Nothing Flashy, Just a Ring

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Santa Margarita's Blake Robinson didn't care about the rankings, the statistics or the accolades. All he wanted was a championship ring.

Robinson, The Times' Orange County player of the year, helped Santa Margarita win the Southern Section Division III boys' volleyball championship last month.

"He's not flashy," Santa Margarita Coach John Hawks said of his senior co-captain. "He doesn't bang balls off the ceiling. He doesn't have the best technique. But he knows what he wants to do."

Robinson's talent, desire and savvy aren't lost on opponents either.

"If I could have one guy on my team, it's him," Capistrano Valley Coach Rich Polk said. "He's the best passer out there. He can control the tempo of a game, and there's so many intangibles. He's a competitor.

"He's not an ego guy, one who hollers for every set. And he's the first one to talk about how someone else played. He's a great kid."

Turns out, Robinson was a great player on a great team, but it didn't start out that way.

Robinson and his teammates didn't win any regular-season tournaments, and the Eagles didn't finish the season as the county's top-ranked team.

Robinson didn't pile up any big numbers either. In fact, he was on the opposite side of the net as Long Beach State-bound Nate Hagstrom of Fountain Valley had 69 kills in a five-game loss to the Eagles on Feb. 26.

But Robinson and the Eagles kept focusing on their ultimate goal.

"In the [section] championship match, Blake took it upon himself and said, 'We're not losing this,' " Hawks said. "He put us on his shoulders. He knew when the playoffs hit it was a new ballgame. It was time to step it up.

"And when the pressure's on, he rises to the occasion."

In the Division III final, in which Santa Margarita defeated Mater Dei in four games, Robinson was nearly unstoppable early. He finished with 35 kills, getting 12 in 15 attempts in the first game.

Robinson had a hitting percentage of .500 in the first two games, but Mater Dei adjusted its defense and Robinson hit only .063 in the last two games.

With the Monarchs' defense focusing on Robinson, the rest of the Eagles flourished, winning, 15-8, 15-8, 8-15, 15-6. And Robinson, who also had a team-high 13 digs in the match, contributed plenty with his passing and defense.

"He's really, really smart," Foothill Coach Scott Bruce said. "What he does is make other teams frustrated because he can hit, block . . . he'll make that dig, or pass, and do whatever the team needs."

When teammate Damien Scott, a middle blocker who has committed to UCLA, went down with a hand injury during the season, Robinson stepped up his offensive production. On April 26, he had 62 kills in 113 attempts in a five-game victory over Mater Dei to clinch the Serra League title for the Eagles.

"He's so consistent," Scott said. "He's not scared of any situation. And any time you get him the ball, you know you can count on him putting it down."

Hawks could also count on Robinson to keep his priorities straight.

The coach compares Robinson to Marcus Skacel, a former county player of the year from Santa Margarita and current starter at Stanford. Hawks said if Robinson had waited until after this season, "He could have gone to play wherever he wanted to go.

"But Blake wanted to go to Princeton," Hawks said. "That's where his good friend [former Woodbridge setter] Jason Liljestrom is at. And it's always been about academics. That's what he wanted."

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First Team

RYAN BURGESS

Foothill Sr.

Though only 5 feet 11, Burgess led the Knights to the No. 1 ranking in Orange County and the Division I semifinals, where they lost to Manhattan Beach Mira Costa. "He's not the best-looking athlete out there," Santa Margarita Coach John Hawks said. "He's just money as a setter. He's a great leader who is real competitive."

NATE HAGSTROM

Fountain Valley Sr.

Helped the Barons win a share of the Sunset League title and reach the Division I semifinals, where they lost to eventual champion Long Beach Jordan. Perhaps the most powerful attacker in the county, Hagstrom had 69 kills in a five-game victory over Santa Margarita on Feb. 26. He has committed to Long Beach State.

KRIS KRAUSHAAR

Irvine Sr.

One of the most complete players in the county, the Sea View's co-MVP led the Vaqueros to the league title. Although 6-7, Kraushaar moves fluidly and is one of the county's best passers and defensive players. The left-hander is also one of the toughest players to defend and should be ticketed to play opposite at UCLA next season.

STEFFIN RANGEL

Marina Sr.

The buzz around Rangel is about his potential. He will play for defending NCAA champion Brigham Young next season, and the 6-7 senior has the size, jumping ability and talent to succeed at the Division I level. The middle blocker was the Sunset's co-MVP and helped the Vikings win a league co-championship.

BLAKE ROBINSON

Santa Margarita Sr.

The Princeton-bound senior sparkled in the postseason, helping the Eagles win their third section title in the past five seasons. Robinson, an outside hitter, doesn't hit the hardest among the county's top hitters, but he hits some of the smartest shots for his kills. He is also one of the county's best passers and defensive players.

NIC VISLAY

Capistrano Valley Sr.

Named the South Coast's co-MVP after helping the Cougars win the league title and reach the Division I semifinals. The 6-foot-4 UC Irvine-bound senior isn't as big as Rangel, and isn't as powerful an attacker, but this season, Vislay was perhaps the most polished and complete middle blocker in the county.

Second Team

Matt Daniels, Foothill, Sr.: Outside hitter was top passer and attacker for the Knights, who lost only two best-of-five matches.

Mike Gazzano, Mater Dei, Sr.: One of the county's best pure setters, took the Monarchs to a second consecutive section final.

Russell Holmes, Fountain Valley, Sr.: At 6-9, middle blocker was imposing force at the net. Will join Rangel at Brigham Young.

Abe Marouf, St. Margaret's, Sr.: Dynamic middle blocker led Tartans to the Division V title, the school's first section championship.

Damien Scott, Santa Margarita, Sr.: UCLA-bound middle blocker was a powerful hitter who rounded into a complete player.

Blake Tippett, Newport Harbor, Sr.: USC-bound outside hitter was the Sailors' go-to player, wherever he was in the rotation.

Scott Bruce, Coach of the Year

Helped Foothill win a sixth consecutive league title and took a team with only one player taller than 6-3 to the Division II semifinals. Foothill finished the season ranked No. 1 in the county and won two of three tournaments it entered. The Knights finished second at the county's toughest tournament, the Orange County Championships.

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