Three local volleyball teams moving on to state

The CIF Southern Section volleyball championships are complete. But three teams have earned the right to advance to the state portion of the competition.

Alta Loma and Summit will compete in Division IV. The Braves (29-8), who lost the Division 4AA title match to Santa Barbara Laguna Blanca, have earned the 4 seed and will be at home on Tuesday against N. 5 Sierra (32-3), the Central Section champion.

Summit (22-4), which lost the Division 4A final to Desert, will be on the road to play at No. 1 Laguna Blanca, to whom Alta Loma just lost.

In Division 5, Upland Christian (24-7) has drawn the top seed and will be at home against Madison (15-8), out of the San Diego Section. Upland Christian defeated Santa Clarita Christian for the Southern Section Division 5AA championship Friday night.

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Alta Loma’s Kylie Szczepanksi decides on a college

Alta Loma High School volleyball standout Kylie Szczepanski (right) has decided on a college.

The 6-foot-1 middle blocker is headed to NAIA Northwest University in Kirkland, Wash., right outside of Seattle.

Szczepanski was a starter on a Braves team that won a CIF Division 4AA title last year and marched all the way to the Division 4 state championship match.

She has been relied upon even more this year as one of just two returning players and has helped the Braves to a 25-7 record, a Mt. Baldy League title and No. 2 ranking in Division 4AA.

Szczepanski has recorded 75 kills and 64 total blocks and recently earned All-Tournament honors at an event the Braves competed in at Crescenta Valley.

She plans to major in biology/pre-med and much of the decision came down to academics.

“The school is very hands on and has great resources in the science department,” she said. “They have a lot of new technology and it will be a great place to learn.”

Of course Szczepanski also liked the volleyball end of her official visit in September. She also made an unofficial trip to the school with her family.

“I really liked the coach and it was a great group of girls. They were very welcoming,” she said.

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Alta Loma grad Aeryn Owens earns college honor


Alta Loma High School graduate Aeryn Owens of Cal State Northridge has been named Big West Women’s Volleyball Freshman Player of the Week.

The 6-0 outside hitter averaged 4.14 kills per set as CSUN’s second-biggest offensive threat, helping the Matadors defeat UC Irvine and UC Davis on the opening weekend of Big West play.

Owens had 13 kills on a season-high .435 hitting against UCI, adding three digs and one block in the victory.  She equaled her season high with 16 kills on 44 swings (.250) in the win over the Aggies.

For the week, Owens hit .313 (29-8-67).

Owens helped Alta Loma to a CIF Division 4AA title as well as a berth in the Division 4 state championship game last year as a senior. It was the Braves best season ever.

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Alta Loma volleyball team looks to defend title with new cast

The Alta Loma High School volleyball team had that magical run last year that a coach usually only dreams of.

The Braves went 33-3, cruised to the Mt. Baldy League title, won a Southern Section CIF title in Division 4AA and finished as the STATE runner-up. It was the deepest run by any Chaffey Joint Unified School District team in history . . . in any sport.

But the Braves graduated eight of the 10 players so they will be hard-pressed to repeat that run. Does the new squad feel the pressure to defend that feat? Not really.

“The only pressure they feel is what they put on themselves to be good,” says coach Cindy Gurney, who is taking the reigns as the lone coach after sharing billing with Tishana Pope who resigned. “They realized that was a once in a lifetime team and run that probably won’t happen again.”

The two holdovers from that team are outside hitter Gabrielle Oddo and middle blocker Kylie Szczepanksi, both seniors.

The hardest person to replace is always the setter. The Braves will run a 6-2 with freshman Cassidy Gallahan and sophomore Cecelia White sharing the duties.

Among the other newcomers Gurney is hoping will pick up the slack offensively is junior Jada Sharpe, a standout on the junior varsity last season.

“Our goal is win the league and play well in the preseason and that will hopefully set us up with a good seed and draw for the playoffs,” Gurney said. “We have some younger players who have a lot of potential.”

Gurney says not much has changed from a coaching standpoint. Not only did she coach with Pope, but Caitlyn Hall, who was on the staff last year as well, has returned.

Most of the players from that team went on and will be playing in college. An update on where they are all at. Most are relatively close to home:

Aeryn Owens, Cal State Northridge
Amy Armstrong, Cal State San Bernardino
Breanna Golsch, Cal State Dominguez Hills
Kristen Sanchez, University of La Verne
Taylor Kettle, Troy (Ala.)

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A round of applause for coaches who led their teams to great things

Yesterday’s Top 10 featured the top team performances of the past school year. Now it’s time to highlight the coaches, who don’t get nearly enough credit most of the time.

Naturally many on this list are ones from team’s we spotlighted yesterday. And yes it’s hard to narrow it down to just 10. I also wanted to include some that weren’t obvious choices, so here goes . . .

