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Rocketing to stardom

Del Oro High standout is already on national team’s radar two years after following his sister onto the court
By: Ray Hacke, Journal Sports Writer
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Kyle Russell was merely being a supportive brother when he came out to watch his older sister, Jamie, compete in tournaments for the Rocklin-based Northern California Volleyball Club. Still, being around a sport where athletes with height are coveted, a kid like Russell who is well over 6 feet tall was bound to get noticed. Jamie’s then-coach, Dave Lacoste, not only noticed Russell, he recruited him for NCVC’s 15-1 Boys Black squad. That was only two years ago. Since then, Russell – who will be a junior at Del Oro High this fall – has not only picked up the game very quickly, he’s come to excel at it. “I can really see this guy going far in volleyball,” said Lacoste, who now coaches Russell with NCVC’s 16-1 Boys Black team. Competing for NCVC this week at the USA Junior Olympic Volleyball Championships in Atlanta, Russell will head to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., later this month to participate in USA Volleyball’s High Performance (HP) Select A1 Camp. USA Volleyball’s Web site describes the camp as a “‘pipeline’ for young volleyball athletes who aspire to reach the elite level of their sport and who dream to one day represent the USA on the National Men’s or Women’s Volleyball Team.” Russell could be competing for a spot on the boys’ youth national team by next year. “When I started playing volleyball, I was the biggest kid on the court,” the 6-foot-7 Russell said. “I thought I’d do OK, but I didn’t think I’d be this good.” One of just 50 players from across the country chosen to participate in the A1 Camp, Russell was surprised to find himself in such elite company. “When I went to try out, there were so many kids there, and I thought I only did OK,” he said. “I was so nervous. There were 11 tryouts around the country, and when I found out I made it I was super excited.” Russell’s coaches, however, are not surprised that Russell has risen to an elite level in such a short time because he’s so gifted athletically. “A lot of boys who learn to play volleyball fall in love with it, and when they do they pick up the game really fast,” Lacoste said. “He’s pretty talented at the net,” Del Oro coach Bret Moore said. “He’s pretty amazing. When he hits, he’s looking over the net. He also blocks over the net. Anybody who watches the sport looks at guys like that.” Russell can play both middle blocker and outside hitter. Although he’s attending the A1 Camp as a middle blocker, college coaches are looking at Russell primarily as an outside hitter, according to Lacoste. “If you put him in either place, he can hit anything around the net, which is good,” Moore said. As a sophomore at Del Oro last season, Russell led the Golden Eagles (7-15, 2-10 Sierra Foothill League North) in service aces (17) and finished second on the team in kills (53) and third in blocks (18). Those numbers were good enough for Russell to be selected to the All-SFL first team. “It was a surprise for him to make it as a sophomore,” Moore said. “Usually for sure it’s given to seniors or a handful of really good juniors. For a sophomore, it’s rare to get that, especially when you’ve got so many talented guys in our league. For him to be there as a sophomore is an honor. “The rest of the league nominated him,” Moore added. “He truly deserves it.” Despite his success on the court, Russell is the first to admit his game needs some work. He hopes to improve his passing and defense, as well as his hitting form, at the A1 Camp. “He’s hungry for the ball, very aggressive, and hard to play against because he’s so big and very athletic,” Moore said. “He gets way above the net. It’s hard to hit against a guy who gets so far above the net, but the downside is that he hits straight down into the block a lot of times. “I’m trying to help him rein in and control his hunger and help him make smart decisions. He’ll hit the ball smarter and not just hit for power. Because he’s so young, that will come with experience.” Volleyball isn’t Russell’s only sport. He’s had to juggle his commitment to NCVC this summer while playing in summer tournaments for Del Oro’s basketball team. “(Last) weekend I had to miss two volleyball practices to go to a basketball tournament in Elk Grove, and for volleyball I’ve had to miss volleyball camps,” Russell said. “I’m trying to balance it the best I can.” Still, volleyball is Russell’s first love as far as sports go, and he hopes to follow his big sister Jamie to the college level. Jamie, who recently graduated from Del Oro, will suit up for the University of Alaska-Anchorage, an NCAA Division II school, next fall. “His coaches are all pretty positive he’ll be picked up by a Division I school for volleyball,” Lacoste said. “After that, the sky’s the limit for the boy because he’s so athletic and big.”