Valley Area Getting Off a Few Volleys

This has been a breakthrough year for area boys' volleyball.

Three of the four teams that will play in the Southern Section Division II semifinals Wednesday are local squads--longtime power Royal, its Marmonte League rival Thousand Oaks, and the newest of the newcomers, Highland, in only its third year fielding a varsity.

"Royal has always been there, so it's nothing new for them," Highland Coach Mike Bird said. "But I think it's real neat for us and for Thousand Oaks."

The Highlanders have advanced to a Southern Section final for five consecutive seasons. Thousand Oaks has never advanced to a section final and Highland lost in the first round of last year's playoffs.

"This is the most representation this area has had in volleyball," Royal Coach Bob Ferguson said. "We've had teams do well, like us and Harvard-Westlake, but now you've got five area teams (that are strong)."

He referred also to Harvard-Westlake, which was ranked near the top of the Division I poll all season long before falling to Huntington Beach on Friday night, and Canyon, which lost Friday in five games to Highland.

Ferguson, whose Royal team will compete in Division I after this season, said the keys to the strong local showing are the suddenly burgeoning volleyball programs in the Golden League.

"The desert area has just gone crazy," he said. "Highland, Canyon and Hart are going to dominate Division II in the next few years. They've got some talent up there."

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Volleyball sites: Royal's quarterfinal match against South Torrance will be played Wednesday night at 7 at Mira Costa High in Manhattan Beach. Highland and Thousand Oaks will meet at Quartz Hill High.

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Memo to the Southern Section: Stagger.

Playoff contests for the three main spring team sports--baseball, softball and volleyball--were all scheduled for Friday, creating a jumbled morass in which 200 playoff contests (92 baseball, 96 softball and 12 volleyball) were played in the space of about six hours.

Not only is it a logistical headache for section administrators to have so many events taking place at once, but it hurts the fans and the media, as well.

Several area schools, including Simi Valley, Newbury Park, Hart and Crescenta Valley, had two teams competing at the same time at different locations.

And many out-of-area schools such as Esperanza, Peninsula and Millikan had three teams play Friday.

At a time when high school sports need as much support--financial, emotional and promotional--as they can get, such a setup forces fans and students to choose which team's game they will attend.

Media outlets also must allocate their resources accordingly, and oftentimes worthwhile events are not covered, and the so-called "minor sports"--i.e. any sport other than baseball, football and boys' basketball--get overlooked.

"Having the first round of baseball and softball and the volleyball quarterfinals on the same night is kind of crazy," Bird said. "For instance, our local paper was doing a great job keeping up with us all through the playoffs, but now that baseball and softball have started up, we're kind of getting lost a bit in the shuffle."

One solution would be to stagger the days each sport played, which would probably result in increased attendance--and therefore, higher ticket sales--and more consistent media coverage.

Volleyball, in its quarterfinal round, could have been showcased by playing Thursday night, when neither baseball or softball played.

This is not a new idea. Because of gym availability, boys' and girls' basketball playoff games are usually played on different nights.

Next week will be better, when volleyball playoffs are on Wednesday and Saturday, baseball on Tuesday and Friday and softball on Tuesday and Thursday.

But more consideration should be given in all rounds of the postseason to stagger the events, which would have numerous benefits.

"It makes more sense to me," Royal's Ferguson said. "The burden on the Southern Section office is incredible. And though it hasn't really been a problem for us, I know Esperanza had every team in the playoffs, and for fans that would be a big bummer."

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A good run: The Harvard-Westlake volleyball team's season came to a close Friday night, ending the high school careers of a fine trio of Wolverine players who played together for years.

Matt Sebree, Court Young and Seth Rodsky played for the Wolverines and on the same club team for the past three seasons and, though not the most physically imposing athletes, they possessed uncanny cohesiveness and court savvy to lead Harvard- Westlake to the Mission League co-championship and victories over then top-ranked Loyola and powerful Mira Costa on the same week in April.

A fourth Wolverine teammate who played on the same club team, Doug Park, quit Harvard-Westlake for personal reasons only a week before the season started, surprising his teammates.

Park's absence was a blow to the Wolverines, whose roster was about as deep as a puddle. But Sebree said the team learned to compensate for Park's loss.

"I think it pulled our team closer together and we became more of a unit," he said. "We all became friends and are a real tight-knit bunch."

They showed their character in rallying from two games down to tie Friday's match against Huntington Beach, but suffered a blow when Sebree sprained a knee at the end of game four when he collided with an opponent who accidentally rolled under the net. The Wolverines lost game five, 15-13.

The defeat marked the final high school match for Sebree, Young and Rodsky, but not their final match together.

"I've talked to both of them today," Sebree said. "It's hard because we're all so close. We're sad, but we're not done for good."

The trio will compete for Santa Monica Beach Club in the Junior Olympics on July 7-10 in Austin, Tex. The national tournament features more than 80 teams.

"We still have a chance left (to end on a winning note)," Sebree said. "That would take a lot of the pain out of what we're feeling now."

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