th birthday, but even after the surgery, Phillips’ vision remained extremely limited.

Though he wears a powerful corrective contact lens, his right eye’s vision is only 20/60, and he focuses on an object only after staring at it for a short time.

“At first glance, I can’t see anything,” he said. “I can maybe see my hand in front of my face.”

That didn’t deter him. After much thought, he decided he wanted to continue playing volleyball.

And he has. The 6-foot-4, All-Foothill League player learned to use his left eye, and has been the Cowboys’ top hitter.

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Friday night, Phillips continued his excellent play with a team-high 19 kills to lead Canyon (14-3) to a five-game upset of San Marino in the first round of the Southern Section Division II playoffs.

Canyon will play La Serna in a second-round match Tuesday.

Such success seemed unlikely in December when Phillips decided not to give up volleyball.

Phillips, known for his powerful spike, walked into a gym and tried to jump up and simply hit the ball.

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He missed completely.

“I wasn’t sure it was going to get better,” he said.

His vision didn’t, but his ability to cope did.

“I’ve just learned how to compensate,” he said.

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With reduced peripheral vision and depth perception, he plays only at the net now instead of in the back row, his usual previous station.

Canyon Coach Ardyce Master said Phillips’ approach to hitting has been altered. He usually goes up early and has to wait and find the ball while it is in the air.

And because his right eye can’t focus on objects quickly enough to be useful during athletics, he relies on his left eye to see.

“If that were ever to go on me, I don’t know what I’d do,” he said.

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He checks his left eye for the telltale signs of retinal detachment every day, giving himself the straight-line test.

He looks at a vertical line, usually on his bedroom wallpaper. If the line were to appear wavy or be missing segments, that would signal retinal detachment. If caught in the first 24 hours, the damage is reversible.

So far, his left eye is fine, and Phillips said retinal detachment usually only occurs in one eye.

His brothers, Rick (a Canyon assistant and former player) and Matt (a sophomore and member of the Cowboys’ junior varsity), have been tested and their vision is fine.

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And so Phillips keeps plugging away, doing his best to keep an even keel, not letting his bad eyesight affect his overall vision of life and his goal to play college volleyball.

Though hardship seems to follow him around this year--his paternal grandmother died suddenly May 5 of an aneurysm--Phillips does his best to remain upbeat and philosophical.

“He’s had a lot to deal with this season,” Canyon Coach Ardyce Masters said. “He’s handling it real well, and he seems to have matured quite a bit. I really admire and respect him.”

Said Phillips: “When I first found out (about my eye), I really pitied myself. And I still get frustrated because I don’t feel like I can ever play my best. But I grew to learn that everybody has their setbacks. I just had to learn to deal with mine.”

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Heat vs. smoke--When Palmdale and Quartz Hill met Tuesday, the pitching matchup featured perhaps the two best professional prospects in the area, Falcon left-hander David Glick and Rebel right-hander Roger Worley.

Worley has been touted as a possible first-round selection, and Glick could be taken in the top two or three rounds.

Worley (5-3) is probably the hardest thrower in the area, and he said he was clocked between 90 and 93 miles per hour against Palmdale, the co-league champion.

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“My velocity has stayed up there,” Worley said. “My coach has a pitch count on me (between 80 and 90) every game and he will not overpitch anyone the whole year.”

Worley finished the season with only two complete games in 12 appearances. Glick (9-2) has eight in 12 games.

In Tuesday’s contest, Glick pitched a seven-hitter in the 6-2 Falcon victory, while Worley was lifted in the third inning.

“Glick’s a real good pitcher, but I think his coach overpitches him,” Worley said. “I could tell the difference between the first time I saw him (earlier in the season) and this time.”

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Palmdale and Glick have the postseason to look forward to, but Worley’s high school career is over because Quartz Hill did not make the playoffs.

Baseball is still foremost in his mind, however, as he prepares for the June 2 amateur draft. He planned to meet Saturday night with Arn Tellem, who is Bo Jackson’s agent and the agent of last year’s top area draftees, Hoover’s Nate Dishington and Montclair Prep’s Brad Fullmer.

“I’m real excited,” Worley said. “This has been a lot of fun.”

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Clutch performance of the week: Channel Islands needed a victory over Royal on Wednesday to break a third-place Marmonte League baseball tie with the Highlanders and secure the league’s last playoff berth.

The Raiders faced Royal pitcher Maki Kramer, who limited them to two hits and one run.

Pressure? You bet, but Channel Islands pitcher Rene Sanchez responded, throwing a one-hit shutout and striking out seven.

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Head shot: A strange turning point in Granada Hills’ loss to University in the City Section 4-A Division final came in the tense first game.

The Highlanders trailed, 12-11, but were playing well, when middle blocker Earnest Yun took a quick set from Victor Chang and spiked a rocket into the head of 5-foot-3 Warrior Min Yoo.

Though Yoo was playing in the back row 15 feet away, he didn’t even have time to get his hands up.

Such hits are devastating, the volleyball equivalent of an in-your-face dunk in basketball, and several Granada Hills players turned their backs to the play, threw their hands in the air and immediately started celebrating.

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But the ball hit Yoo so hard it bounced directly into the net and was kept alive by University and sent back over. The stunned Highlanders had to scramble back to their positions and eventually lost the point to go down, 13-11. Yoo’s teammates picked him up and hugged him in appreciation.

Two quick points later the game was over, and University had an insurmountable two-games-to-none lead.

“I think we could have won if that had been a kill,” Yun said. “But we tried our best.”


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