Volleyball: Mayfield girls ready for an encore

Above: Susan Carlson (No. 23) will be a central figure on a Mayfield High School volleyball team that is ranked No. 1 by the Star-News heading into the 2008 season.

No. 1 Mayfield sets sight on another CIF Divisional title

By Keith Lair
Staff Writer

It almost does not pay to be successful. Look at the West San Gabriel Valley area volleyball teams.

Mayfield High School won a CIF-Southern Section Division IV-AA championship. Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy was runner-up in Division I-A. Pasadena won Division II-A two years ago.

But it’s more than winning titles. Three of the four Prep League teams reached the division semifinals, including Westridge. Flintridge Sacred Heart played Mission League foe Harvard-Westlake for the title. In the Pacific League, champion Burroughs reached the quarterfinals.

As a result, all have moved up one division. The Prep League has moved into Division III-A; the Mission League into I-AA, the top division in the CIF-SS, and the Pacific League has been bumped up to II-AA.

That sends the Prep League into a division with the likes of the tougher Almont and Ocean leagues, Flintridge Sacred Heart into the lions of the beach schools, including CIF state power Mira Costa, Redondo, Newport Harbor, Long Beach Wilson and Los Alamitos, and the Pacific League against Corona del Mar, North and South Torrance and Bishop Montgomery and Inland Valley powers Redlands East Valley and Riverside Poly.

“We’ll probably have a pretty good record at the end of the year and go to CIF,” Flintridge Sacred Heart coach Shelli Orlandini said. “But for us to make the finals would be a miracle, I think. Even the semifinals is asking for a lot. I just don’t understand it.”

A look at the area’s top 10 teams:

1. Mayfield

Coach Ernest Banaag calls the 2008 season “interesting.”

That it will be. The Prep League appears to be as tough as ever, the Cubs have a new title to win and everything is in place.

“My five seniors, my core group that I started with; it will be interesting to see how they do this year,” Banaag said. “But it’s interesting because we have our younger players and we really don’t want a drop-off. It’s a question of how much I push the seniors and how much do I push the younger players? We need to try to balance it.”

Those seniors include 5-foot-11 senior outside hitter Susan Carlson, the CIF-SS Division IV-AA MVP and Star-News first-team selection last year. She led the 23-3 Cubs in kills and digs. There’s also setter Megan Sweeney, Julie Ashman, Michelle Gibson and Hayley Hoffman.

Also making impacts have been junior outside hitter Rachel Aragon, who was No. 2 in everything to Carlson last season, junior outside hitter and defender Madyson Spencer and junior libero Danielle Dondanville, who was tops on the team in service returns in 2007.

Pushing the starters will be sophomores like 6-2 middle blocker Hannah Schraer, whom Banaag also expects to run sets through.

“We’ve talked to the girls about winning CIF last year and the challenges for us,” Banaag said. “Everyone is out to beat you and you’re out to prove you’re a championship team. There is a lot of expectations on both sides of the fence. We want to do well and people expect us to do well.”

A move up in division and the CIF-SS pundits still have the Cubs No. 1 in the preseason rankings.

2. Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy

It’s just a matter of re-tooling. The Tologs lost Star-News Player of the Year Sam Orlandini and outside hitter Katie Condon to graduation.

But coach Shelli Orlandini is moving her other daughter, senior Jenna, who also was a Star-News first-team member, from libero to setter and sending middle blocker Camille Coffey, who was a freshman Star-News second-team member last year, to outside hitter. Junior Marissa Provenzano returns at right side, junior Mary Schroeder will start at middle blocker and Connor McCracken is back in defense.

“I think we can play competitively again,” Shelli Orlandini said. “We have everyone back from up the middle. At the end of the year, we’re going to be pretty good.”

But the five returning seniors, four of whom saw playing time last season, will be pushed. Sophomores Alysia Walton, an outside hitter, and Chloe Tara, who plays defense, are expected to make impacts.

