Former Pali High Volleyball Standout Akhil Tangutur Is Making an Impact at UC Irvine
By STEVE GALLUZZO | Sports Editor
For four seasons at Palisades High, Akhil Tangutur was the go-to guy on the volleyball court. His fluid motion and vertical leap made his ability to pound the ball down for kills, often from seemingly impossible angles, look almost effortless. He was part of four undefeated Western League championship teams and three City title-winning teams and he earned City Player of the Year honors as a junior, leading the Dolphins to the section’s inaugural Open Division title. As a senior in 2019 he helped Palisades rack up a school-record 42 victories on its way to the CIF Southern California Regional Division I semifinals. He was a member of the AVCA All-America Watch List and a Volleyballmag.com Fab 50 honoree while playing for Pac6 Volleyball Club. He competed with the USA Youth National Team in the summer of 2018 and was on the training team for the FIVB World Championships in 2019. His first season at UC Irvine was cut short due to the coronavirus outbreak, but he averaged 12.0 kills and 5.33 digs over his last three matches and he made the Big West Conference All-Freshman Team. When the season was canceled UC Irvine was 10-7, including four-set victories over Stanford at Bren Events Center on Jan. 17 and at USC on Feb. 1. The Anteaters also went 2-1 at the Outrigger Tournament in Hawaii. A 6-foot-2 outside hitter, Tangutur played in 16 of the team’s 17 matches, accumulating 38 kills, 24 digs, four blocks, three assists and three aces in 57 total sets. He was named Big West Freshman of the Week twice (March 2 and March 9). He is hard at work preparing for what he hopes will be a breakthrough sophomore season with the Anteaters and he took time out last week for an interview with the Palisadian-Post:
PP: What have you been up to since the season ended abruptly?
AT: I’ve been doing well during quarantine so far, spending good time with the family and at home.
PP: What do you miss most about Palisades? Do you keep in touch with any of your Dolphins teammates?
AT: Probably the biggest thing is playing with most of those guys year-round and the chemistry that we were able to build up over the four years. That’s definitely something that you’ll remember for life. It was awesome to see us emerge from a group of talented volleyball players into a family that became close on and off the court. I definitely keep in touch with all of my former teammates, some of whom are still playing and doing really well, which is super exciting for me to see.
PP: What did it mean to you making the Conference All-Freshman team?
AT: That meant a lot to me, especially it being my “true freshman” year. Playing with players like Scott Stadick and Joel Schneidmiller day in and day out and the rest of my teammates made me better in so many different ways and I felt like I was always improving throughout the season. At this level where everyone’s so good, it’s really important to still focus on the small things and I think I really dedicated time to putting in extra work in the gym and spending those hours on little details that in the long term will help my game a lot.
PP: How disappointing was it having the season cut short because of COVID? How do you think your team would’ve fared in the Big West?
AT: I was pretty disappointed that our season got shortened because of COVID— mostly because our seniors would’ve played their last game without a formal senior-night or any notice. The season also got cut short right when we were playing really well as a team and just got on a nice little win streak, but we’ll carry that same momentum into next year and how we train over summer and into fall. I definitely think our team would’ve done very well in the Big West purely because of how we match up against the other teams in our conference. I believe our team knows how to block the ball and play out of system as one of the best teams in the entire country and we were able to demonstrate that ability in multiple matches.
PP: What was your freshman experience like? Did you live in the dorms with teammates or off campus? Was it harder or easier than you expected?
AT: I roomed with a freshman teammate, Garo Barsemian (who played at Crescenta Valley High in La Crescenta). At first, we weren’t very close, but within a couple of weeks, we became best friends. It was super nice since we lived in a double on campus. Our other freshman ended up rooming with non-athletes which is a great experience, but I’m so glad Garo and I roomed with each other and became brothers. It was definitely much smoother than I expected and I enjoyed every single part of it.
PP: Where do you fall on the depth chart heading into next season? Do you expect to be starting?
AT: I’m not really sure where I am on the depth chart or whether or not I’m starting, but I want to do whatever I can to help my team and put us in the best position to win the national championship. That’s always been my mindset whenever topics like playing time come up.
PP: What was your most memorable match at Palisades and why?
AT: My most memorable match for Pali was definitely when we played South Torrance my junior year in the CIF Division I regional quarterfinals because the atmosphere was unreal in our gym and that was one of my last games with the Stuart brothers (Jeff and Scott). South was a strong team but we won it in four. The love on that team was crazy. We had such good team chemistry and we played super well together.
PP: What match at UC Irvine stands out?
AT: My most memorable match was definitely against Grand Canyon in their small gym because it was super packed and very loud. We were able to pull off a reverse sweep (winning the last three sets) and I had a pretty well-rounded game. There’s nothing better than completing a reverse sweep with your teammates that you spend day in and day out grinding with. Also having 16 kills, which was my season high, was definitely pretty cool!
PP: What is UC Irvine head coach David Kniffin like compared to your Palisades coach, Carlos Gray?
AT: Coach Kniffin and Coach Gray definitely have two different coaching styles but I love both of their styles and I’m getting better on and off the court which is the most important thing. I really enjoy Coach Kniff’s coaching style and it’s been super important for me because I’ve grown so much this year as a player and a person. I’m very thankful for him and the way he runs the program.
PP: Is Division I college volleyball as hard as you expected? What is a typical day like during the season?
AT: It’s definitely the way I expected it. A typical day usually looks like waking up around 9 a.m., going to classes and having my school day, then having lifting and volleyball one after the other at night, so basically from 5 p.m. onwards we’re occupied and grinding in the gym, so we dedicate a lot of time to volleyball and practicing, whether it be as a team or personally getting solo reps.
PP: What do you do to stay in shape and keep your conditioning despite the restrictions?
AT: So far this summer I’ve been doing workouts at home just because the gyms near me have been closed and I don’t want to take any risks. We have a workout regimen that I’m sticking to which is real nice. I think the main thing to be consistently in shape is to keep being rhythmic with what you’re doing and to divvy up time to your workouts rather than just big chunks.
PP: So what is your vertical leap now?
AT: I don’t recall doing a measurement here but the last I remember it was somewhere in the mid-30s (inches) I’m pretty sure!
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