Golden Eagles suddenly soaring

Del Oro contending for SFL-North crown after struggling last spring
By: Eric J. Gourley Journal Sports Writer
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LOOMIS — It’s tough to keep Kyle Russell from smiling on a volleyball court. That wasn’t always the case last spring when the star outside hitter and his Del Oro High teammates labored through a 2-10 Sierra Foothill League campaign without winning a road match all season. After graduating only two players from last year’s young squad, the Golden Eagles have developed into quiet contenders in one of the section’s toughest leagues. “The more time we spend with each other, the better we get to know each other,” said the 6-foot-7 Russell, who had a match-high 11 kills to help Del Oro sweep rival Placer 27-25, 25-22, 25-15 Tuesday night. “Our minds almost start thinking alike. We just click together. We kind of feel what everyone’s doing on the court, where they’re going to be.” A connection that started with toiling through a losing season together has only grown stronger this spring. “They all got experience and they’re starting to come together as a team,” head coach Bret Moore said. “The setters are figuring out exactly where to put the ball for the hitters but we’re also gelling personality-wise.” Moore arranged a snow getaway to athletic director Monte White’s Tahoe cabin as well as a team trip to watch Pepperdine play Stanford in the Bay Area earlier this month. “It’s a lot of fun going on the team trips,” said setter Aaron Miller, one of nine juniors on the 12-player roster. “Tahoe was fun. It was a good time. We all just played games, hung out a lot and really bonded. On the long drive down to Stanford, we got to talk about what we wanted to do this season and then we got to watch the next level of volleyball to see what we should build up to be.” Miller is a major reason the Eagles have lost fewer matches than they won a year ago and are second to Granite Bay in the competitive SFL-North with a key match against the Grizzlies Thursday. When senior outside hitter Dane Smith sprained his ankle against Oak Ridge on March 15, Brody Cord took his place. Miller assumed Cord’s role as starting setter, a change he admits was difficult at first. “It’s truly Aaron’s first year setting and it’s tough to run an offense behind a brand new setter,” Moore said. “Aaron’s been growing throughout the year, and it’s made a big difference.” Shane Plummer leads Del Oro with 31 blocks and provides senior leadership in the middle. Senior libero Alex Zufelt leads the team in digs and senior outside hitter Dane Smith is one of the Eagles’ best servers. “This season we just have a lot of talent all the way through our team,” Miller said. “If somebody gets hurt who’s on the court we can sub in, so really if we’re missing somebody we’re not actually missing somebody. We have a lot of great fillers. We have a lot of talent so we’re setting our goals pretty high. Every team hopes to win section, but we’re aiming pretty high. We definitely have the potential.” Russell, who is rapidly approaching 100 kills after pounding some hard hits against the Hillmen Tuesday, still has his senior year at Del Oro but is already planning to continue his volleyball career at a Division I school. He eventually hopes to play professionally overseas. Russell was also recently selected as an alternate on the U.S. Boys’ Youth National Volleyball Team after an impressive tryout in Anaheim. If a starting outside hitter can’t play in Singapore, he could be called upon. “I’m really excited,” he said. “That would be so cool.” Russell powered the Eagles to their best finish ever at the UC Davis Invitational last month. If Del Oro knocks off Granite Bay Thursday evening, the league title could still be within reach. “We were kind of silently hoping to win league but Granite Bay’s just proven to be really tough so that’s I think at this point really remote, but we’re coming together at the right time of the season, “ Moore said. “The section playoffs come up right after league’s done, so we’ll see what happens in May.”