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Valencia's Broc Oppler: Never down and out

Valencia outside hitter now on top of his game after crippling stomach illness last year

Posted: April 4, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: April 4, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Valencia senior outside hitter Broc Oppler (21) has become of the top players in the Foothill League, already tallying 32 kills in two league matches. This after a stomach ailment nearly sidelined him for the second half of the 2010 season.

 

His ability alone is impressive to watch on the court.

He brings a certain level of passion to the game that isn’t often attained at this level of volleyball.

For Valencia outside hitter Broc Oppler, it isn’t just about putting the ball down for a kill. It’s about the power, the celebration and the impact it has on the game.

Already, the 18-year-old senior has racked up a team-high 32 kills in two league games.

But the same goes for serving, digging and occasionally blocking. As long as it’s contributing to the team’s success, chances are, Oppler is going to be fired up about it.

“I want to help my team win a CIF championship,” he says. “That’s the main thing.”

It’s the kind of unwavering determination that even a crippling illness couldn’t deter just a year ago.

It was right around this time last year, the start of Foothill League play, when Oppler started feeling stomach pain.
Minor pain quickly took a turn toward serious illness and landed him in the hospital for five days.

He not only missed a lot of playing time, but also lost 15 pounds and a great deal of strength and conditioning required to compete at the level he’d grown accustomed.

“I was just completely exhausted,” Oppler says. “Even from the simplest task, I had to lie down because I was so exhausted.”

A few days in the hospital didn’t completely cure him either.

Weeks went by as Oppler fought to regain his strength, meanwhile participating at least in some capacity in Valencia’s league matches. But the illness lingered.

“When he came back, he wasn’t 100 percent,” says Valencia head coach Mark Knudsen. “He just wasn’t as dynamic and powerful and explosive. You can just see this year how explosive and how powerful he hits. Last year, it just wasn’t there.”

What Oppler wanted to do and knew he was capable of, his body wouldn’t allow him.

“Not only from an athletic standpoint, but from a personal standpoint, I felt so bad because I know what it’s like to have to sit out,” says teammate Griffin Nichols, a senior middle blocker.

It made for a disappointing finish to Oppler’s junior year after garnering All-Santa Clarita Valley second-team honors during his sophomore season.

After such a promising performance in his first year on the Vikings’ varsity team, he understandably had high hopes coming into 2010.

Looking back, he doesn’t view the illness as a hindrance though, as it helped put things in perspective.

“Sure he wanted to do well his junior year, but I think that was somewhat offset by his relief to get over the sickness,” Knudsen says.

As physically debilitating as it was for Oppler last year, it never got in the way of his desire to keep playing at every capacity possible.

As he has since the beginning of high school, he continues to play both club ball at Legacy Volleyball and occasional beach tournaments with teammates and opposing Foothill League players.

Last summer, Oppler and Hart senior outside hitter J.J. Mosolf competed together in a California Beach Volleyball Association-sponsored championship tournament in Manhattan Beach.

Once a basketball and football player at the youth-league level, he turned to volleyball full-time once he discovered the sport in eighth grade.

“It’s just such a fast-paced game and it’s all reaction-based,” Oppler says. “It was just a lot more fun than any other sport.”

That and he’s pretty good at it. A 6-foot-3 athletic frame gives him a solid edge when he’s in the air deciding where to place a ball against opponent blockers.

Playing at Legacy and at the beach helps him see the game from different angles, and it adds versatility to his game.

In beach, for instance, it’s 2-on-2 rather than gym volleyball’s 6-on-6 style. It’s also much more difficult to jump and gain footing in the sand.

He’s always been a powerful hitter, Knudsen said, but with improved decision-making and skilled jump-serving over the years, Oppler has become the team’s primary scoring threat in his senior season.

“He has been lately for sure,” Knudsen says. “We’ve got a lot of weapons on this team, a lot of guys that can put the ball away. But particularly the last few matches, as the season goes on, he’s becoming more and more of that guy.”

And for some, his emergence as “that guy” comes as no surprise, even given the adversity he faced last year.

“It’s ‘fuel to the fire’ kind of thing,” says Nichols, who also has experience dealing with injuries. “It’s like, ‘I’m going to get over this no matter what. I’m not going to let if affect me.’”

If anything, it has affected Oppler in a positive way.

Now that he’s back in top physical condition and has a new outlook on the sport, his eyes are squarely on bringing back a CIF-Southern Section Division II title back to Valencia for the first time since 2008 — Oppler’s freshman year, before he played on varsity.

“Other years, we were solid and consistent,” Oppler says. “This year, I feel like we have a great player at every single position and we can count on everyone.”

The Vikings have developed into an experienced, yet all-around talented and confident team since last year, Oppler contends.

Considering where he was less than a year ago, Oppler has come pretty far himself.

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