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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS | HIGH SCHOOL VOLLEYBALL

Sylmar Flooring Opponents With a Big Left From Cisneros

October 18, 2000|MIKE BRESNAHAN

Strange, but true: Sylmar High's title aspirations in volleyball are buoyed by a pool lifeguard whose out-of-the-ordinary trait as a youth--left-handedness--has turned her into one of the top players in the City Section.

Unlike most of her peers, Stephanie Cisneros was not right-handed, a fact pointed out to her time and again. You could say she was, um, left behind.

"I was bummed when I was young because people looked at me as weird," Cisneros said.

Turns out that left was right.

Cisneros, a senior opposite hitter for the Spartans, has a decisive advantage over opposing players because she is a southpaw.

Almost all high school middle blockers align themselves at the net in preparation for a right-handed hitter. Then comes Cisneros, bucking the blocking habits of opponents.

Some teams fail to adjust their timing and blocking scheme until it is too late.

"It's really fun to be a left-handed hitter," Cisneros said. "I have a lot of options."

Option No. 1 is usually to pound the ball as hard as she can.

Cisneros has done it enough times for Sylmar Coach Bob Thomson to reach a conclusion.

"She probably hits the ball harder than any girl I've ever coached," said Thomson, in his 15th year at Sylmar. "And she hits the ball out of the back row."

Cisneros hit with abandon in a 15-kill performance during a 15-1, 15-6, 15-1 victory over Chatsworth last month, a match that was billed by some people as a preview of the City Championship.

The Spartans were overwhelmed by Palisades in the title match last season. With several players having graduated from Palisades, this season might belong to Sylmar.

"I don't want to jinx us or anything, but we have a shot," said Cisneros, who is surrounded by talent with setter Barbara Smiley and outside hitter Nancy Ariza. "If we don't win, it's because of mistakes we've made. I'm kind of hoping we can pull it off this year."

As for next year, the 5-foot-9 Cisneros keeps hearing that she's too short to play in college, where 6 feet and taller is the trend.

"A lot of people tell me, 'You're too small to play,' " Cisneros said. "Then when they see me play, they want me on their team."

The lesson: "Don't underestimate the power of small people," she said, laughing.

When Cisneros wasn't slamming down a kill last summer, she was serving as a lifeguard at the El Cariso county pool in Sylmar.

It was fun and nobody got hurt, but she would rather have been on a volleyball court.

"I kind of wished there was more action at the pool, that I wasn't just sitting there in the tower," she said.

After all, the lambasting lefty admits, "Volleyball is what I live for."

*

Royal Coach Bob Ferguson was back on the sideline Thursday.

Ferguson, who stepped down as coach before the season, served as an assistant during the Highlanders' match against Thousand Oaks.

Danny Rizzo, the regular assistant and an outside hitter for Cal State Northridge, was with the Matadors at an off-season men's tournament in Canada.

"I was calling serves and kind of charting where their hitters were going," Ferguson said. "Wherever there's a need, I'll help. It was kind of fun."

In 18 years, Ferguson guided the Highlanders to six league titles and two Southern Section championships.

Ferguson, however, left the coaching to his replacement--his son, Travis.

"I kept my mouth shut," he said. "Travis is the head coach."

Royal defeated Thousand Oaks, 15-7, 15-9, 15-13.

*

The volleyball program is still divine at Providence.

Coach Andrew Bencze is on a one-year leave of absence to pursue studies in England, but the Pioneers haven't missed a step under Karri Kirsch.

Kirsch, the junior varsity coach at Providence for seven years, has had little trouble adjusting to varsity.

"I was a little apprehensive at first, but these are all girls I've coached before," Kirsch said. "They know me and I know them. It's been a pretty smooth transition."

Despite having only two senior starters, Providence (9-3, 8-2 in Liberty League play) has a shot at its fourth consecutive league title.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Girls' Volleyball Top 10

Rankings of teams from the region

*--*

RK LW School (League) Rec. 1 1 Harvard-Westlake (Mission) 16-0 2 2 La Reina (Tri-Valley) 17-0 3 3 Oxnard (Pacific View) 13-3 4 5 Sylmar (Valley Mission) 8-0 5 6 La Canada (Rio Hondo) 12-2 6 8 Highland (Golden) 7-0 7 7 Village Christian (Alpha) 15-1 8 4 Ventura (Channel) 6-3 9 9 Westlake (Marmonte) 6-1 10 10 Chatsworth (West Valley) 8-1

*--*

* SHOWDOWN

No. 3 Oxnard defeats No. 8 Ventura. D14

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