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Mira Costa Is on the Money

High school volleyball: Nihipali cashes in 30 kills to spark a 15-8, 15-13, 10-15, 16-14 nonleague victory over Royal.

April 05, 2001|MIKE BRESNAHAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SIMI VALLEY — Hours before the first serve, David Russell made Pat Nihipali pay.

Then again, the star middle blocker for Royal High was working the snack bar during a freshman match and Nihipali, middle blocker for Mira Costa, was thirsty for some Gatorade.

But once the varsity match began, it was Nihipali who made Russell and his Royal teammates pay.

One of the top juniors in the nation, Nihipali delivered 30 kills and Mira Costa defeated Royal, 15-8, 15-13, 10-15, 16-14, in a nonleague boys' volleyball match Wednesday at Royal.

Russell, who has signed with UCLA, did his part with 36 kills for Royal, but Nihipali had more help, with Chris Ahfeld pounding 18 kills and Jason Spratt adding 17 for Mira Costa (11-0), ranked No. 1 in Southern Section Division II.

Nihipali and Russell, who were named to the U.S. Junior National Team last week, play on the same club team and have known each other for years.

Score round one for Nihipali.

Mira Costa had little trouble in the first two games, scoring at will past a slow, sleepy Royal.

The Highlanders (14-2), ranked No. 2 in Division II, rebounded with a strong third game, Russell hammering seven kills, but Mira Costa came back from a 12-10 deficit to win the fourth game.

"I was expecting the worst-case scenario, for them to take us five [games], for their crowd to try to get into all of our heads," said the 6-foot-8 Nihipali, who sat out last season after the Southern Section ruled his transfer from Esperanza was unauthorized. "Luckily, we all have strong heads on this team."

Royal wasn't devastated.

The Highlanders fell to 2-5 in the annual regular-season rivalry with Mira Costa, but the sentiment seemed to be that the teams would meet again, perhaps on May 26 in the section championship game.

"It's really not the end-all," Royal Coach Bob Ferguson said. "What matters is where we go from here."

The Highlanders had been slumping lately, dropping a game in match play against both Thousand Oaks and Newbury Park.

They looked like a legitimate title contender against Mira Costa . . . at times.

"[Wednesday] was fun," said Russell, who also had seven blocks.

"You go up against [Nihipali] and you expect to get blocked a few times. But you just need to recover and fight back."

Kamil Kowalski had 15 kills for Royal and Darren Miller and Travis Osterhoudt each had 12.

The match was tense, especially with a couple controversial calls by the linesmen. Each school supplied one linesman, a student.

Royal was planning to pay for two extra referees to work as linesmen, but failed to do so because of a communication mix-up.

"Needless to say, it made for a tough situation," Ferguson said.

Not tough enough for Mira Costa, which wasn't thrilled with the linesmen situation, but didn't protest too much.

After all, it might see Royal down the road.

"I would really anticipate that these two teams will be in the finals," Mira Costa Coach Mike Cook said. "I think that's a foregone conclusion."

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