LAKE FOREST — Before the season began, his coach said he could be the best outside hitter El Toro High has produced. By season's end, Ryan Mariano proved he was Orange County's best player.
Mariano, a 6-foot-3 senior who has signed with Long Beach State, is The Times Orange County boys' volleyball player of the year.
His all-around play led the Chargers to a 10-0 finish in the South Coast League, the county's toughest.
The Chargers won the Orange County Championships and were ranked No. 1 for most of the season. Mariano's thundering spikes are what most opponents first notice, but he was also one of the team's top passers. He also has a dangerous jump serve.
Mariano helped El Toro earn the top seeding for the Division I playoffs, but the Chargers were upset in the semifinals, losing to eventual champion, Huntington Beach.
"We were really surprised to lose to Huntington Beach," Mariano said. "It was a shock, but a good learning experience."
The Chargers battled for three hours with Huntington Beach but succumbed in the fifth game, 18-16.
"I never got frustrated," said Mariano, who had 31 kills in that match. "When it's 15-15 in the fifth and the pressure is on one person, that's great. That's why everyone plays."
Mariano credits his improvement to teammates and El Toro Coach Mike Jagd.
"Coach Jagd did a phenomenal job of keeping us focused," he said.
And Mariano's teammates kept his attention in practice. Facing 6-9 middle blocker Chris Jacobson and outside hitter Doug Thompson in practice helped Mariano with his blocking.