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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS | BOYS' VOLLEYBALL PREVIEW

Gledhill Is Center of Attention for Taft

March 10, 2000|MIKE BRESNAHAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

When Mike Gledhill walks into the gym, all eyes follow him.

People whisper. College coaches sit up straight. Opponents glare.

That's what happens when you're a highly recruited volleyball player.

And you're a member of the defending City Section champions.

Gledhill, a 6-foot-6 senior at Taft High and City co-player of the year last season, doesn't have much pressure on him.

All he has to do is:

* Adjust to a new position, moving from opposite hitter to middle blocker.

* Decide whether to attend No. 1-ranked Pepperdine or No. 3 USC.

* Carry the burden of being the go-to guy for the Toreadors, an effort that takes most of his time these days.

"I try not to think about it, but the other teams know we're defending champs and that we're favored again," Gledhill said. "They're out to beat us."

Not if Gledhill can help it.

He has moved to the middle, sacrificing familiarity with his old position to fill a weakness for the Toreadors, who lost both middle blockers from last season.

"It's kind of weird because I've played opposite for a while," said Gledhill, who played in the middle as a sophomore. "It's still volleyball, but it's like learning to play again."

Gledhill, a left-hander, has been reassured by Coach Doug Magorien that he'll continue to get hitting attempts. Plenty of them.

"He'll still hit out of the back row," Magorien said. "It'll just be modified a little bit."

So far, so good.

Gledhill delivered 18 kills in a sweep of Monroe on Wednesday, controlling the offense in a nonleague rematch of the City Championship last season.

Returning outside hitters Brian Capper and Masood Noorzay provide alternate options for Taft, if necessary. The difficult part? Getting used to defending a championship.

"I've been telling the guys that they have targets on their backs," Magorien said. "We're the City champs. Everybody else wants to be the City champs."

With Gledhill leading the way, it might not matter.

Other teams to watch from the region:

* Alemany: Joe Chavez is steady at outside hitter and Eugene Kim, a 6-7 middle blocker, has potential. Darrin Phillips, a 6-3 outside hitter and Remy O'Brien, a 6-4 left-handed opposite hitter, give the Indians skill and above-average size.

* Canyon: With 6-4 outside hitter Gideon Gibson, the Cowboys can side-out with just about anybody. Can they topple Valencia for Foothill League supremacy?

* Highland: The Bulldogs try to repeat as Golden League champions with a new coach, Tom Jones, and a familiar face, middle blocker Mike Kennedy.

* Quartz Hill: Jared Corpening, a 6-foot-9 senior, and Sahael Almuallem, a 6-8 senior, provide the region's biggest block in the middle. Passing and setting determine how far the Rebels advance in the playoffs.

* Royal: Middle blocker Karl Walck is the only returning starter, but impact newcomers Bart Kowalski and Scott Motzel led the junior varsity to a 22-0 record. Outside hitter Casey Wilkinson is a consistent passer and hitter.

* Simi Valley: Jon Moreno, a 6-4 opposite hitter, packs a powerful swing. Can he and brothers Tyler and Ryan Meek control the challenging Marmonte League?

* Thousand Oaks: Danny Raven, a 6-3 outside hitter, is one of the top sophomores in the region. John Mayer, a 6-foot senior setter, helps the Lancers overcome the loss of five of last year's starters.

* Valencia: A trio of three-year starters give the Vikings their best team yet. Setter Sean Summers runs the offense, outside hitter Andrew Harling can pass and hit, and 6-6 middle blocker David Lauf puts up a big block.

* Village Christian: All six starters return, giving the Crusaders the best small-schools team in the region. A playoff showdown with perennial Division III power Santa Ynez could become reality.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

PLAYERS TO WATCH

* THE PROVEN: Middle blockers Sahael Almuallem and Jared Corpening of Quartz Hill have signed with UCLA and Cal State Northridge, respectively. . . . Middle blocker Mike Gledhill of Taft has Division I talent. . . . Josh Seffel, a 6-4 middle blocker at Village Christian, was the Alpha League most valuable player last season. . . . Mike Kennedy, a 6-7 middle blocker at Highland, could pose a threat to Quartz Hill's Golden League title hopes. . . . Outside hitter Ivan Cuevas and setter Alex Vallejo provide senior leadership for Poly. . . . Outside hitter Joe Chavez of Alemany was an All-Mission League selection last season.

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