10. Ben Davies, Alta Loma girls soccer (24-5)
The Braves looked to be a true threat to win a Division 5 CIF title all season. Then star player Leah Pruitt went down with what looked like a season-ending knee injury vs. Montclair on Jan. 28. There was a brief hiccup the next game as the Braves lost to Colony. But they regrouped nicely, even without Pruitt to win the league title. Pruitt amazingly returned vat the end of the season and Alta Loma managed to get to the quarterfinal before losing to Palm Desert 3-0.

9. Jackie Robinson, Los Osos track
The Grizzles took five athletes to the state competition and four of those placed in a total of five events. There were two athletes in the throwing events but the other athletes were all in different events. Versatility indeed.

8. Luis Garcia, Don Lugo football (6-5)
This one might surprise people but the Conquistadores weren’t on anyone’s radar. They haven’t been good – 3-7 in 2013 and I picked them last this year. Well they went 6-4 under a first-year coach and were third in the Mt. Baldy. Only a 9-7 loss to Chaffey kept them out of second. The Conquistadores turned in an admirable performance in the playoffs, losing to perennial title contender Monrovioa 26-20 in overtime. They also took the Milk Can from local rival Chino which had dominated them as of late.

7. Christine Howard, Colony girls basketball (22-9)
The Titans went all the way to the Division 2A CIF title game before falling to South Torrance 57-56. They were the co-champion in the Mt. Baldy League with Alta Loma, splitting regular season games with the Braves. Colony also got that far with a balanced offense, not relying heavily on any one player.

6. Tishanna Pope, Alta Loma volleyball (36-3)

The Braves had no competition in the Mt. Baldy League so the toughest task for Pope was trying to find a way to keep her team sharp and focused when they didn’t have an equal. Teams that lack competition in the regular season frequently crash and burn in the playoffs – not the Braves who won a CIF title and finished as state runner-up.

5. Jason Schmelzeisen, Chaffey boys  soccer (22-2-5)
The Tigers had a tough task at hand just in Mt. Baldy League play and they finished first, not securing that outright title until a 4-3 overtime win against Ontario the final game of the regular season. That win also came despite playing a man down. Chaffey got to the Division 3 title game before falling to Cathedral 2-0.

4. Randy Bohlmann, Damien volleyball (26-7)
The Spartans won the Division 5 CIF title this season, getting past the quarterfinal for the first time in school history. Bohlmann started the program five years ago so he was the one laying the foundation. Now he is reaping the benefits. The Spartans also did a masterful job of shutting down a marquee player in the CIF title match.

3. Dave Kleckner, Etiwanda boys basketball (24-9)

OK, he’s one that could be on the list every year. And maybe the Eagles didn’t win the Baseline League for the first time in more than a decade. But it was how his team bounced back after that. His team beat both Chino Hills and Damien the second time through league play. It made a run to a CIF final that included a win AT Mater Dei and one over Sierra Canton to whom it lost earlier in the season. The Eagles stayed in the elite Open Division in basketball, losing a SoCal regional semifinal to LA Fairfax.

2. Keith Richardson, Pomona football (11-4)
Richardson had to right the ship and keep his team focused amid numerous distractions, the most notable being the dismissal of the head coach right before the playoffs. Richardson, then the defensive coordinator, took over and did just that. He was officially rewarded with the head coaching position.

1. Matt Dunn, Damien boys basketball (29-5)

The Spartans move from one league into the Baseline, probably the most competitive in all the Southern Section. And they win nine of 10 league games, finishing ahead of Etiwanda and Chino Hills. They lost a second round Open Division CIF game to Orange Lutheran but capitalized on the second chance and won a state title in Division 3 in that portion of the playoffs. A lot of coaches have trouble getting a team up for the state playoffs after a CIF run. No problem here. Some said the Spartans would have been better off in Division 3, a probable easy winner, and not in the Open. Dunn said, “Bring it On.”

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Alta Loma’s Taylor Kettle will play college volleyball after all

Alta Loma senior Taylor Kettle thought her volleyball career was over. She had some good academic schools from which to choose, UC Santa Barbara and Pepperdine among them. And she had planned on going to Santa Barbara.

But the only schools interested in her for volleyball were some smaller ones and she preferred to go with the premier academic school if she had to choose.

“I’m not going to be an Olympic volleyball player so it was really all about my future,” says Kettle, who plans to major in physical therapy. “I wanted to play volleyball but it didn’t look like it was going to happen.”

Then at the last minute Troy (Ala.) came into the mix. It had another setter bail so the Trojans suddenly had some scholarship money available and was in need of a setter.

A coach had seen Kettle play in a club tournament in Las Vegas with Rancho Valley. So she was on their radar even though she may not have known it. She went for a visit last week and the rest is history.

“It was completely unexpected and out of the blue,” she said. “When I went there I absolutely loved everything. You never know how things are going to work out but I’m very happy to be able to continue to play.”

Kettle helped the Braves to the best season in school history. She had 774 assists, 115 digs, 57 total blocks and 34 service aces as the Braves won a Southern Section (Division 4AA) title and advanced to the Division 4 state championship match before falling to North representative Sonora.

