As I watched the NCAA Division I men's volleyball championship on television, it was so great to see two former Corona del Mar High players as the middle blockers for UC Santa Barbara. Dylan Davis and Scott Slaughter formed the first pair of middle blockers from the same high school, to start in an NCAA final. Both players were instrumental in the late-season run made by the Gauchos.
What is even more amazing is that last year's NCAA Champion, Stanford, featured CdM's Gus Ellis as one if its' starting middles.
While it appears that Steve Conti and CdM have the monopoly on middles, Newport Harbor product, middle blocker Wes Dunlap at UCLA, was the leading percentage hitter in the nation this season with Slaughter a couple of places behind in the national ranking. The development of these athletes at a young age has really paid off for them in their collegiate careers.
Another leader in the national ranking was former CdM setter Phil Bannan at UC San Diego. Bannan was the leader in service aces per game. With his wicked left-handed jump serve, Phil was the CIF Player of the Year for the Sea Kings 2007 CIF championship team. He also was the setter for the 2005 CIF champs at CdM.
While at this year's Battle of the Bay (as usual a five-game thriller), I talked to former CIF Player of the Year (2000) at CdM, Kevin Hansen. Kevin and his wife, Sarah, were back from Russia where he plays professionally.
Kevin set for CdM's CIF champs in 1998 and 2000 before enjoying an All American career at Stanford. He was a member of the 2008 American team that won the gold medal in Beijing and is in great position to be one of the setters for Team USA at the 2012 Olympics in London.
At the match, Hansen spent some time with his CdM basketball coach, Paul Orris. Orris has told me for years that he thought that Hansen might have been the best basketball player that he ever coached.
As I watched the Battle, I was extremely impressed with the blocking of CdM's Spencer Haly. He is a two-sport athlete (basketball and volleyball) who actually played varsity football as a sophomore. In his recruiting process, he narrowed his choices down to USC or Stanford with Stanford getting the nod. Next season, we may see Ellis and Haly middle blocking together for the Cardinal.
The future is looking even brighter with Newport's "Baby Twin Towers" Kevin Rackstraw and Clay Carr. Kevin is a 6-foot-9 (and still growing) sophomore while Clay is a 6-6 freshman with long arms. Both are basketball and volleyball players and both showed tremendous improvement over the course of the season. College recruiters are all over them both.
CdM's junior Jack Reed is another middle blocker who exhibited his talent this season. Lightning quick with a fast arm, Reed's development was instrumental in CdM's marked improvement the last few weeks. Tommy Brooks, also from CdM, shows promise to be another outstanding middle blocker. Also, senior Evan Dean who will play at Pepperdine and junior Remy Lamons are converted middles who Conti developed as outside threats.
Conti still thinks his best middle blocker was Dennis Alshuler, who was a three-sport star and was a three-time All-CIF volleyball player (1997, '98 and '99). Alshuler was an All-Ivy League middle blocker at Princeton.
I have always thought Jason Perkins from CdM's 1989 CIF champs, was one of the best. He started in the middle for USC's 1990 national champions.
The irony of UCSB's national championship bid is that it lost to Ohio State. Backup middle Mike Stewart, who played at Orange Coast College, is the son of Monica Park Stewart who played for the CdM girls' CIF championship teams in 1977 and 1978.
CdM senior Brennan Anderson has committed to play for the Buckeyes.