Salpointe Catholic's Jimmy Gehrels has size, skill and a passion for the game of volleyball.

All the 6-foot-5-inch senior outside hitter is missing is a state title.

Headed to Pepperdine next fall, the four-year starter and three-time Lancer captain is arguably the best player head coach Amy Johnson has seen in her 13 years at the helm.

"He's a program changer," Johnson said. "He's a leader on and off the court. He's that kid that every coach wants to coach."

The Star recently sat down with Gehrels to find out more about him. Here are four things to know:

1. He was born to play volleyball. Gehrels isn't a convert, recreational part-timer or late bloomer when it comes to the sport.

Volleyball became important to Gehrels by age 7.

"I got involved with volleyball earlier than most players," Gehrels said. "Playing at such a young age, I have a lot of the basic skills down that a lot of players now don't learn."

With 10 years of experience Gehrels is a point-scoring machine, no matter how many blockers that opposing defenses send his way.

2. He makes progress every day. Johnson has been nurturing his attitude for the last four years, since seeing Gehrels hang out with the seniors as a freshman.

"It's fun to see every year he's a little more confident and takes a little more leadership responsibility," Johnson said.

Preparing for Division I college volleyball and hoping for his best season, Gehrels has been working out with a trainer for just over a year.

"It has made a huge difference," Gehrels said. "I've always known how to play volleyball, but I never knew how to be an athlete."

3. He's ready to go out on top. After getting a taste of the state finals in 2011, Gehrels is looking to avenge last year's first-round exit and lead his team to a state title before he moves on.

The Lancers skipped last weekend's TUSD Invitational in favor of playing in Chandler High's Wolf Howl Invitational. Salpointe finished fifth out of 32 teams.

"This year our starters are a lot more talented than in years past," Gehrels said.

4. Pepperdine was an easy pick. Gehrels drew interest from Penn State, UC-Irvine and Grand Canyon University, among others, but he always wanted to go to Pepperdine in Malibu, Calif.

Its current top-five ranking, five national titles and coach Marv Dunphy and his Olympic ties helped make the decision an easy one for Gehrels.

"You can't really beat the location, and they're good," he said. "They were one of the first schools to recruit me.

"It's been my dream school since I went to summer camp there in eighth grade."

Watch List

• Evan Boyack, Sr., Marana

• Matt Klewer, Sr., Catalina Foothills

• Jimmy Gehrels, Sr., Salpointe Catholic

• Joseph Pesquira, Jr., Flowing Wells

• Connor McCoy, Sr., Ironwood Ridge

• Cole Kowalski, So., Catalina

• Diovanni Johnson, Sr., Cienega

• Ryan Callaghan, Jr., Salpointe Catholic

• Ruben Bautista, Sr., Rincon/University

• Lucas Smith, Sr., Sahuaro

Note: Athletes chosen by Star staff in consultation with area coaches.