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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS | HIGH SCHOOL VOLLEYBALL

Transfer to Calabasas Is Academic for Venski

October 25, 2000|MIKE BRESNAHAN

Staci Venski is one of the top junior volleyball players in the country and attends Calabasas High, but you won't see her name in box scores or tales of her 30-kill matches chronicled in the newspaper.

Venski, a member of the 12-member U.S. Youth National team, is taking a year off from high school volleyball after transferring from Mojave High two weeks before the school year.

The 6-foot-2 opposite hitter said she moved from rural California City to Calabasas in an effort to improve her academics and to be closer to her club volleyball team, Valley Thunder, based in Reseda.

Venski has been cleared to play for Calabasas, but chose instead to take part in off-campus private training sessions in volleyball and weightlifting.

Venski lives with Don and Cheryl Fair, parents of a Calabasas player, Whitney Fair, whom Venski got to know while playing for the Valley Thunder.

Don and Cheryl serve as Venski's guardians while her parents, Mike and Patti, remain anchored to their jobs in California City, almost two hours away.

It's not always easy for Venski, who is reunited with her parents almost every weekend and keeps in touch with them by phone or e-mail, but club volleyball and school are important to her.

"It was a two-hour drive [to club practice] three days a week," Venski said. "We'd get home at midnight or close to one. It was a big sacrifice on the part of my dad."

Plus, she said, "Since the end of last year, I was looking to go to a school more challenging for academics, not for volleyball really. It just all fell into place two weeks before school started."

Calabasas Coach Charles Gage is taking a patient, wait-and-see approach with Venski, who is being recruited by virtually every big-name college, especially West Coast schools.

"My whole feeling is, she's out right now," Gage said. "If she showed up in the gym tomorrow, it'd be tough to say no. A girl like her is a side-out machine. But I don't think it'd be fair for the girls who have worked so hard from day one to lose a spot in the lineup to her. I'd have to think about that."

Gage isn't willing to speculate about the prospects of next year, when Venski and Fair, a 5-11 outside hitter who is also drawing college interest, could be teamed as seniors.

"Once this season ends, then we'll worry about next year," he said, pointing out that the Coyotes (9-4, 5-0 in Frontier League play) are in the midst of a successful season. "We're not done with this year yet."

It's surprising, almost amusing, that Venski nearly passed up volleyball as a sport.

She preferred basketball as a freshman at Mojave, envisioning herself as the next Rebecca Lobo as she dominated opponents in the smallish High Desert League.

She tried out for volleyball only "to preoccupy myself," she said. "I couldn't hit a ball to save my life."

She was spotted by Coach Tuong Nguyen of the Valley Thunder at a high school tournament at Highland. He convinced her to try out for the Valley Thunder.

"I was scared out of my mind, but I guess I liked it," Venski said. "I told my dad I wanted to keep playing it."

Venski became dedicated to the sport, honed her skills and tried out for the Youth National Team last summer.

She was chosen from a pool of several hundred players and represented the U.S. at the North America/Central America/Caribbean Zone Youth Championships in the Dominican Republic from July 22-29.

"She's going to be a big-time player," Nguyen said. "The type that comes along once every 20 years."

Venski's roommate at the NORCECA Zone Championships was middle blocker Courtney Schultz of Harvard-Westlake, The Times' player of the year in the region last year.

They shared laughs and created lifelong memories while playing on the team, which finished second to Puerto Rico.

"To represent your country is the greatest thing ever," said Venski, who might be representing Calabasas this time next year.

"I think I'll play next year [for Calabasas]," she said. "If everything works out."

*

Harvard-Westlake could all but clinch its ninth consecutive Mission League title Thursday against Flintridge Sacred Heart.

The Wolverines (10-0, 7-0 in league play) own a slight lead over the Tologs (9-3, 6-1) in the league standings.

Harvard-Westlake swept Sacred Heart earlier this month.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

The Top 10

Rankings of girls' volleyball teams in the region

*--*

RK LW School (League) Rec. 1 1 Harvard-Westlake (Mission) 10-0 2 2 La Reina (Tri-Valley) 19-0 3 3 Oxnard (Pacific View) 15-3 4 4 Sylmar (Valley Mission) 9-0 5 5 La Canada (Rio Hondo) 15-2 6 6 Highland (Golden) 9-0 7 7 Village Christian (Alpha) 17-1 8 9 Westlake (Marmonte) 8-1 9 10 Chatsworth (West Valley) 10-1 10 NR Flintridge Sacred Heart (Mission) 9-3

*--*

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