Making an outside impact

Megan Stephenson experienced a substantial move over the summer.

Even before the Burroughs High girls' volleyball team lost two key players from last season — one quitting the squad and one going down with an injury — Coach Edwin Real had a change in the works for the senior.

To maximize Stephenson's athletic abilities, and to take advantage of her potent swing, Real moved the standout from the middle to the prominent position of outside hitter.

"When we practice and Megan is going up to hit, the players are moving out of the way; I'm moving out of the way," Real said. "She has that much power in her swing. She is such a versatile player now because she played in the middle last year. If we need her to do more blocking up front, she can do that … the move was to utilize Megan's strengths."

Stephenson said she enjoys her new position and was willing to make the change if it was for the betterment of the Indians.

"I'm having fun this season," said Stephenson, a first-team All-Pacific League selection in 2010 who averaged 15 kills a match. "I love my position of hitting, and it's really satisfying when you can get a kill down and score a point for your team. It's really fun to play on the outside."

The move has paid big dividends this season for Burroughs. Stephenson, along with talented teammates Catarina Emerson, Victoria Santos, Tessa Dudley, Keana Figueroa and Laura Howard, have the Indians in the hunt for the program's first league championship in four years.

With a four-game win Thursday against cross-town rival Burbank, the Indians — ranked No. 7 in CIF Southern Section Division II-A — are 11-3 overall and 7-0 in league. The game surrendered to the Bulldogs is the only one given up by Burroughs in league this season.

Stephenson has been a driving force for the team. She has tallied 206 kills and is averaging 17.2 kills a match. In 12 contests, Stephenson has double-digit kill totals in 10 and has matches where she's tabulated 29, 25, 27 and 21.

Joining the varsity team as a sophomore two years ago, Real said Stephenson struggled to keep pace. But through perseverance and hard work, the coach said he has seen a dramatic progression in Stephenson's skills as a player, her approach to the game and her overall volleyball knowledge over the two-year period.

"She has made huge strides. There is a really big difference with her this year," Real said. "When she was a sophomore on the varsity team it was frustrating for her. The varsity game was so fast-paced and a lot more intense than what she saw coming from the [junior varsity] team. Last year she got a little bit better, but this year is totally different.

"Now she has the experience and she knows how to shake things off. She has really matured as a player. With us moving her, now she is passing the ball a lot more and now she's also serving very well."

Stephenson is quick to deflect the praise for her success.

"I could never do it on my own," she said. "I have to give credit to the whole team. We have really bonded as a team and we are synchronized out there."

One of Burroughs' team captains, Dudley, a senior outside hitter, said Stephenson is an invaluable asset to the team.

"The great thing about her is that she seems to always be able to put the ball down, even if it's a bad set," she said. "And she goes for every ball. She's just always fun to watch."

Stephenson helped lead the Indians to their biggest win of the season when they faced reigning two-time league champion Arcadia on Sept 27. The senior had 17 kills to go along with seven digs as host Burroughs earned an unlikely sweep against the Apaches, 26-24, 25-16, 25-13.

The two teams will meet one more time this season, Oct. 20, with Arcadia playing host.

With the Pacific League season at its mid-point, the Indians have a one-game lead over the Apaches (10-5, 7-1) and a two-game cushion over the Bulldogs (9-3-1, 5-2).

Stephenson said the Indians have made it their goal to capture the league crown. If Burroughs were to do so, it would be only the second title in 17 years.

"We are determined to fight for it this year. We really, really want it," Stephenson said. "We are definitely looking at just the games that are in front of us, but we are looking forward to playing Arcadia again."

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