(Sandra Day O'Connor's boys volleyball team finished undefeated during Centennial's tournament last week. Photo courtesy of Cami Lattomus.)
Sandra Day O’Connor can throw the element of surprise out the window after not dropping a set en route to winning Peoria Centennial’s boys volleyball tournament last week.
The program hasn’t exactly arrived, but last week Sandra Day O’Connor made its loudest statement to date with head coach Kyle Brainard at the helm. At 16-9 overall and a top-5 power ranking, Sandra Day O’Connor can’t sneak up on opponents now.
“As far as I’m concerned, O’Connor will be relevant,” Brainard said. “And I say it on a humble level. We have a very good pipeline of athletes.”
Brainard is a third-year coach who turned in a 10-7 record in his first season with a team that went 3-14 the year before Brainard arrived.
SDO’s volleyball players are responding to Brainard’s structured, disciplined and hard work philosophies. And the player who epitomizes all those tenets is SDO’s undisputed leader, outside hitter Collin Russell.
The 6-feet-4 left side attacker is a four-year varsity player who can do damage with his swing and smarts. But, according to his coach, Russell’s selflessness and dedication also helps him stand out in matches and to his teammates.
With the group and leaders he has, Brainard doesn’t have to worry about the outside-the-court stuff that might turn into distractions.
“I just have great kids,” Brainard said. “I don’t worry about grades. The nice thing is that I get to coach. They come in and for two and half hours they bust their butts during each practice. These are kids who want it just as bad as I do, with a great leadership base.”
Russell isn’t the only threat on the team.
SDO starts one of the better liberos in the state, Trystan Calles, the MVP of Centennial’s tournament. Sophomore setter Ian Fields is still a bit raw, but with his work ethic, Fields should improve by leaps and bounds before the season is over, Brainard said.
SDO also has a dominant hitter and great blocker in right side hitter Jacob Smith. Last year, SDO reached the playoffs for the first time in about six seasons but lost in the first round to a good Phoenix Desert Vista team.
SDO still lacks some big-game experience, but it will get tested during the second half of its season, with games against rival Boulder Creek and Brophy. Brainard started his high school coaching career at Boulder Creek and is good friends with that school’s coach, Troy Dueling, who along with Brainard have been coaching at the same volleyball club for about the past 10 years.
“I have to preach to our kids that we can’t settle for just being good,” Brainard said.