The Tologs again play a tough schedule, with La Ca ada on tap Friday and a pair of league games against Harvard-Westlake. That schedule still rankles Orlandini after her Tologs were passed over for a CIF State playoff spot last year.

3. La Canada

There are high expectations for the Spartans, with five starters returning from a team that reached the CIF-SS Division II-A quarterfinals last year. Eleven members of the varsity are back.

Among the key returnees are Star-News first-teamer Courtney McCutchan, a junior outside hitter; 6-foot senior middle blocker Cami Martin; junior setter Hayley Woodford; senior right side and outside hitter Connie Suh; senior Eirene Kim; 6-1 junior middle blocker Julie Burrows; and junior libero Tara Rallis.

But coach Brock Turner said the returnees should not expect to be complacent.

“It doesn’t matter if they are seniors,” he said. “I’ll play the one who is playing better. We want the girls to be pushed.”

Freshman defender Catherine Horner and junior outside hitter Mary Jo Scott are doing some of that pushing, Turner said.

The Spartans open the season ranked No. 1 in the division.

4. Westridge

The Tigers lost two top players, Emily Hudson and Taylor Daugherty, to graduation but coach Mark Hearn still expects big things this season.

“We have been adjusting and moving players around, but things are going well,” Hearn said. “We’re just trying to take it one thing at a time and our expectations are that we will be playing at a high level.”

Senior outside hitter Katrina Post, 6-foot senior middle blocker Carolyn McLaughlin, junior middle blocker Eli Diop, senior outside hitter Emily Brandt, senior opposite Jessica Tarver, senior libero Kristina Striegel and junior setter Hope Bogle all return.

Sophomore Monique Francois, a middle blocker and right-side player, should also make an impact.

“This year, we really have to step it up,” Hearn said.

5. San Gabriel

Nine seniors return for the 2007 Almont League champion.

“We’ll probably do better than last year,” said Matadors coach Larry Kanow, the dean of area coaches who has led San Gabriel for 28 years.

Doing better is high praise, especially for a team that went 10-0 in league, 18-8 overall and lost to eventual CIF-SS III-A champion and top seed Village Christian in the quarterfinals. The Matadors lost their best player, Morgan Ma, to graduation.

“The others will have to step up,” Kanow said. “You can see a difference in their confidence. I’m proud of their progress.”

Three-year varsity player and setter Sylvie Lekhac; middle blockers Amy Wu, who was all-league last year, and Katherine Dang; outside hitters Lien Trinh and Sophia Li; and defensive specialist Stephanie Leung all return.

The question mark, Kanow said, is defense.

“We have only one returning starter on defense, so as far as our defense goes, so we will go,” he said.

Kanow is counting on sophomore Michelle Tran and sisters Stephanie and Olivia Liang to fill in this season. Stephanie is a junior middle blocker and Olivia a sophomore defender.

6. Arcadia

Not being the king of the Pacific League is enough for coach Chuck Freberg, who enters his 25th season with the program.

“We haven’t won league two years in a row, and I’m tired of that,” Freberg said.

After Pasadena won league and CIF-SS titles two years ago, Burroughs swept the Apaches last season for its first league title in more than two decades. It was Arcadia’s lone two league losses en route to a 15-5 overall record and second-round elimination from the CIF-SS playoffs.

Freberg said he’s charting new territory.

“We’re changing our philosophy a little bit,” he said. “We want to cut down on the errors we make. We want to make unforced errors not happen. To do that, we had to change philosophies. We are changing what we are out to do. We’re speeding up the game. That’s not offensively. Its defensive and in transition. We want to keep the pressure on the other team.”

The Apaches have seven returning seniors, led by outside hitter Ann Marie Tangorra. There also is co-captain and right side Stephanie Legace, middle blocker Carin Benton, setter Monica Shei, defensive specialist Sarah Molina and co-captain defender Courtney Lee, whom Freberg calls “a driving force example.”

Three sophomores – outside hitter Taylor DeGraff, middle hitter Ashleigh DeBarg and right side Jenn Estrada – and junior defender Madyson Cassidy also are key components.

