Mitch Stahl
Mitch Stahl
The big guy is taking his big hitting out west.

Chambersburg senior Mitch Stahl, the 6-foot-8 middle and outside hitter who led the Trojans to a PIAA Class AAA state boys volleyball title last spring, is taking his talents to UCLA.

He and his parents had a long talk Monday night, he gave the Bruins' new coach John Speraw his verbal commitment on Tuesday evening, then took time Wednesday and Thursday to call all the coaches he was disappointing by saying no. By later Thursday, he was ready to let his friends and family know.

"It's been crazy," Stahl said. "I've been on the phone a lot. But it took me at least 15 minutes of thinking before I called each of those coaches to let them know I wasn't coming. I had developed good relationships with them and it wasn't easy."

Neither was his decision.

It came down to UCLA and Pepperdine in California, Loyola of Chicago and Penn State. Ohio State had also been in the mix until the summer.

"It was my dream to play in California and I got the chance to do it, so I took it," Stahl said. "It's been a long process, a little over a year. It was never negative - there was no backstabbing going on between the schools - but it has been weighing on me at times. Now I can focus on my club season, playing basketball and my senior year."

Stahl began to get serious interest from colleges in his sophomore year, which was just the second year he had played volleyball. By last year most of the top schools were on his trail and taking the Trojans to a state title just intensified things.

Chambersburg coach Kirk Crouse said, "I'd say he was legitimately one of the top five or six recruits in the country, and maybe one of the top two or three according to what I heard from most coaches."

Stahl's height, combined with his athleticism and hitting ability and a ton of upside, made him highly desirable.

What gave UCLA the edge? The coach was a big factor.

The Bruins had been coached for 50 years by Al Scates, who was a men's volleyball pioneer.

BIG SERVE: Chambersburg Trojan volleyball hitter Mitch Stahl, pictured here serving against Central Dauphin in April, has decided to play for UCLA next
BIG SERVE: Chambersburg Trojan volleyball hitter Mitch Stahl, pictured here serving against Central Dauphin in April, has decided to play for UCLA next year. (Public Opinion file photo/Ryan Blackwell)
He collected 19 NCAA titles at the school and his overall record was 1,239-290, for a winning percentage of .812.

When Scates retired after last season, his replacement was Speraw, a former player for Scates who had been coaching for the last 10 years at UC-Irvine. With the Anteaters, Speraw had won three national crowns, including last spring. He's the only person in volleyball to have won NCAA titles as a player, assistant coach and head coach.

The fact that Speraw has been an assistant for the last two U.S. Men's Olympic teams also entered into the decision.

Stahl said, "The coach is a genius. He's one of the top coaches in the country and he and I really connected during the recruiting process.

"He is known for playing one of the fastest offenses in the country, and when you get past college to the international level, it gets even quicker. I have hopes of someday playing on the Olympic team, and playing for him in college will get me more prepared and ready for that level and speed of play."

Crouse said, "(Speraw) is one of the hottest coaches; he's really got it going on. He was getting it done at a school like Irvine and I told Mitch if he gets the job at UCLA he's going to win lots of championships. I think something like seven of the top eight to 10 recruits in the country are going to UCLA. Now if somebody is on the fence and sees that Mitch is going there, he might decide to go there, too. I expect Mitch to be surrounded with all-stars."

Stahl said, "Coach said he wants to recruit the best kids in the country so he has a core of future U.S. Olympians all playing together."

The second reason Stahl selected the Bruins is the academic side. He plans to major in computer science.

"All the big computer companies are in California and they come to UCLA to recruit," Stahl said. "I have aspirations of playing for the national team and in the Olympics, but I need to have something to fall back on if that doesn't work out."

There was clearly relief in Stahl's voice Thursday night that his decision is behind him.

"It's been interesting," he said. "But there were days I'd come home and need to do schoolwork or something and I'd have to return a bunch of calls or send messages first. Now, I can focus on other things.

"I'm really looking forward to playing basketball. And when we get to the volleyball season, I know there will be some pressure on us as defending champions. We relied on a lot of talent last year. This year we need to play as a team and be scrappy."

Crouse said, "The whole recruiting process was so time- consuming for him. Now he can just enjoy his senior year. The only bad thing is he's going so far away that his family will be racking up some frequent flyer miles."

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Ed Gotwals can be reached at 262-4755 and egotwals@publicopinionnews.com.