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BHS’s star middle blocker sets her sights high

By Tim Haran Daily Planet Correspondent
Wednesday October 24, 2001

Volleyball coaches can teach their players all the fundamentals, including how to pass, block, dig or kill. They can explain the game’s subtle nuances and they can even develop intricate strategies for various opponents. 

But no matter how hard they try, they can’t coach height. And with height comes another volleyball intangible – intimidation. 

At an imposing 6-foot-5, Desiree Guilliard-Young’s sheer presence as Berkeley High’s star middle blocker sends shivers through the opposing team’s front row. Having already pounded more than 150 kills this year, Guilliard-Young recently helped Berkeley remain undefeated in league play by registering one of her best matches of the season. 

“Desiree had an outstanding performance today,” said Justin Caraway, Berkeley’s head coach, referring to Guilliard-Young’s outing against De Anza last week, in which she recorded 11 kills, four blocks and two aces while committing just one error. “It was probably one of her better all-around matches.” 

Judging by her performances throughout the last two seasons, during which Berkeley hasn’t lost a single Alameda Contra Costa Athletic League match, it’s tough to believe that Guilliard-Young, 17, first touched a volleyball just four years ago. 

Before that, basketball was Guilliard-Young’s game. Considering her stature, the senior frequently gets asked why she doesn’t play for the basketball team, a sport that rewards height as much as it does athletic ability. 

“I was playing basketball for other people,” Guilliard-Young said. “My heart wasn’t in it so I decided to end it before I hurt my team.” 

That was in the eighth grade. The following summer, an acquaintance that Guilliard-Young ran into while shopping told her that a Bay Area volleyball club, the Starlings, was looking for players. 

“I hadn’t even heard of volleyball, really,” said the then-6-foot-3 would-be freshman. 

She made the team that summer prior to her first year at Berkeley High. Guilliard-Young then tried out for the Yellowjackets’ squad under Caraway and despite her lack of coordination made the varsity team. From there her volleyball playing ballooned into a time-intensive commitment. 

In the months following her freshman year, Guilliard-Young, began playing for the Oakland-based Golden Bear Volleyball Club and traveled throughout the United States several times during the summer.  

Last year she competed on the youth national team in the 18-year-old division. 

Although she’s comfortable with her height and said she “wouldn’t have it any other way,” Guilliard-Young doesn’t rely solely on her tallness to carry her on the volleyball court. The desire to improve explains her dedication to the sport in the off-season.  

“I wanted to be good, I just didn’t want to be average,” she said. “I wanted to be an athlete, I just didn’t want to be a tall girl playing volleyball.” 

In her four years in a ’Jackets’ uniform, Guilliard-Young has devoted numerous hours to improving her skills on the court. According to her coach at Berkeley, she’s come a long way. 

“She’s improved her coordination and now understands how to move her body,” Caraway said. “She knows how to work her arms and to do the things that good, tall middles need to do.” 

In addition, Caraway said Guilliard-Young has improved her mental focus, ball control skills, defense and overall understanding of the game. 

As she continues to improve individually, it’s teamwork, which drew Guilliard-Young to volleyball initially, which motivates her today.  

“It’s not about how many kills she gets, how many blocks she gets, it’s about did we win the match,” Caraway said. “And if we won, and she only gets three kills, that doesn’t bother her. But if she gets three kills and we lose, she’s a little bit upset.” 

Earlier this season Baylor University in Texas, which made its first volleyball NCAA tournament appearance in 1999, offered Guilliard-Young a scholarship. She’s made a verbal commitment and said she chose the school for its top-notch academic reputation as much as for its volleyball program, as she plans to pursue a degree in advertising and marketing.  

“I wanted to figure out how to channel my creativity and desire to draw,” Guilliard-Young said.  

“I’ve been drawing since junior high and have come up with models and magazine spreads.” 

Caraway, who graduated from Baylor, said he didn’t have a hand in Guilliard-Young’s desire to attend the Waco, Texas, school but he did keep the school on her short list of collegiate choices and said she should be able to adapt to the fast pace of college volleyball. 

“I think she’ll fit in well with the kids they have returning,” he said. “They have the Big 12 freshman of the year (Stevie Nicholas) as well as some great middles.” 

Receiving a scholarship, Guilliard-Young said, has been her greatest volleyball accomplishment.  

Personal achievements aside, Berkeley’s loss last year to Bishop O’Dowd in the opening round of the playoffs and its fifth straight regular season loss to the Dragons earlier this season are fresh in the memory of Guilliard-Young. 

“We’re getting them this year,” she said. “I refuse to lose. I know we can beat them.” 

The unwavering confidence complements the advice Guilliard-Young received from U.S. National Team member, Logan Tom, last year. 

“Be goal-oriented and work hard,” Tom told her. “Never stop giving it your all and never think you know enough about the game because you probably don’t.”