“I think we can aim that high,” Freberg said. “We have young players that are pushing the older players. The younger players are playing hard.”

7. Gabrielino

The Eagles lost outside hitter Annie Kim to Cal State L.A. So they are in trouble, correct?

Not quite. Four first-team All-Mission Valley League players return to a team that went undefeated in league last year, 25-6 overall and reached the CIF-SS Division III-A quarterfinals.

Sophomore setter Ashley Van Oosten, junior outside hitter Melissa-Rose Villasenor, junior middle blocker Sylvia Quach and senior libero Juliana Pacheco all earned first-team honors in 2007. The Eagles also have added sophomore outside hitter Amanda Watkins and junior outside hitter Alexx O’Neal.

Pacheco was No. 2 on the team last year in aces, blocks and digs and was No. 1 in service returns. Villasenor was No. 2 in kills and service returns.

“We look good,” coach Cuong Chau said. “This year, with the reorganization of our division, I think we have a good shot.”

8. Monrovia

The Wildcats have a new coach and four veteran players back from a team that went 5-5 in the Rio Hondo League and 13-8 overall. Despite the fourth-place finish, Monrovia still earned a CIF-SS playoff berth but lost in the first round to eventual division champion Redlands East Valley.

Sophomore Tirah Le’au, a second-team Star-News player last year, again will be the offense’s focal point. But new coach Wayne Teng hopes that is not the case.

“Tirah is quite a player,” Teng said. “We’ll go as far as she goes. If we do well, she should be the MVP in CIF.”

Junior setter Rachael McWhirter, junior middle blocker Brittany Piffinburger and junior right-side hitter Brooke Cowell also are back. Piffenburger will play different positions this year.

Teng thinks she has another special freshman in front-line player Noralia Toomalatia.

“She’s definitely the next Tirah,” Teng said. “She’s hitting very well.”

9. Rio Hondo Prep

Last season’s offense revolved around Tiffany Horton, who had 348 kills – more than triple any other member of the Kares. She also led the team in digs and service returns and was a Star-News second-team selection.

She’s back for her senior season, and new coach Kristy Parker doesn’t necessarily want the offense to revolve completely around Horton again.

“We have a lot of seniors, so I think we can play at a higher level,” Parker said. “I think we’ve gotten better and we can play tough.

“However, it will be a challenge to make the playoffs.”

Having Mayfield, Westridge and Chadwick, all ranked and in the Kares’ league will make it difficult. But Rio Hondo advanced to the playoffs last year despite finishing fourth.

Parker replaces her sister, Kim, who is serving as the soph-frosh team coach this season. The roles were reversed last year.

One of the Kares’ biggest switches is moving senior Cyndi Smith from libero to setter.

“I think she will be good,” Parker said.

Also returning with Horton is senior middle blocker Maycee Murphy, senior Meaghan Sands, who is going from defender to libero, and sophomore outside hitter Chelsea Parker, Kim Parker’s daughter.

10. Maranatha

Teanna Robinson returns for her senior season.

The 5-foot-7 outside hitter led the Minutemen in kills and digs last season and was a Star-News first-team selection. But Maranatha lost its other top performer, Taylor McLeod, who opted not to play this season. She led the Minutemen in assists last year.

“We have Teanna and I think we can fill in the gaps,” coach Ralph Rivas said. “We’ll definitely be better in the passing department.

“Teanna will be a key component, but we hope to work other players into the rotation.”

Senior setter Sophie Lilienthal missed all of last year because of an injury, but she is healthy and will be a major contributor, Rivas said.

The Minutemen return four players and have several new players stepping into roles.

“The JV team had a phenomenal year last season and they’ve really stepped up,” Rivas said. “For what we lack in height, we’ll make up with passing. We have the potential to be very good.”

Junior setter Sienna Weiler, sophomore middle blocker and outside hitters Hope McMorrow and Jackie Strople are expected to make the big step to varsity. Because of Weiler, Rivas said the Minutemen can run a 6-2 offense.

(626) 962-8811, Ext. 2272

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