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Tall Tale

People Are Surprised Strickland, at 6-9, Plays Water Polo and Volleyball, Not Basketball, for Harvard-Westlake

November 05, 1998|ERIC SONDHEIMER | Eric Sondheimer is The Times' local columnist. He can be reached at (818) 772-3422

There is no ignoring the collective hush of Harvard-Westlake High students when 6-foot-9 Billy Strickland passes in the hallway.

"Oh my God, you're so tall," someone soon remarks.

Plenty of classmates would be happy to hop on Strickland's shoulders for a piggyback ride to their second-period class.

He's the tallest student at the Studio City campus. Most assume he plays basketball because of his size. When he tells people his specialties are volleyball and water polo, the response is swift.

"Most don't believe me or say, 'What are you doing?' " he said.

Strickland knows exactly what he's doing. He is the region's No. 1 college volleyball prospect and has scholarship offers from UCLA, Stanford and Pepperdine.

He's also a key player for the Wolverines' water polo team, ranked No. 3 in Southern Section Division I.

"I think it's going to be exciting to see Billy in a year or two when he focuses on volleyball," said Rich Corso, water polo coach. "Not only will his skills go through the roof, but they'll put him on a full-time weight-training program."

Volleyball coaches Al Scates of UCLA, Marv Dunphy of Pepperdine and Ruben Nieves of Stanford are enamored with Strickland's potential. The lanky 17-year-old scored 1280 on the SAT and could one day play for the U.S. Olympic team. Already, he passes a volleyball better than most players his size.

"When I was younger, all my friends were worried about how hard they hit," Strickland said. "I focused more on the skills--passing, setting. Now when I'm getting stronger, I'm thinking more about hitting."

Jess Quiroz, Harvard-Westlake volleyball coach, who says "it's like looking up at a branch" when talking to Strickland, believes water polo serves as excellent cross training for volleyball. Peter Kiefer, Jimmy Duff and Peter Richards are among past Wolverine water polo standouts who also excelled in volleyball.

Watching Strickland in the pool is amusing. You almost want to yell, "Timber!" as a warning when his arms and feet are in motion because of the massive white water he creates.

"Those are pretty long levers," Corso said. "When he takes one kick, that's three for everyone else."

In volleyball, in the blink of an eye, Strickland can send a ball crashing to the court.

"He has a remarkable arm swing," Quiroz said. "He really whips on top of the ball."

Strickland played quarterback on his eighth-grade flag football team that beat Harvard-Westlake in grade-school competition, a fact he frequently recalls for Wolverine football players.

"Whenever they start talking trash about the water polo team, I always bring it up," he said.

He missed much of last volleyball season because of a broken ankle, but he'll be part of a 1999 team that's capable of winning the Division I title.

"We have to play every game as if we are trying to become a championship team," he said. "We can't go in thinking we are."

Now, if only he can put some muscles on his slender frame.


Wednesday is the first day to sign a letter of intent, and pressure is building for players to commit.

Stanford is expected to sign volleyball recruit Curt Toppel of Loyola High. William Curtis of Harvard-Westlake also could end up with the Cardinal or UCLA.

J.J. Todd, a 6-11 center from Chaminade, is considering Cal State Fullerton, Loyola-Chicago and Lehigh.

Infielder John Puccinelli of Notre Dame has made recruiting visits to Santa Clara and Florida. . . .

The five starters from Harvard-Westlake's 36-1 state championship boys' basketball team in 1996-97 are playing NCAA Division I basketball. Jason and Jarron Collins are at Stanford, Victor Munoz is at Columbia, Ryan Smiley at Pennsylvania and Rico Cabrera at Colgate. . . .

Coley Kyman, from Reseda High and a former All-American volleyball player at Cal State Northridge, is the quarterback for the Orange County Steelers (5-0), a semi-pro football team.


Making A Choice

Here's a list of Valley and Ventura County athletes who are expected to sign letters of intent starting Wednesday.

Boy's Basketball

Name: Rafael Berumen

High School: Simi Valley

College: New Mexico


Name: Gilbert Arenas

High School: Grant

College: Arizona


Name: Chris Williams

High School: Notre Dame

College: Missouri-K.C.


Name: B.J. Ward

High School: Santa Clara

College: UC Santa Barbara


Name: Nick Jones

High School: Santa Clara

College: UC Santa Barbara


Girl's Basketball

Name: Demaris Hinojosa

High School: Moorpark

College: Pepperdine



Name: Mike Kunes

High School: Chatsworth

College: UCLA


Name: Tim Leveque

High School: Crespi

College: Michigan


Name: Kameron Loe

High School: Granada Hills

College: CS Northridge


Name: Wes Rasmussen

High School: Moorpark

College: CS Northridge


Name: Chris Testa

High School: Palmdale

College: CS Northridge



Name: Maureen LeCocq

High School: Chaminade

College: Stanford


Name: Jodie Cox

High School: Quartz Hill

College: CS Fullerton


Name: Melinda Moulden

High School: Crescenta Valley

College: Michigan

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