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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS

Courting Confidence

Royal's Guerra Overcomes Timidness, Injuries to Become Force in Volleyball

October 27, 1998|MIKE BRESNAHAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

SIMI VALLEY — Those tempted to run for cover when Courtney Guerra strikes a volleyball might feel better if they knew her former nickname.

Guerra, a senior at Royal High, used to be known as Bambi, for giving off the same vibes as a deer trapped in a car's headlights.

"I stunk my freshman year," she said.

Then came intense private lessons before her sophomore season, and suddenly her attitude was closer to that of a 10-point stag.

By the time she was a junior, the Bambi tag no longer applied. Or, as her stepfather, Jeff Killingsworth, said: "Bambi died her junior year."

The transition has continued in her senior season.

Guerra, a highly recruited outside hitter, has improved in just about every area from last year, including her consistency, power, passing skills and vertical leap.

Guerra's previous penchant for sustaining broken bones also has been absent the last two years.

As she knocks on the wooden kitchen table in her home, Guerra recounts her past injuries, none of which are volleyball related. She broke her left arm three times, her right arm twice and her leg once.

Guerra's first trip to the emergency room came so long ago that she doesn't remember how old she was. She does remember thinking at the time how fun it would be to be pushed by her older sister down the basement steps in a laundry basket.

Bounce, bounce, bounce . . . crack.

Her most recent broken arm occurred two years ago when she tripped over a cement block in a parking lot.

Some of the emergency-room personnel recognized her from her prior visits.

"They all knew me on a first-name basis," Guerra said. "I guess I was just really uncoordinated."

Judging by the amount of mail delivered to the Guerra home these days, Courtney is plenty coordinated.

Guerra, who set a school record with 41 kills in a match against Harvard-Westlake this season, has received recruiting letters from enough colleges to fill two medium-sized cardboard boxes.

"It's actually kind of overwhelming," Guerra said. "I expected a few phone calls, but this is surprising."

Kansas State, Minnesota, California, Georgia, Fresno State, Nevada Las Vegas, Washington State and UC Irvine are among the schools being considered by Guerra, who is absorbed in volleyball these days.

After her daily dose of volleyball at Royal, be it a practice or a match, Guerra comes home and fields calls from college coaches. On weekends, if she is not taking a recruiting trip, she helps youngsters at volleyball clinics.

Moreover, she starts club volleyball practice in a few weeks.

"It's pretty safe to say that volleyball's my life," Guerra said.

The 5-foot-11 Guerra gets her height from her mother, Jennifer Killingsworth, who is 6-2, and her father, Ed, who is 6-3.

Her mother played volleyball at Royal when matches were held outdoors on an asphalt court. Diving for the ball was discouraged by coaches.

Jennifer has an appreciation for the way her daughter plays.

"She's lunged into bleachers, she's lunged into the [midcourt] poles," Killingsworth said. "It definitely wasn't like this when I was young."

With a victory today against Westlake, the Highlanders (20-3, 9-0 in Marmonte League play) would take a big step toward earning their first outright league title since 1991.

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