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Miles of Talent : McGann Ignores Family Tradition and Becomes Volleyball Standout at Laguna Beach

May 04, 1999|MICHAEL ITAGAKI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Laguna Beach's Miles McGann is one of the best boys' volleyball players in Orange County. So naturally, he comes from a family of . . . water polo players.

His cousin is Jeremy Laster, a former San Clemente standout who plays on the U.S. national water polo team. His older brother, Grant, plays water polo for USC.

"I tried to get my brother Garret, who's in sixth grade, to play volleyball," Miles McGann said, "but he's already into water polo.

"I started playing volleyball when I was 5 and I haven't stopped. I just love it."

Although McGann, a 6-foot-5 senior, hasn't been able to carry Laguna Beach to its familiar lofty status, the talented player, who has signed with USC, isn't discouraged about the Artists' postseason chances.

"Physically, we've improved as the season went on," McGann said. "We just need to improve mentally. I think we have a legitimate shot at winning [a Southern Section title]."

Laguna Beach is ranked second in Division III, but the Artists are playing in the lower division for only the second time in school history.

Laguna Beach has won five Southern Section titles, all at the highest division level. But this season, the Artists are only 10-7. The seven losses in best-of-five matches are already the most in school history.

"Sure it's been frustrating this season," Laguna Beach Coach Shawn Patchell said. "We don't have the size or talent level we've had in past years, but I don't think you can expect that level all the time when you have a school with only 700 or so students."

Still, when one of those players is someone of McGann's caliber, it can help a team compete with the elite. Among Laguna Beach's victories this season is a five-game victory over Santa Ynez, top-ranked in Division III.

"Miles is a jack of all trades and a master of, well, all of them," said Patchell, who played at Irvine High in the late '80s before moving on to play at Brigham Young. "He may be the best high school player I've seen."

Patchell said McGann is more polished than his own high school contemporaries, which included former U.S. national team member Scott Fortune, who played at Laguna Beach, and beach volleyball standout Brian Lewis.

"Miles is a solid all-around player who reminds me of the old-time guys," said Huntington Beach Coach Rocky Ciarelli, whose team lost to Laguna Beach earlier this season. "They were down two games to us, but he just didn't quit and they came back and beat us.

"He's a smart player. He knows when to just keep a ball in play, but when he gets a set he knows he can put away, believe me, he can go and hit it pretty hard. I like how he plays."

Blended with McGann's physical skills of hitting, passing, setting, and blocking is his adaptability and willingness to do different things.

"If we run a 6-2 offense, I set when I'm in the back row and play opposite when I'm in the front," McGann said. "Last year, I played outside hitter. You can do more things to affect a match there with your hitting or passing."

Said Patchell: "There were even times when I had Miles block the middle on defense, then had him transition to the outside on offense on the same point. He's done everything I've asked of him.

"But sometimes, maybe we rely on him too much."

Patchell has tried to change that recently, holding McGann out of two of the four matches at the Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions as well as a few Pacific Coast League matches.

"He's taking 60-70 swings a match," Patchell said. "I've been sitting him down in practice too because it all takes a toll. He's always been one of the hardest workers in practice."

Volleyball really isn't work for McGann, who grew up with the game, playing on his neighborhood beach court at Three Arch Bay. Adam Johnson, a former USC and current pro beach standout, and McGann still play there.

"I remember seeing A.J. out there when I was younger," McGann said. "And now, all the little kids in the neighborhood just come out, shag balls and we'll play with them, too.

"You grow up around the sport and it's just part of life. It's great."

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