Brande: Lots of talent in college

As the high school basketball season winds down and moves to the CIF playoffs, the boys' volleyball season is about to start.

The college season is in its second month and going strong. Many of our former local players are making an impact at the collegiate level.

In the east at Penn State, Connor Curry, out of Newport Harbor, has started every match as the libero. The Nittany Lions recently beat Stanford to establish themselves as one of the top teams. Curry, a redshirt freshman, has burst unto the scene as a top libero.

In the Midwest at Loyola-Chicago, Newport's Cody Caldwell is starting as an outside hitter as a freshman. With a very distinct southern California influence, Loyola has emerged as a new Midwest power.

Also playing in the Midwest at The Ohio State is Corona del Mar's Danny Baker and Newport's Kyle Lawrence. Baker has started many matches as the libero for the defending NCAA champion while Lawrence is in a battle for the starting setting position.

On the west coast, Stanford recently defeated BYU at BYU twice while BYU was ranked No. 1 in the nation. That is quite a feat. The Cardinal were led by Corona del Mar's Gus Ellis, who has emerged as a blocking force for Stanford. Another former Sea King middle blocker who is waiting in the wings as a freshman is Spencer Haly.

At UCSB, there are three of Coach Steve Conti's former Sea Kings.

Middle blocker Dylan Davis is leading the team in blocks, while Blaine Nielsen is starting on the outside and Weston Nielsen is a reserve outside hitter. Another Gaucho middle blocker is Costa Mesa's Ryan Thompson, who at 6-foot-9 spent part of his freshman year at Penn State before starting at Orange Coast College on his way to Santa Barbara.

A freshman at Pepperdine is CdM's Evan Dean. At USC, Corona's Jeff Carlson has made a major impact as a multi-talented player and Joey Booth, also from CdM, has seen time as a back-row/serving specialist for the Trojans. One of the USC liberos is Newport Harbor's J.B. Green.

UCLA is currently ranked No. 1 in the nation. The Bruins' setter is Kyle Caldwell (Newport Harbor), who at 6-9 has the ability to set, hit and block with the very best. Middle hitter Wes Dunlap, also from Newport, is the second leading hitter in the nation.

Caldwell and Dunlap were also star basketball players for Coach Larry Hirst's basketball team at Newport. Backing up Caldwell at the setter position is CdM's Connor Bannan. Freshman Ian Sequiera from Newport is learning the college game as a future libero for the Bruins.

It will be exciting to watch all of these players as they play at this top level.

Our USA men's national team has three setters vying for the two roster spots on the Olympic team for London this summer. Brian Thornton, a former All American at UC Irvine, started many of the USA matches at the recent world championships matches, while Kevin Hansen (former Corona del Mar basketball and volleyball star and Stanford All-American) started matches for the 2008 Olympic champions.

Jonathon Winder is a 6-9 All American setter who played at Pepperdine.

Two of the three will make it. They all have one thing in common, all learned their setting skills from Travis Turner, who is the men's volleyball coach at Orange Coast College, and coach with the Balboa Bay Volleyball Club.

It appears that Travis has a handle on the requirements for a top-notch setter.

CHARLIE BRANDE is a former volleyball head coach at UC Irvine, Newport Harbor High and Corona del Mar.

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