April 20, 2005 - In order to hitch a ride to school his sophomore year, Matt Vanzant had no choice but to be "dragged" by his older sister, who

routinely went early for morning volleyball practice.

Up to that point, volleyball wasn't a sport he gave much consideration. But the exposure to the game proved intoxicating. Two years later, it's volleyball that drives Vanzant.

In just three years of playing the sport competitively, Vanzant, 18, has established himself as one of the premier players in Arizona. A preseason favorite to win the boys volleyball player of the year award, Vanzant has played an integral part in building the foundation of the Class 5A school's program.

The senior wasn't necessarily a couch potato before joining the volleyball team in its inaugural season in 2003. He spent his freshman campaign on the Mountain View High School baseball team.

But toiling in the outfield wasn't how he wanted to spend another spring.

The Mountain Lion volleyball squad is glad he opted to leave the baseball diamond. Behind Vanzant is a core of seniors who have taken Mountain View to a 21-4, 5-2 record in the program's third season.

Offers have come in from colleges to play volleyball next year, but Vanzant has yet to narrow his choices. His sister is playing volleyball on a scholarship at Portland State in Oregon, where she is an outside hitter, like her brother.

At 6 feet, 2 inches, Vanzant is hoping more than volleyball genes will follow him into college. His father is a towering 6 feet, 9 inches.

As for player of the year honors, that award probably will go across town to Canyon Del Oro High School, said Vanzant.

"It would be cool to have the honor," said a humble Vanzant, "But Steve Madsen probably deserves it."

If anyone would know Madsen's game inside out it would be Vanzant. The two have competed for Club Cactus Juniors for the past two years, where Madsen is a setter.

Before Vanzant and Madsen reunite on the club level, the two will duke it out for the No. 1 spot in the state, when the state tournament kicks off May 9.

Last year, Mountain View put itself on the volleyball landscape by knocking off No. 1 seeded Barry Goldwater High School in the first round of the state playoffs. The Mountain Lions eventually succumbed to Pueblo in the next round, but the program's first taste of success was too inviting to resist and carried over into this year.

"We really want to win state," said Vanzant. "I think we have the talent."

A state title in three years would carry the program a long ways and make Rick Ellis' vision come to fruition a lot faster than the Mountain View head coach expected.

"We want Mountain View to be known as a volleyball school," Ellis said. "I think we have one of the better programs. We don't want to be a one-hit wonder; we want to keep getting better."

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