After watching Michael Flores’ 6-foot-3 frame fly through the air, his palms pounding volleyballs toward high-speed collisions, the same question populates the minds of opposing coaches.
“How is he not signed?” they ask West Ranch coach Nate Sparks, whose team is 6-3 entering its Foothill League opener tonight at Golden Valley.
The answer isn’t ability. Flores, a senior, is an NCAA Division 1 talent.
No, the same dedication and conviction that made Flores an All-Santa Clarita Valley first-team selection and a key component of West Ranch’s CIF semifinal team last season has also driven him to commit to serving a two-year Mormon mission after graduation.
A perpetual optimist, Flores isn’t bothered by the fact that his work for the church will leave a college athletic career up in the air. He doesn’t fear the unknown.
Scotland, Poland, Mexico, Brazil.
Flores has friends on mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in each country. His first choice would be Asia, but he won’t learn his destination for another month or so.
“I’m really excited to go anywhere,” he says. “I’m just excited to go.”
It’s a venture Flores has been committed to in his heart since a young age.
Soon, it will become a reality.
Flores’ coach, Sparks, believes that reality has kept schools from offering a scholarship to the outside hitter, who led West Ranch with 414 kills last season, a number all the more impressive when one considers it was only his third year playing the sport.
Flores grew up playing basketball, the sport his mother, Kristine Miller, had played at Kennedy and Alemany highs in the San Fernando Valley.
Around the time Flores started at West Ranch, though, Miller says a youth leader at their church suggested the boys try out for the school’s volleyball program, of which the leader’s son was a part.
Flores thought volleyball might boost his vertical leap.
It did far more.
“That was his new love,” Miller says.
And, athletically speaking, his only love.
Flores quit basketball after his freshman year, focusing solely on volleyball where he made West Ranch’s varsity as a sophomore.
“I wanted to be able to fully commit to volleyball, wanted to get the best I could at it,” he says.
He recorded 94 kills as a sophomore before blossoming last season as a junior. The Signal heavily considered him for its All-SCV Player of the Year award, ultimately picking his teammate Ethan Marshall.
Still, all the hours in the gym had paid off. Flores, an Eagle scout whose greatest athletic traits, according to his coach, are dedication and motivation, had molded himself into an integral part of a team that won a Foothill League championship and advanced to the CIF-Southern Section Division 2 semifinals.
The athletic success, and what that could mean for a collegiate future, however, hasn’t caused Flores’ focus to waver.
Like he has since his freshman year, he attends seminary classes at church every morning before hustling over to West Ranch.
He listens to lessons from the Bible and the Book of Mormon, learning how to “help ourselves, others and our community through our church.”
That, he hopes, is a message he’ll take to the world.
Flores’ family moved from Redondo Beach to the Santa Clarita Valley when he was 13.
Rather than dwelling on the uprooting, Flores looked for bright spots.
His family, after all, was transitioning from a cramped apartment to a spacious house.
He’d be finishing junior high at his private school in the Pacific Palisades before enrolling at West Ranch, meaning he wouldn’t be hurled completely from his friend group.
And the Mormon church his family would be attending had a good reputation and a far larger youth group than his previous congregation.
“I was pretty confident,” he says.
That was his mindset in mid-December this year when his health suddenly destabilized.
Flores was playing casual volleyball with friends when he fell. He felt discomfort, but hardly the kind he expected from a major injury.
Miller took him to urgent care, where tests came back abnormal. Transported to the hospital, MRI’s showed that one of his lungs had collapsed (pneumothorax).
Surgery followed, with doctors inserting a tube into his chest to suction out air and fluids.
“It was scary, as a mom,” Miller says.
Flores says he wasn’t nervous. After all…
“It could have been worse,” he says.
Flores missed a couple important club volleyball tournaments but returned to health in time for high school season, where he’ll again be counted on to lead the Wildcats.
Where will his volleyball career go from there? Who knows.
Flores plans to attend Brigham Young University after his mission. If he picks up volleyball, opposing coaches will want to know where BYU found this guy.