It's pretty hard to miss Erick Helenihi. After all, the Villa Park senior stands 6 feet 8.
But the Spartans' volleyball opponents won't miss him after he graduates this spring. The dominating middle blocker helped to energize the Villa Park program, leading the Spartans to an undefeated regular season last year.
"It was the first time the school won a league title in boys' volleyball," Helenihi said. "A lot of people didn't even know we had a team before, because Villa Park was always getting beat up by the other Century League teams.
"And for us to come up and win a title in such a short period of time, it was great."
Villa Park finished 18-1 last season, losing its only match to Servite in the second round of the Southern Section Division II playoffs.
And with five starters back from last season, including Helenihi--who is being recruited by UC Irvine, UC Santa Barbara and USC--Villa Park figures to reign in the Century League again . . . eventually.
Injuries have knocked out two starters at the beginning of the season and another key reserve has been lost for the season.
Starting senior setter John Tomlinson (broken jaw), and starting senior outside hitter Jared Smith (broken wrist), are sidelined until at least the Orange County Championships, which are March 20-23.
Brian Overly, a 5-10 sophomore outside hitter, has a broken bone in his right hand and will miss the season, Villa Park Coach Bill Fallon said.
Fallon knows a little bit about broken bones in the hand.
Fallon, who coached at Villa Park from 1990-92 before he spent two seasons coaching at Eureka (Ill.) College, grew up in Orange County and suffered some finger injuries when playing volleyball at Mater Dei.
"It was the first year Mater Dei had a boys' volleyball program," Fallon said. "One match, we go to Newport Harbor and this big red-headed kid goes up to spike [the ball] and he breaks my middle and ring fingers on my right hand.
"I think his name was Steve Timmons," Fallon said laughing.
"Then, a few weeks later, we go up to Santa Barbara for a match and the same two fingers get broken again. Some guy named Karch Kiraly hit it that time."
Although no one is saying that Helenihi has the same potential of Kiraly, widely regarded as the game's finest player, Helenihi already has shown that he can dominate a match, and college recruiters are noticing.
Pretty good for someone who didn't take up the game seriously until three years ago.
"I was just in regular P.E. my freshman year," Helenihi said. "I was about 6-5, but my ninth-grade P.E. teacher suggested that I should play for the school volleyball team.
"That summer before my sophomore year was the first time I played club volleyball."
Now, Helenihi has developed into a star player who is the Spartans' leader.
"He leads by example," Fallon said. "On the court, he just controls the net. You don't have to worry about the other team's big hitters when he's up front.
"Even in practice, I'm up on a table and he's blocking my stuff. I tell him, 'Get out of here, I'm trying to run a drill.' "
Helenihi's been getting some good practice recently. With some players out, Fallon said he's using his big middle blocker as one of his primary passers too.
"He can do the job," Fallon said. "His passing skills are improving."
And Fallon and Helenihi know the Spartans will be stronger when everyone is healthy.
"We won so many games last year, maybe we started thinking we couldn't lose and it got to our heads," Helenihi said. "We learned we have to try hard every game. I think we can win league again and hopefully go farther in the playoffs, once we get everyone back."
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