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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS

Russell Seems Ready to Walk With Royalty

Boys' volleyball: Middle blocker might be a cut above the best who have played for the Highlanders.

March 25, 2001|MIKE BRESNAHAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It happened at a small private school in San Diego.

Bob Ferguson watched his star player pound kill after kill in a tournament match against Mater Dei High earlier this month when he came to a realization.

David Russell couldn't be stopped, scoring at will for Royal High, drilling kills from the back row, front row, everywhere but from the bench. In all, he had 38 kills . . . in only three games.

"He looked like the best player in the United States without any doubt," Ferguson said.

Russell, a 6-foot-6 middle blocker who has signed with UCLA, is the reason the Highlanders are the best team in the Marmonte League and, quite possibly, their playoff division.

The Southern Section has made changes this season for boys' volleyball, including an increase in playoff divisions from three to five, but one constant remains--Royal is expected to challenge for a championship.

Russell creates matchup problems for any team, able to attack from the back row like few players Ferguson has had in his program.

"On just pure athletic ability and playing ability, he's the best," Ferguson said, separating Russell from Kevin Hambly and Matt Olsen, who went on to successful careers at Brigham Young after Royal.

"Nobody can hit from the back row like he does. Probably a fourth of his kills come from there. He flies from back there. High school kids jump hard and they hit, but they don't fly like he does."

Russell isn't alone in making the Highlanders dangerous.

Bart Kowalski, a 6-foot junior, is the top setter in the region, able to run the offense with precision and variety.

Harvard-Westlake Coach Jess Quiroz called Russell "bona fide," but said "the person who really is the MVP there is the setter. He does it all. He's the distributor, he's a blocker. That kid leads."

In addition to Russell, Kowalski can choose to feed his brother, senior outside hitter Kamil Kowalski, or Travis Osterhoudt, a 6-2 opposite hitter who drilled five consecutive kills in a game Friday against Thousand Oaks.

"He's the real deal," Ferguson said of Osterhoudt. "I really think he could play someplace."

The Highlanders recently set a Southern Section record by winning their 90th consecutive league match.

But Thousand Oaks, which lost to the Highlanders in four games, and Moorpark, which gave Royal a tough three-game battle on Wednesday, make the league less of a cakewalk for Royal, which has lost only once to Thousand Oaks, in 1994, in 11 seasons in the Marmonte League.

"The league has really moved up a step overall," said Ferguson, in his 14th year at Royal. "It's the best I've seen it since I've been in it. Anyone can win games. They're all capable."

They'd be that much more capable . . . if they had Russell.

Other teams to watch in the region:

* Highland--The Bulldogs have solid middle blockers--6-6 Trent Sorensen, who has committed to BYU, and 6-1 Craig Wilson, who is undersized but effective.

* Canyon--Jesse Alo is a solid setter and one of his favorite targets is basketball standout Brian Waite.

* Moorpark--First-year Coach Jason Peplinski, who worked wonders at Quartz Hill, has Moorpark headed to its best season ever.

* Chatsworth--Setter Paul George is 6 feet 4, left-handed and only a junior. Can he lead the Chancellors to a City title, with Palisades and Roosevelt looming large in the City Section?

* Village Christian--Outside hitters Ken Benesh and Nick Manghelli make the Crusaders a threat in Division IV.

* Grant--Mike Charleston averaged 20.1 points during basketball season and could double that number in kills in a five-game match.

* Thousand Oaks--The Lancers have tough losses to Moorpark, Canyon and Royal but are a talented junior-dominated team.

* Taft--Two-time defending City champions no longer have Mike Gledhill, who is at Pepperdine, but have outside hitter Brian Capper.

* Harvard-Westlake--Inexperienced but improving Wolverines could finish second in Mission League after fourth-place finish last season. Losses have been to Mira Costa, Huntington Beach Marina, Loyola and Thousand Oaks.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

AT A GLANCE

THE PROVEN: Middle blocker David Russell will be at UCLA in the fall, but still has a Southern Section championship to chase at Royal. Middle blocker Trent Sorensen has been slowed by ankle problems since signing with Brigham Young, but is the best player to come out of Highland since Ryan Millar, two-time NCAA player of the year. Outside hitter Ken Benesh of Village Christian, a 6-foot-4 senior, wallops the ball and has the Crusaders thinking about a Division IV title. Outside hitter Danny Raven is a returning All-Marmonte League player for young Thousand Oaks. Middle blocker Mike Charleston led Grant to the City semifinals last season, but wants to take it further.

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