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Serving Up Success

Recruits Help Coach Rebuild Costa Mesa Volleyball Program

April 24, 2001|MICHAEL ITAGAKI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It started innocently enough for Costa Mesa's Mike Payne. All he wanted to do was use the school's bathroom.

Payne recalled attending a playoff game for the Mustang girls' basketball team in February. When he left his seat, he ran into boys' volleyball Coach Dave Sorrells, who wanted to recruit the 6-foot-7 senior.

"It was bad timing," Payne said with a grin. "That night, Coach came up to me and said, 'I'm going to get you to come out for volleyball.'

"I'd never played before this year. I focused on basketball and didn't have the time, but I've always wanted to play volleyball. Since it was my senior year, I figured, 'Why not?' I guess they needed a big dog."

Payne, a second-team all-league center, helped the Mustangs to a Pacific Coast League basketball title, and now he is the captain and focal point for a Costa Mesa volleyball team that is on the rebound. With two coaches in their first years at the school and 11 players who endured the program's transition, the Mustangs are upbeat despite only two victories.

Juniors Carlos Jaime, Eddie Moreno and sophomore John Santos are three of the few holdovers from last year, and they said the new approach has fostered a new attitude.

"Before, we had coaches that really didn't care what we did," Moreno said. "Coach Sorrells was more serious. A lot of the guys couldn't deal with it because they just didn't want to learn something new.

"But I want to get better. I want to take this more seriously. I like this a lot more."

The Mustangs also like having assistant coach Darlene Bailey around. The 20-year coaching veteran from Boise State is Sorrells' "co-coach," he said, giving the Mustangs a windfall of volleyball wisdom to guide them.

"Now, there's only two weeks left in the [regular] season, but I want to play another month or two," Payne said. "We're just starting to get better."

Payne's improvement on the volleyball court has astonished Sorrells, a longtime club coach who started officiating in the '70s and has coached girls' teams at Costa Mesa and La Habra highs.

And the team's biggest player has also turned out to be one of the its most versatile.

"He's 6-7, so I threw him in at middle blocker since Day 1," Sorrells said. "Then one day I come into practice, and I see him setting a ball. I thought, 'My goodness.' "

Now Payne sets for the Mustangs too, when he is in the back row.

"Without Mike, we'd be horrible," Sorrells said. "He's still inexperienced, but had he been playing volleyball for the last four years, I think he'd be a Division I college player. He's that good."

Sorrells should know talent. He's worked individually with several professional players, including Dain Blanton, an Olympic gold medalist in beach volleyball and former Laguna Beach High standout. Sorrells also coached for one season, in 1997 at La Habra, where he helped the Highlanders reach the girls' Southern Section Division III-AA final.

It might seem unusual to some that Sorrells would return to Costa Mesa, where he coached the girls' team from 1995-96. But listen to his voice, and behind a pragmatic outlook, it sounds rejuvenated and enthusiastic.

"It was really, really bad for the first month," Sorrells said. "Most of the guys had hardly played volleyball before and most never played a varsity sport.

"These guys had to learn how to have fun, how to get excited. They had to learn so many things, and I had to learn how to coach better. But you know what? Now they're a team."

That couldn't have been better demonstrated than on April 12, when the Mustangs defeated Estancia, 13-15, 15-11, 15-8, 15-6.

"That one was great," Payne said. "I asked the guys, 'Forget everyone else and just win this one for me,' since we lost to Estancia both times in basketball.

"We've improved so much. I remember the first tournament we played in, we couldn't pass, couldn't set, couldn't hit. I think in the first match of that University tournament, we lost to Aliso Niguel, 15-0, 15-1.

"Now, we're winning more points, winning more games."

And the team has won over Sorrells, who brims with excitement when he talks about his undersized, inexperienced squad.

"Carlos is our lone varsity returner and he could turn out to be a very fine player," Sorrells said. "Eddie isn't the most talented setter, but he plays with so much heart and he's a leader.

"Brian Knox is a 6-2 freshman who never played before, but he's getting better every day."

Sorrells could go on and on . . .

"Coach Dave can talk and talk and talk," Payne said.

Said Jaime: "Maybe we were a little intimidated when we first started, but we needed to get that, have someone work us hard. When we knew he was coaching, I thought that was great, that we had a chance to have a good program, one that wouldn't [go halfway.]"

Said Santos: "We're young and we're getting better and better. By our senior year, we want to win [a league title.]."

The optimism is contagious. The Mustangs found it even in a 15-4, 15-5, 15-12 loss on April 10 to Corona del Mar, which won the Southern Section Division I title last season.

"We almost took a game from them," Moreno said. "That gave us a big boost."

It also helps knowing Sorrells will return.

"I'd be the biggest hypocrite if I didn't come back," Sorrells said. "I can't explain fully what a joy this has been."

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