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FORMER VALENCIA STAR SETS UP FOR HER COLLEGE CAREER ROBERTSON RISING VOLLEYBALL PLAYER AT UC IRVINE.

Byline: ERIK BOAL Special to the Daily News

Taryn Robertson has always been the athlete who wanted the ball in her hands at crunch time.

Only Robertson wasn't setting up to take the game-winning shot in basketball or attempting to strike out a batter with bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh inning on the softball diamond.

The former Valencia High girls' volleyball standout was getting ready to set up a teammate to bury a kill on game point, or possibly even take a swing herself with the match on the line.

Since arriving at UC Irvine, Robertson's approach hasn't changed.

Unfortunately for the 5-foot-11 setter, the results have.

After leading Valencia to four Foothill League titles and competing on Santa Monica Beach Club -- one of Southern California's most successful club volleyball teams -- for the past seven years, Robertson has endured some growing pains during the first 11 matches of her college career.

``I'm kind of a sore loser, so I'm a little disappointed,'' said Robertson, who leads the Anteaters (3-8) into tonight's nonconference match at 7 p.m. at Loyola Marymount's Gersten Pavilion.

``But I take it with a grain of salt. We've had a couple of pretty close matches and I don't think our record really shows our progress.

``We've been taking a lot of big strides. We're a pretty young team and we're still trying to find what works.''

Robertson's competitive nature helped her become one of the most elite players ever to compete in the Santa Clarita Valley, leading Valencia to a 28-6 record and a berth in the Southern Section Div. I quarterfinals during her senior year.

Despite UC Irvine's early struggles, Robertson's passion to excel hasn't wavered.

``For any freshman, it's very difficult to step in and set in Division I volleyball,'' said Anteaters coach Charlie Brande, whose team has won three of five after opening the season with six consecutive losses.

``But she's so competitive and she's such a fighter. I know how hungry she is (to succeed) and with someone like that running your offense, you're going to do well.''

Robertson is one of six freshmen on Brande's roster, three of whom regularly start. The former three-time Foothill League Player of the Year beat out junior Christa Conom, who recorded 1,280 assists last season, for the starting job.

``I knew I needed to work hard either way,'' said Robertson, who has 35 kills, 71 digs, 34 blocks and 363 assists in 42 games. ``But I understood I was fighting for a spot with Christa.''

The first match of Robertson's career was a baptism by fire, as she and her teammates played host to Oregon at MacArthur Court, one of the toughest venues in the country for a road team to compete.

``It was a little overwhelming at first,'' said Robertson, who had 23 assists, three kills and six digs in a 30-20, 30-16, 30-16 loss.

``When we came out to warm up, there was loud music and the band was playing. I kind of knew what was coming, but I was still a little bit nervous. Even though we lost, I have fond memories of it.''

Aside from the Anteaters' two tournament victories during her last visit to Loyola Marymount, the highlight of Robertson's young career was a five-game home loss Aug. 31 to San Diego, which, at the time was ranked 20th nationally, and is currently No. 26.

``That match was a blast. It wasn't fun the way it ended, but I had a lot of fun playing in that one,'' said Robertson, who recorded a career-high 52 assists. ``The atmosphere was great and it gave us some

hope. It showed us what we're capable of.''

With Robertson running the offense at Valencia and SMBC, both teams were capable of competing with any opponent.

``She was phenomenal,'' said Nabil Mardini, coach of the Santa Monica Beach team and Pierce College's team. The beach team placed in the top-12 in the 18-under division the past two years at the Volleyball Festival in Reno.

``It's players like Taryn that make my job really easy.''

Robertson, a two-time All-Southern Section Div. I honoree, believes things will become easier at the college level with more repetition.

``A couple of plays she's very good and a couple of plays she's not as good as we would like her to be, but she's been getting better every time she's out there,'' said Brande, whose team suffered a four-game loss to Loyola Marymount on Sept. 8.

``We're very excited about her progress and her future. With her as our setter, we expect to make huge strides with our program.''

Robertson, who has spent countless hours going over films in an effort to fine-tune her own setting technique and become more comfortable with the team's offense, demonstrated some of those positive steps the last time she was at Gersten Pavilion.

After leading the Anteaters to their first win Sept. 9 against Nevada, Robertson helped UC Irvine rally from a two-game deficit later in the day to beat Southern Methodist in five.

``If we decide to be competitive, we can hang with any team,'' she said after the SMU match, in which she tallied four kills and 47 assists. ``(After the first two games) I had to come out and prove myself all over again.''

Robertson knows that even though she has started every match as a true freshman, she can't take anything for granted, which is why she commits herself daily to working on footwork, hand positioning and establishing a better rhythm with her teammates.

``I respect everything they have to tell me and it's getting easier now,'' she said. ``It's a different style here than in high school or club, but I have a better feel for each hitter and I'm becoming more comfortable with the offense.''

Said Brande: ``It's an ongoing mission to keep them focused on the process. But keeping them going hasn't been difficult because they're all so competitive and that is a huge plus. We're all ecstatic about all of our freshmen, especially Taryn.''

erik.boal(at)dailynews.com

(818) 713-3607

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(color) After leading Valencia to four Foothill League titles and competing on Santa Monica Beach Club -- one of Southern California's most successful club volleyball teams -- for the past seven years, Taryn Robertson has endured some growing pains during the first 11 matches of her college career.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Sep 20, 2006
Words:1069
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