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Injuries Could Play a Big Role in Playoffs

Anaheim Esperanza, Los Angeles Loyola are among the Southern Section boys' volleyball teams trying to make a run with rosters not at full strength.

May 11, 2003|Paul McLeod | Times Staff Writer

Isaac Owens thought his Anaheim Esperanza team would have a terrific chance at defending its Division I title when the Southern Section boys' volleyball playoffs beginthis week.

But that was before the Sunset League match at Fountain Valley on Tuesday, when the Aztecs lost outside hitter Jayson Jablonsky to an ankle injury.

"This is terrible news," Owens said. "It couldn't have happened at a worse time."

The injury occurred when the 6-foot-5 Jablonsky came down on the foot of an opponent who had stepped under the net. Esperanza was ahead at the time, 11-8, in the first game, but without Jablonsky, went on to lose the game and the match, 15-11, 12-15, 15-11, 15-10.

On Thursday, the Aztecs, ranked No. 3 in the Southland by The Times, struggled to beat Huntington Beach Marina, 15-11, 15-17, 15-12, 15-9.

Owens said Jablonsky, an All-Southern Section player who has signed with UC Irvine, might be able to play in a week or so but won't be at full strength.

"He's a gifted kid and it hurts us," Owens said. "Now our backs are against the wall."

Esperanza isn't the only school in that precarious position. A number of top-ranked teams have seen their promising seasons turned upside-down by injuries.

With the Southern Section set to release its playoff pairings on Monday, many coaches who are used to seeing their teams receive top-seeded positions are holding their breaths.

Esperanza and Huntington Beach figured to be in the running for one of the top four spots in Division I. But the Aztecs, who finished second to the Oilers in the Sunset League race, will be lucky, Owens said, to be placed among the top eight teams, where they could possibly receive a first-round bye, buying more time for Jablonsky to heal.

Los Angeles Loyola fell from atop The Times' rankings last week after losing to Westlake Village Westlake in a best-of-three match in the semifinals of the Redondo tournament. The loss, Coach Michael Boehle said, was the culmination of a month-long battle with injuries to three starting players.

C.J. Shellenberg, the Cubs' 6-7 outside hitter, has a fractured foot bone. Setter Jim Killian was out because of shin splints, as was outside hitter Eric Chaghouri with an ankle sprain.

Loyola could pair the 6-5 Killian, who has returned, with 6-6 Brian Beckwith and run a 6-2 offense, with a setter in both the back and front rows.

"We have two of the best setters in the section, if not throughout the state," Boehle said. "It's something we have discussed."

Although Shellenberg is listed as day-to-day, Boehle says the Cubs are close to being back to full strength.

Simi Valley has also weathered an injury to a key player.

Earlier this season, the Pioneers beat Simi Valley Royal, the Marmonte League's perennial champion, for the first time in 32 tries. Shortly thereafter, the team's top kill leader, opposite Chris Reyes, suffered a back injury and it took him several weeks to return to full strength.

"He was playing hurt and he just wasn't as effective as he had been," Coach Peter Piexoto said.

Simi Valley, which had climbed as high as No. 7 in The Times' rankings, was recently upset by No. 8 Westlake Village Westlake and fell out of the rankings. The teams finished as Marmonte League co-champions.

Reyes has returned and Simi Valley appears to have righted its ship.

Manhattan Beach Mira Costa, a young team that was No. 2 in the preseason rankings, suffered a big loss when its kill leader, outside hitter/middle blocker Josh Schwarzapel, was sidelined with a broken ankle.

Coach Mike Cook said Schwarzapel may be available at some point during the playoffs. The Mustangs beat Palos Verdes Peninsula Thursday to win the Bay League title.

Newport Harbor began the season ranked No. 10 but dropped off the charts quickly. The Sailors have played without Brett Perrine, a starting outside hitter who suffered a knee injury before the start of the season.

Another outside hitter, Jamie Diefenbach, made his first appearance of the season for the Sailors on Tuesday, when he had 13 kills in a four-game upset of fifth-ranked Irvine Woodbridge. Diefenbach had been out since injuring his knee during basketball season.

The victory helped Newport Harbor earn a share of the Sea View League title and gave its coach, Dan Glenn, a glimmer of hope in what he said has been one of the most difficult seasons of his coaching career.

"[Diefenbach's] presence makes us a lot better," Glenn said.

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