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BOYS' VOLLEYBALL

Team Unity Spurs Garden Grove to Success

April 03, 2001|MICHAEL ITAGAKI

Lance Aoki knows his Garden Grove boys' volleyball team is one of the best he's had in his 12 years at the school. He knows they have a chance this week to take a big step toward another league title if they can post wins over Bolsa Grande and Pacifica.

And he knows he can trust this Argonaut team.

"They're the only team I've had that I'd trust to ever stay at my house," Aoki said with a chuckle. "It's a great group of guys. Now my '95 team was a great team too . . . good-natured guys. But there's no way I'd let them be alone in my house."

With seniors David Adling, Eduardo Rodriguez and Robert Rubalcaba leading the way, this year's Argonauts have positioned themselves to win consecutive league titles. Garden Grove last won consecutive titles in 1991-92.

Last season, the Argonauts shared the league title with Pacifica. Garden Grove is 8-0, 4-0 in league heading into this week's matches, which conclude with a rematch with Pacifica. Garden Grove won the first meeting in five games.

"Sometimes our team goes in, we get too cocky, and we get shut down too easy," Rubalcaba said. "Myself, Ed and David, we just keep telling the guys to just expect them to be good.

"Pacifica's a good team. But we have to take each game one at a time. Wednesday comes first against Bolsa, and we can't say that we can just beat Bolsa easy."

What has been easy is how this team has come together.

"We have only one club player [junior Chris Hernandez], but this group has so much desire," Aoki said. "They just want to play. They find places to just go play together."

In the off-season, Rodriguez said they tried to find any time to play together.

"I think it shows how much we really do enjoy playing the game," Rodriguez said. "That's the main thing. That keeps this team going.

"We played at open gyms, usually down in Newport Beach, every Friday. We entered a tournament in Long Beach just to get a feel of playing with each other in competition. We played at the beach too."

Last season, Rubalcaba could have spent more time at the beach since he missed most of the season because he was academically ineligible.

But Rubalcaba improved his grades and returned for the final three league matches, then helped Garden Grove advance to the second round of the playoffs, where it lost to Foothill. He's kept his grades up since and the Argonauts are benefiting.

"It hurt us in the very beginning of [last] season because Robert is one of our biggest hitters," Adling said. "But we kept thinking he'll come back and we'll dominate. It also made us realize something could go wrong and we had to prepare for that.

"Having him since the beginning of this season has been a big difference, because other coaches know of him. He brings a big presence. He can strike fear in opponents."

Aoki said Adling has a similar impact.

"Both Robert and David are go-to players," Aoki said. "Robert was all-tournament at the University tournament and David made all-tournament at the Foothill tournament. We have no all-stars really. The team is balanced."

LOOKING AHEAD

Although most teams have already started league play, the Serra League begins its matches this week with the two preseason favorites, Santa Margarita and Mater Dei, playing Thursday at Santa Margarita.

The Eagles haven't lost a best-of-five match this season and are led by Princeton-bound Blake Robinson and Damien Scott, another Division I recruit who is still undecided. Mater Dei, which reached the Southern Section Division II championship match last season, is led by a three-year starter, setter Mike Gazzano.

Edison has a big week, playing the Sunset League's favorites Marina and Fountain Valley. The Chargers play at Marina Wednesday and host Fountain Valley Friday.

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If you have an item or idea for the boys' volleyball report, you can fax us at (714) 966-5663 or e-mail us at: mike.itagaki@latimes.com

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

BOYS' VOLLEYBALL TOP 10

Orange County Sportswriters' Poll

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Pos. School League Record 1. Santa Margarita (1) Serra 8-0 2. Foothill (2) Century 5-1 3. Fountain Valley (3) Sunset 4-2 4. Capistrano Valley (4) South Coast 6-0 5. Irvine (5) Sea View 7-1 6. Newport Harbor (7) Sea View 3-4 7. Marina (8) Sunset 9-1 8. Mater Dei (6) Serra 4-2 9. Dana Hills (9) South Coast 6-1 10. Edison (NR) Sunset 5-3

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Last week's ranking in parentheses

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