Ziegler, Grave Are Odd--but Effective--Couple : Volleyball: Seniors lead Huntington Beach, which seeks to repeat as Division I champions.


Nick Ziegler likes to shock his teammates.

With wild eyes, the 6-foot-5, 225-pound middle blocker howls with every spike or block he puts to the floor. The senior from Huntington Beach had his tongue pierced this season, but that wasn't enough.

Before the playoffs began, Ziegler dyed his hair purple.

"I needed something new to surprise my teammates," Ziegler said. "If they think I'm crazy, it either relaxes them or makes them just nervous enough to play their best."

Mike Grave has played his best this season, and the quiet, 6-foot-3 outside hitter leads by example.

Grave helped the Oilers finish undefeated and win the Southern Section Division I boys' volleyball championship last season. Friday, he served for match point in the Oilers' five-game victory over North Hollywood Harvard-Westlake.

Together, the duo has helped push Huntington Beach (19-2) into Wednesday's Division I semifinals to play top-seeded El Toro (18-1). The winner will play in the championship match Saturday at Cerritos College.

Grave and Ziegler share the common goal of back-to-back championships, but their methods couldn't be more different.

Grave is steady; Ziegler's play runs hot and cold. Ziegler is a ham; Grave doesn't mind blending into the background.

"They're opposites," Huntington Beach Coach Rocky Ciarelli said.

Frack and Frick, meet Mike and Nick.


Against Harvard-Westlake, Ziegler asked Ciarelli to remove him from the match because he lost a contact lens.

"He doesn't have a spare one?" the referee asked.

"You think he has a spare? Just look at his hair," Ciarelli said.

For all of the ups and downs, Ciarelli still has a soft spot in his heart for Ziegler. After all, that's his nephew he's coaching.

"It's a love-hate thing," Ciarelli said. "You don't want to show any favoritism, so most times I'm harder on Nick. But it's been great, what else could you ask for than to watch your own nephew grow up and play for you?"

Ciarelli was also an ardent Huntington Beach football fan, and followed the Oilers' journey to the Division II finals.

Ziegler played offensive and defensive line for Huntington Beach, leading the team in sacks. He also earned a scholarship and signed a letter of intent with Colorado.

And he played in a big shadow . . . alongside The Times lineman of the year, Tony Gonzalez, who has signed to play football and basketball for California.

"But that's the big secret," Ziegler quipped. "I had to carry Tony for the whole season."

Ziegler admits he clamors for attention, but Grave doesn't mind the shadows. Although he is more subdued than his teammate, Grave is not without his idiosyncrasies.

For the playoffs, Grave wears a pair of worn-out, gray running shoes he wore during the Oilers' championship charge last season. Why the lucky shoes?

"I will do anything it takes for us to win," Grave said. "On the court, if that means I have to be a more vocal leader, then I'll do it. Whatever it takes; I hate losing."

Before the season began, Ciarelli said Grave and Ziegler would have to step forward as leaders for the Oilers to have a chance to repeat.

"Last season, I could just run around, yell and act crazy," Ziegler said. "This year my teammates are looking to me and Mike. We've been here before."

That championship experience is priceless.

"They know what it takes to win, they expect to win, and they're (ticked) when they lose," Marina Coach Jason Bilbruck said. "Look at Grave's record and he's only lost twice in two seasons."

Said Ziegler: "You get into that mind-set that you know you can win, no matter what. When we played Los Alamitos in the football final, you could see that those guys had it in their minds that there was no way they were going to lose.

"We went 13-1 in football and had a similar attitude. I feel like that with our volleyball team now. When you can come back from down 13-11 in the fifth game to Harvard-Westlake . . ."

Grave is a big reason the Oilers' rallied for that victory.

Grave could have hung his head after Matt Sebree blocked his spike attempt to give the Wolverines a 13-11 lead in the fifth game.

"I was upset at the stupidity of the play on my part," Grave said. "But we were down, 13-11, in the fifth game against Capistrano Valley last season and won the championship."

Grave helped turn the tide as the Oilers scored four consecutive points to post a dramatic 15-5, 15-8, 7-15, 4-15, 15-13 victory.

"Mike really stepped up big time in that Harvard-Westlake match," said Bilbruck, who was an assistant to Ciarelli before moving to Marina. "You could see it. He was pumping his fist, yelling at his teammates. Usually, he just leads by example."

Grave was tired of losing.

The last match the Oilers lost was to second-seeded Laguna Beach (18-1), which plays Los Angeles Loyola (20-1) in the other Division I semifinal.

Ciarelli was ejected from that 15-8, 15-13, 15-3 loss to the Artists in a nonleague match May 2.

"I saw enough," Ciarelli said. "I was ready to get on the bus and go home."

But Grave had to play in the rest of that match, and the loss stays with him. "After that Laguna match, Mike has really picked it up," Ziegler said.

Despite his all-around skills, UC Santa Barbara is the only college showing interest in Grave. "He'll play somewhere," Ciarelli said.

And the coach hopes that his odd couple will help the Oilers make one more trip to the finals.

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