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Bryant HS leaps out to surprise 5-0 start

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Rubin Taipi has played on the Bryant boys’ volleyball team since he was a freshman. But the 5-foot-11 senior played in a total of eight matches before this season — all of them coming last year in spurts.

“He wasn’t a smart volleyball player before this year,” Owls Coach Steve Hagenlocher said.

That means Taipi didn’t do the little things well. He always had power and athletic ability, but slacked on defense and didn’t concentrate on his passing. Those are the kinds of things that got under Hagenlocher’s skin.

“My head wasn’t in the game,” Taipi said. “I was making dumb moves.”

Not anymore. The 12th-grader worked on his game, earned playing time and has become an integral part of the team. After a 25-4, 25-11 win against Franklin K. Lane on Friday at Thomas Edison HS, Bryant is 5-0 and has beaten its biggest competitors in Queens IV, including last year’s PSAL Class A runner-up Grover Cleveland.

“I felt like I kind of owed it to my team,” Taipi said. “I’ve grown as a person as well as a player. I’ve really learned to love to play the game.”

He’s fifth in the division in kills (24) and has taken pressure off of Owls star sophomore Troy Gaugler.

“His court smarts have improved,” Hagenlocher said. “He’s just doing the smart things.”

The coach is a stickler for that. He told his players before the season that if they’re not going to pass, they’re not going to play. Hagenlocher has been a Division I women’s volleyball coach for 14 years and is currently an assistant at Fordham. He’s had previous stops as an assistant at Manhattan College and was the head coach at St. Francis College.

“We’re really lucky to have him as a coach,” Taipi said.

Bryant won the PSAL Class A city championship in 2005 and seems to be a dark horse contender again this season, which Hagenlocher didn’t expect. Gaugler is just a 10th grader and the Owls lost plenty from last year’s team that went to the quarterfinals.

But Bryant has beaten traditional powers John F. Kennedy and Brooklyn Tech and split with Midwood at early-season tournaments. Senior Ricky Uroza is a solid libero, senior Aaron Kim leads the division in assists (85) and junior Ki Hoon Choi has a strong service game. The goals have changed.

“At the moment, I think we’re one of the top 10 teams,” Hagenlocher said.

One of the keys for the future is the continued development of Gaugler. His brother, Todd, a senior at Cardozo, is one of the top players in the city. Hagenlocher thinks Troy could be headed in that direction as well.

“If he does all the little things, he could be one of the best volleyball players I’ve had,” the longtime coach said.

Troy certainly has the confidence.

“The goal is to win the championsh­ip,” Troy said. “We can beat most of the teams in the city.”

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