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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS | HIGH SCHOOL VOLLEYBALL

Loss of Star Didn't Keep Villanova Prep from Winning

May 19, 2000|MIKE BRESNAHAN

Imagine being Jason Burt, boys' volleyball coach at Villanova Prep.

The talent pool is small--the school has only about 250 students, of which slightly more than half are boys--and Ojai has never been confused with Manhattan Beach or coastal Orange County as a volleyball hotbed.

The school year had barely started last fall when Butler received bad news. His best player, Max Grechenig, was leaving--and taking his 38-inch vertical leap--to join the Austrian junior national team.

Might as well throw in the towel, right?

"Obviously, I was excited for [Grechenig] and his opportunity, but on the selfish side, I was disappointed," Burt said. "I had high hopes for the team and he was going to be the anchor."

Surprisingly, this season has been a smooth sail for Villanova Prep, which plays Whittier Christian tonight in a Southern Section Division III quarterfinal match at Whittier La Serna.

The Wildcats are 18-0 and have trounced bigger schools, including two nonleague sweeps of Pacific View League champion Channel Islands.

The Wildcats have decent height--middle blockers Dan Schey and Bryan Yabrof are 6 feet 4 and 6-3, respectively--and they have an experienced setter in senior Matt Mueller.

It's added up to a successful season.

"If someone would have said before we started that we'd be 18-0 and heading into the quarterfinals, I would have laughed," Burt said. "But our team has been humble. We're like a bunch of blue-collar workers who aren't afraid to hit the floor."

The Wildcats have rung up off-the-court successes, too.

The team grade-point average is 3.95, Burt said.

Outside hitters Jason Forrest and Josh Gross, the son of former major league pitcher Kevin Gross, raised nearly $3,000 for an orphanage in Tijuana as part of a community-service project.

That's a winning number for any school, no matter how big or small.

*

It's fair to say Chaminade players were stunned when parents congratulated them after a match against Loyola.

That's because they were Loyola parents.

The Eagles were lining up for the traditional handshake after a five-game loss in March to the Cubs, when they found several parents at the end of the Loyola line.

Respect, it appeared, had finally arrived for Chaminade, a longtime Mission League doormat.

"That really kind of blew our kids away," said Chaminade Coach Eric Dick. "On the bus we were like, 'That was weird.' It gave us a boost. A lot of our kids were excited."

The Eagles (17-3) have parlayed the confidence-builder into an appearance in the Division III quarterfinals tonight at Laguna Beach.

Seniors Paul Jocas and Adam Hickerson have guided the Eagles, and junior outside hitter Brian Bardos has been strong in the playoffs.

Last week in a sweep of Southwestern, Bardos delivered kills in his first eight hitting attempts. He finished with 15 kills.

"When you've got Jocas, who's going to UCLA, and Hickerson, who's usually getting 19 or 20 kills per match, Bardos kind of gets overshadowed," Dick said. "But he's playing great defense, he's been blocking pretty well and he's been hitting pretty well."

*

Village Christian, the third and final team from the region alive in the Southern Section playoffs, hits the road for the second consecutive match.

The Crusaders play a quarterfinal tonight at Salesian, located in East Los Angeles. In the second round, Village Christian (24-0) defeated Bishop Diego in Santa Barbara.

"We don't mind traveling, that's for sure," Coach Bill Schnobrich said. "We travel well together."

The No. 3-seeded Crusaders have swept all three of their playoff matches, including an easy first-round victory at home against Brethren Christian.

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