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Foothill League boys volleyball: The hard way out

Hart senior J.J. Mosolf overcame injury; his next challenge is to dethrone Valencia

Posted: March 29, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: March 29, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Major knee surgery forced Hart’s J.J. Mosolf to direct his focus away from basketball and toward volleyball. Now, the Hawaii-bound senior wants to win a league title.

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It would have been easy for J.J. Mosolf to forego his junior year of volleyball.

Then again, taking the easy way out was never his style.

It probably never will be. And for that reason, the Hart senior is headed to the University of Hawaii to play volleyball next year.

Were it not for Mosolf’s outright determination to recover from major knee surgery prior to the 2010 season, the 18-year-old may not have received as much interest as he did from Division I programs like Hawaii.

Though he also played on varsity in his sophomore year, 2010 was his breakout season, when he earned All-Santa Clarita Valley first-team honors and led Hart to a second-place finish in the Foothill League.

Months before the season, Mosolf strained his knee during summer workouts. At the time, he was playing both volleyball and basketball at the school.

“I kind of focused and worked really hard to get back from that surgery,” Mosolf says of the procedure, which took place in September 2009. “I wanted to make sure I was back to the same level I was before. Actually, I wanted to be above where I was before.”

He didn’t recover in time for basketball season that year, so his energy diverted to volleyball completely.

It paid off.

He emerged as one of the league’s best players, standing 6-foot-6 and routinely slamming balls home from the opposite hitter position.

“He came back just a much different player,” says Hart head coach Mary Krisan. “(He was) stronger, he had really great hands to set. I raised him as a setter last year and he was just more confident in himself.”

Before his injury, Mosolf’s passion was basketball. He had played since age 5 and always assumed he’d continue to do so. Volleyball was merely an interest on the side.

When he had to miss his junior year of basketball, that all changed.

“I just liked volleyball because I thought it corresponded a lot with the footwork and the whole dynamic,” Mosolf says.

The success of the 2010 season, his strong Christian faith and some advice from coaches all factored into the decision to stick exclusively with volleyball.

“He wanted to make sure he was making the right decision for himself and not being pushed in either direction by external factors,” Krisan says.

Soon, schools like Cal State Northridge expressed interest in having him play at the next level, but he was able to attract Hawaii through a connection with an assistant coach.

Shortly after visiting the campus in Honolulu last Fall, he signed with the program, which ranks No. 9 in the latest American Volleyball Coaches Association Division I-II poll.

“I prayed about where I was going especially because I didn’t commit right away,” Mosolf says.

For Hawaii, he’ll play as an opposite hitter where he’s grown must accustomed.

Though he played a mixture of opposite, middle blocker and setter when he was a junior, this year Mosolf was moved to outside hitter, which involves more contribution on the serve-receive and defensive aspects of the game.

The adjustment was made so the senior could get more opportunities to hit rather than spending extra rotations setting and blocking.

Blocking is a duty usually reserved for fellow Hart senior Taylor Gregory, who has been teammates with Mosolf since they were sophomores.

As the only two returning starters this year, both have emerged as the foundation of the team.

It’s a role Mosolf has taken to quite naturally.

“His size is definitely an advantage,” says Griffin Ender, Mosolf’s teammate in Legacy club volleyball. “But he’s also really smart and just a really good leader.”

Like many of Mosolf’s teammates at Legacy, Ender also plays on Valencia High School’s team.

Valencia carries a 92-game Foothill League winning streak into this season, a streak Mosolf and Hart intend to halt.

“It kind of is in the back of our minds to beat Valencia since we’ve never really beat them before,” Mosolf says. “We’re really focused on just doing well throughout the season and winning league and getting to the playoffs.”

When the teams finally do match up on April 14 at Valencia, both Mosolf and Ender admit the gloves will come off.

“Just being friends with him brings out the competitiveness between us, and makes you really want to beat each other,” Ender says.

Krisan says Mosolf was Hart’s top performer in both matches against the Vikings last season. She expects a repeat.

“He’s capable of hitting from anywhere, which is just great because we just need to have a really strong, go-to person, and he’s definitely it,” Krisan says.

Today, Mosolf isn’t distracted by thoughts of beating Valencia or hula dancing in Hawaii.

Today, it’s about his league-opening match against West Ranch.

It’s about kickstarting a journey toward a league title.

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