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1997 BOYS' VOLLEYBALL / PREVIEW

Esperanza's Harrington Can Hit the Books, Spike a Ball

March 13, 1997|WENDY WITHERSPOON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

YORBA LINDA — Since he was a boy, there was little doubt that Dan Harrington would be successful. Consider the brink on which he stands:

--Harrington, a senior at Esperanza High, has a grade-point average and a flair for biochemistry that have peaked the interests of several excellent universities.

--He also has a pack of close friends with whom he is taking aim this season at the Southern Section Division I boys' volleyball title.

"There's a lot of excitement. We try to look at things on a day-to-day basis, but in the back of everybody's mind is the Division I final," Harrington said. "We want to win, there's no doubt about it."

Esperanza returns all its starters from last season, when it advanced to the Southern Section quarterfinals. All the starters are seniors and they are an intelligent, well-balanced group.

Harrington, an outside hitter, and Jon Alleman, a middle blocker, were first-team All-Sunset League selections last season. Justin Dalton, the setter, was selected the league's co-most valuable player.

"Fundamentally, we're extremely strong. We're extremely diverse," Harrington said. "But we have a problem with focusing, just because we've been friends for so long. We joke around quite a bit."

Alleman, Dalton, Harrington, opposite hitter Kris Welch and outside hitter Jason Dillard began playing volleyball together when they were about 10 years old.

They would climb the fence of a private recreation facility near their neighborhood in Yorba Linda to play on a sand court.

"We would play until we got kicked out," Harrington said.

Although Harrington also played other organized sports, volleyball quickly became his favorite.

"I think it was the [camaraderie], the fact that there was really no individualism," he said.

Harrington quit playing soccer when he was in seventh grade to focus on volleyball. He joined the Balboa Bay Volleyball Club and helped the 16-and-under team to the Junior Olympic final at Orlando, Fla., in 1995.

With Harrington and his group of friends in charge, Esperanza has enjoyed a steady climb over the last few years. The Aztecs finished third in league in 1995 and tied for first last year with Huntington Beach.

"When they walked on campus as freshmen you could see that they were talented, had a lot of desire and they played well together," Esperanza Coach Kurt Kersten said. "They really know they are all important and that the team is what wins the championships. Danny is a really good example of that. He is very modest and a very dedicated player."

Harrington's prospects of earning an athletic scholarship are bleak--but not because he lacks talent. NCAA men's volleyball teams are limited to 4 1/2 scholarships and there are only a handful of programs around the nation that offer that many.

"There's just not a lot of money for me," he said. "[I] just chose the wrong sport."

But Harrington has made the most of his academic opportunities. He scored 1440 on the Scholastic Assessment Test and signed up for six Advanced Placement exams, which can earn him college credit.

Harrington plans to play volleyball as a walk-on wherever he goes. He is leaning toward Loyola Marymount. His other choices are Stanford, UC Irvine, UC San Diego and USC. His final decision will depend on which offers him the best academic scholarship. He plans to major in chemistry.

Academics were emphasized in Harrington's home. His mother, Pat, is a school teacher and his father, Dan, is a school administrator. Harrington's sister, Kathleen, also is going into teaching.

"I was really interested in going into a liberal arts major just because that's [what] my family had done," he said. "Then I realized I was pretty good in math so I started to shift more toward sciences. I had some great science teachers all four years in high school. My [advanced placement] chemistry teacher was fabulous and that made up my mind."

Harrington hopes eventually to go to medical school.

"Biochemistry is one of my deep interests. You get to learn why things live," he said.

Kathleen, who played volleyball at UC Riverside from 1990-93, is amazed at her brother's discipline--he studies late and rises early.

"He is the neatest guy. He is just. . . so well-rounded, well-liked and intelligent," she said.

Alas, Harrington is not the perfect child.

"He has the messiest room you will ever see," she said.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Volleyball at a Glance

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