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All Challenges Welcomed : Perfection Has Become an Opponent for Mira Costa's Volleyball Team, Which Has Lost Only 3 of 42 Games


Mike Cook scanned the stat sheet after Mira Costa High's volleyball match at Redondo on Tuesday night. He looked annoyed.

"I was disappointed in game two with the letdown of our serving," said Cook, the Mira Costa boys' coach. "We missed six serves."

Even so, the Mustangs dominated that game, winning, 15-4, on their way to a 15-4, 15-4, 10-15, 15-1 victory over Redondo. "Oh yeah, we still waxed them," Cook said. "But the point is, I didn't like that we made too many errors in the serving game."

It has been difficult for Cook to find things to complain about this season. The Mustangs are 13-0, 4-0 in the Ocean League, and have lost only three of 42 games.

The players know they are good, but Cook, in his 14th year of coaching Mira Costa, worries they are becoming too sure of themselves.

"I don't think we expect to lose any games all year," senior Zane Smythe said.

Said senior outside hitter Matt Walker: "I thought our competition would be a little tougher. But we wouldn't have lost anyway."

This is what concerns Cook.

"They talk confident," he said. "But they're going to have to keep proving it with their play. Anybody can talk a championship. They've got to play for the championship."

The Mustangs say they can't wait for the chance. Last season, they were devastated by a Southern Section 4-A Division semifinal loss to Huntington Beach. Mira Costa lost in five games after winning the first two.

This season, the Mustangs won't be satisfied unless a 1993 Southern Section Division I championship banner is raised in their gym. They are ranked No. 2 in the Division I coaches' poll behind Capistrano Valley.

Cook, a Mira Costa English teacher, has coached the Mustangs to Southern Section titles in 1984 and '90. None of the 10 seniors on the current team were part of the 1990 squad.

Most of the players grew up together playing volleyball on the beach and on club teams. It is a close-knit group and the camaraderie is evident on and off the court.

"That's one thing I've liked about these guys, they all get along," Cook said. "I've had teams who during lunchtime, some of the kids hang out in this area, some kids hang out over there. But these kids are pretty much together and that's valuable."

Also valuable is senior Chris Walmer, a 6-foot-6 middle blocker who was an All-Southern Section third-team selection last season. He leads the team with 78 blocks, ranks third with 121 kills and has 43 digs.

Walmer said his brother Tim, a pro beach volleyball veteran and former Mira Costa standout, has been supportive. "He comes to a majority of my games," Walmer said. "He helps me with little stuff on the court. He might help me with my footwork or he might tell me to jump up quicker."

Other standouts include Smythe, a 6-4 setter who has committed to Loyola Marymount, the 6-2 Walker and outside hitter Sean Shoptaw, one of two juniors on the varsity. Walker leads the team with 140 kills and Shoptaw, a 6-foot left-hander, ranks second with 137.

Five-foot-10 outside hitter Greg Snyder (78 kills) and 6-4 middle blocker Brad Griebenow (39 blocks) are other seniors who have made an impact.

On Tuesday, Redondo's Brian Goland hit a smash from the back row that Walmer blocked into the open court. Goland threw up his hands and grimaced.

"They have pretty big walls on that team," Goland said after the match. "No doubt, they'll win CIF."

A perfect season, though, has not caused a big to-do at school. Attendance at home matches has been lower than previous seasons, which has disappointed the players.

"We don't get the support we should," Shoptaw said. "We should get the most support of any team in this area because we're the most successful. This school is pretty much known for volleyball and the crowds don't really reflect that. For some reason, it's not the big draw every Friday night like it should be."

Said Cook: "This school's apathetic. Nobody goes to anything around this place. This is an era where everybody's into his or her own thing. I just see spirit deteriorating more and more."

The lack of fans, however, has not hindered the Mustangs' performance. But the players agree that the lack of competition has been disheartening.

"I don't really get up for each match," Smythe said. "The big matches, of course, I'm ready to go. But some of our matches are slightly weak. It's hard to get up for that."

Said Shoptaw: "We definitely want challenges. Every top team we've played this year is either missing a star player to injury or they're not as good as they were labeled to be. It's kind of frustrating. But come CIF (playoffs), I'm sure there will be some tough matches.

"Hopefully we'll get tested."

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