Kettle is the fifth player from this year’s team to continue her playing career in college. The others are Aeryn Owens (Cal State Northridge), Amy Armstrong (Cal State San Bernardino), Kristen Sanchez (University of La Verne) and Breanna Golsch (Cal State Dominguez Hills).

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Cindy Gurney formally named head of Alta Loma program

The Alta Loma volleyball program has a familiar figure in sole charge as Cindy Gurney has been appointed the Braves head coach.

Gurney had helped Tishanna Pope with coaching duties the last several years but Pope has stepped aside to spend time with her husband and infant daughter.

Gurney headed the program from 1982 to 2006. She came back in 2009 to assist Pope and took the time off in between to support her daughter who was then playing at Cal Poly Pomona.

Gurney taking over was a no-brainer, although the school had to go the regular route of flying the position to any other in-house candidates.

The Braves graduated eight players from a team that won league and CIF Southern Section titles and finished as state runner-up.
Gurney expects her returning players to be able to defend the league title since its underclassmen teams both won league titles.

“After that I don’t know far we’ll go,” she said. “It depends on your draw and whether you have injuries and you have to see home much your young players improve.”

Gurney added that Caitlin Hall, another assistant on the staff will remain and help her. Two other coaches who handled the underclassmen teams have left.

Gurney, who was Pope’s coach when she played at Alta Loma, also teaches math at the school.”

“We had to go through the proper channels but she was obviously the person for the job,” athletic director Brett Proctor said. “No one knows more about this program or cares more than she does.”

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Alta Loma volleyball standouts make it official

The Alta Loma volleyball team had quite the season. The Braves won a Mt. Baldy League title, cruised to a Southern Section title (Division 4AA) and went all the way to the state championship match.

Three of the key figures from that team signed their letters of intent today, making their college decision official.

Two will be staying close to home and one will be in commuter distance. Middle blocker Amy Armstrong will play at Cal State San Bernardino, a prominent player on the national scene at the Division II level.

Libero Kristen Sanchez will play at University of La Verne, which has national Elite Eight  appearances at the Division III level.

Outside hitter Breanna Golsch will move on to Cal State Dominguez Hills, which plays in the same conference as Cal State San Bernardino and another local, Cal Poly Pomona.

A fourth player, Aeryn Owens, signed in February with Cal State Northridge.

Good luck in the next step of your career girls.

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Alta Loma’s Kirsten Sanchez commits to La Verne

Alta Loma High School volleyball standout Kristen Sanchez (center) wanted to choose a college relatively close to home. She did just that. committing to University of La Verne today.

Sanchez was team captain and starting libero for a Braves team that won Mt. Baldy League, Southern Section (Division 4AA)  and Southern California Regional (Division 4) titles. The Braves (36-3) also finished at state runner-up, losing the title match to Sonora 3-2.

She tallied a team-high 459 digs and was a first-team All-Inland Valley selection.

Sanchez also considered Vanguard and Concordia-Irvine as well as Grand Canyon University (Ariz).

“It felt like a good fit,” she said. “It was close to home and I really liked the team.”

Sanchez has a twin brother T.J. who will also be attending the school. The two went to a campus orientation together. They wanted to got to schools close together but it worked out they liked the same one.

The two are close. T.J. is known to the school’s volleyball enthusiasts as the guy who dressed up as the banana and led the cheering section at the team’s matches.

The University of La Verne volleyball team, coached by Jenna Panatier, went 20-7 last season. The Leopards advanced to the postseason but lost a first round NCAA Division III match to Trinity (Tex.) 3-0 at Cal Lutheran University.

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Alta Loma’s Amy Armstrong chooses a local college

Amy Armstrong

Amy Armstrong of Alta Loma wanted to stay close to home for college and she was lucky to find a premier program in commuter distance.

The 6-foot-1 middle blocker has committed to Cal State San Bernardino a dominant competitor  in the California Collegiate Athletic Conference and a figure on the national scene under veteran coach Kim Cherniss.

It is a perfect fit.

Cherniss and assistant Danny Scott have done an outstanding job of developing players at the middle blocker position and have churned out several All-Americans there. They had two there last year in Tori May and Brenna McIntosh. May has graduated while McIntosh will be a senior.

Cherniss has also been good at maintaining a local presence on her roster. Yes she’ll go out and get that top recruit from elsewhere but there are always local players on her roster as well.

Armstrong was a key player for a Braves team that is coming off its best season in school history. Alta Loma (36-3) easily won the Mt. Baldy League and cruised to a Southern Section title. They went on to the state playoffs and marched all the way to the state title game before being dealt a 3-2 loss.

Armstrong, a first-team Mt. Baldy League selection, registered 171 kills and a team-high 109 blocks.

She was also considering Cal State East Bay and New Mexico-Highlands, both Division II schools.



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