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Volleyballers on the rebound

Posted: January 9, 2009 9:15 p.m.
Updated: January 10, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Stephen Patag, 14 sets the ball during the Elite Volleyball Camp Friday afternoon at the Santa Clarita Sports Complex.

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With a couple of words, Erika Lilley caught the attention of her 25 students.

"Hustle up!" she said while standing in the middle of the volleyball court Friday in the Santa Clarita Sports Complex.

The net stretched behind Lilley and she eyed the two lines of kids to her left and right.

All at once, the kids dived and slid from the sidelines to the center of the court, making high-pitched squeaks that echoed in the gym as they moved toward Lilley.

"Really see the ball in front of you!" she yelled as the players slid, yelled "Mine!" and reached for an imaginary volleyball.

They soon jumped up in unison and repeated the exercise, picturing a volleyball landing two feet in front of them.

It was the last day of Lilley's "Elite Volleyball Camp" after a week of intense training.

The city offered volleyball classes before, but the 2008 Olympics and local volleyball champions at Valencia High School spurred an interest in local kids, said city recreation administrator Dianna Boone.

Along with meeting a demand from kids, the city's clinic serves as an alternative for costly club classes that can run up to $5,000 per player, Boone said.

The city offered Lilley's initial volleyball classes in the fall.

The local youth connected to Lilley's teaching style and her volleyball classes filled up and the waiting list grew.

The weeklong clinic was designed to meet the need and more classes are planned.

It's not just spiking and setting skills the kids learn through volleyball.

"It's skill building for success and life," Boone said.

Lilley, 29, considers volleyball a way to teach kids about team work, communication and self-esteem.

She follows a handful of simple but crucial rules: try and do your best, give 100 percent, give constant encouragement to team mates, remind kids mistakes don't exist and run a strict class.

"I'm stern enough that they respect me, but I'm a kid myself," she said as kids practiced volleying the ball back and forth.

Kids connect to Lilley's coaching.

"She's very motivating," said Presston Kennedy. "She won't leave you behind. She keeps you on your toes."

The 14-year-old from Newhall considered himself a beginner before the clinic and now hopes to play volleyball in high school and college.

Alexis Gotham enjoys Lilley's encouraging teaching style.

"She makes sure you're having fun and helps people get better," said the 12-year-old from Canyon Country.

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