Above: La Caada’s Katie Pierce celebrates a win over FSHA in 2010.
STAR-NEWS PRESEASON TOP 10
Compiled by Keith Lair
1. La Caada
2. Pasadena Poly
4. Flintridge Sacred Heart
7. San Gabriel
8. La Salle
9. South Pasadena
10. San Gabriel Academy
By Keith Lair, Staff Writer
Volleyball is no longer a sport for just beach high schools. The past several years of CIF- Southern Section playoff action have proven that.
La Caada always seems to find a spot in at least the Division 2AA quarterfinals every year, Pasadena Poly reached the Division 3AA final last year, and San Gabriel Academy became the first West Valley team to advance to the CIF-State playoffs.
Local teams are loaded again this year, and expect to make long hauls into the playoffs.
No. 1: La Caada
There’s no question the Spartans have the firepower up front. Junior outside hitters Micaela Anderson and Kendall Wallbrecht and senior Laura Schroeder return, as do senior middle blocker Claire Hilsen and junior Katie Pierce, as well as setter Kirstie Shurie.
“They are just all stepping up,” coach Brock Turner said. “The juniors have begun to take charge on the court and they are taking charge off the court, too.”
The lone issue is libero. La Caada lost Eirene Kim to graduation, but Turner said Catherine Horner, who was a defensive specialist last year and is in her fourth year on the team, has done just fine. Megan Swartzlander started on the back row last year. Madison Teodo, Ana Dewar and freshman Loren Shin will also step in.
“Her experience will help,” Turner said of Horner.
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No. 2: Pasadena Poly
The Panthers went to the CIF-SS Division 3AA championship match last year without a senior on the team, and that’s put high expectations on Poly, which earned the CIF-SS preseason top ranking.
“Last year we had no expectations and we played relaxed,” coach Steve Beerman said. “We were under the radar. There are expectations this year and we can deal with it. We’re hoping things go well.”
Two Princeton-bound players will again lead the Panthers: outside hitter Alexis Genske and setter Michelle Miller. Miller, who was one of the CIF-SS basketball players of the year last season, will attend the New Jersey college on a basketball scholarship.
“Michelle concentrated on basketball during the summer and did not play with us,” Beerman said, “but when she got on the court, she didn’t miss a beat.”
The Panthers return all their starters, but they didn’t stand pat. Dedee Logan is a freshman middle blocker who’s made the varsity team, and junior opposite hitter Dani Smith transferred from a private school in Florida when her father moved to Southern California.
Sophomore Hannah Kaufman, who started last year, returns at libero.
No. 3: Mayfield
What is a Mayfield team without plenty of firepower?
The Cubs enter this season a different team, without that well-known offense. Coach Megan Rush said this year’s edition will be defensive- minded.
“We’re going to be phenomenal on defense,” she said. “We have some big guns, but the emphasis seems to be more on defense. The girls have really stepped up. They’re more seasoned.”
Seniors Alex Arnett and Brittany Angiuli will anchor the defense.
“Brittany has really stepped up to another level,” Rush said. “She definitely runs the backcourt.”
Sophomore Natalie Johnson will play a big hand in the defense, and will also play opposite. Again the Cubs have two capable setters in senior Ashley Schammel and junior Madeline Watkins. Setter Bella Garcia, a junior, will give the Cubs a third option.
Junior outside hitters Josie Luck and Maggie Dunn return, with junior Jacqueline Mix expected to step in.
No. 4: Flintridge Sacred Heart
There are big matches on the Tologs’ schedule. The problem with this senior- laden team, coach Anne Arlie said, is that it’s looking ahead to those matches.
“They have to remain focused and concentrate on the task at hand,” she said. “Every year we have to make these 15 girls the best 15 we can be.”
Arlie has nine seniors on the team, including three- year starting setter Alessandra Orlandini.
“She knows the team, knows where the ball is supposed to go and has all those games under her belt,” Arlie said of her setter. “She is one of our leaders. She is knowledgeable and knows when to get the ball to the right person.”
The Tologs lost two outside hitters to graduation and NCAA Division I programs, but Jessica Martin and Drew Washington have a lot of playing experience at the position. Katherine Rubschlager returns at middle blocker, and sophomore Katie Conley is also expected to see a lot of playing time at the position.
Sophia Coffey is the first freshman to make the varsity roster since her sister, Camille, five years ago. Like her sister, she’ll play outside hitter.
“She will definitely be a big part of our play,” Arlie said.
No. 5: Arcadia
The Apaches have high expectations despite coach Charles Freberg having one of his youngest teams in several years.
“This is one of the best groups I have ever had,” he said. “They are very coachable. We’re making a lot of progress.”
The Apaches, who’ve won 30 consecutive Pacific League matches, return only three players – Freberg has 10 new players, including four sophomores and a freshman. Perhaps the most highly touted newcomer is freshman Lexi Resch, whom Freberg said is probably the best freshman he’ll ever coach.
“She can do everything,” Freberg said. “She can hit from every angle, hit the lines, block, defend, set.”
Setting will be Brittany Woo, who saw playing time last season. Brittney Lee is the lone returning starter. Junior Catherine Su will join Lee up front.
Newcomer Rachel Schroeder can also set, and Kristen Mueller, Allison Stevenson and Jackie Churchill are expected to see significant playing time.
No. 6: Gabrielino
Longtime coach Cuong Chau has taken an advisory role, but the Eagles don’t expect to miss a beat.
That’s because longtime assistant coach Silvia Apodaca, who ran a lot of practices and oversaw Mission Valley League matches when Chau was unable to attend, takes over. She was the JV coach the past three years.
“We will be all right,” Apodaca said. “We have the same philosophies.”
The Eagles have a few matches and two tournaments in preparation for trying to extend their impressive winning streak – they’ve won 79 consecutive league matches. They open the season Thursday against Pasadena Poly in the Poly tournament.
“Everybody is really playing together,” Apodaca said. “The girls are starting to play better and better.”
The Eagles lost two key players to graduation, middle blocker Amanda Watkins and setter Ashley Van Oosten, but Gabrielino has players expecting to fill those losses.
Seniors Joann Chac, Amy Huynh and Jessica La return to the outside. Junior Grace Chen, who played setter when the Eagles went to a 6-2 offense last year, is back, and junior Sabrina Takeuchi is expected to play a big part.
No. 7: San Gabriel
The Matadors always seem to struggle early in the season but right themselves in time for Almont League and postseason play.
The same scenario could likely happen this year: The Matadors didn’t play in any summer league games, and none of their players played club ball.
“It just takes a little time,” coach Larry Kanow said. “We should come together in time for league.”
The Matadors have won or shared the league title the last four seasons. Anna-Rose Bui, who was league co-MVP last year, returns, and will again play middle blocker and outside hitter. Tiffany Ha also returns to the outside. That gives San Gabriel two players at 5-foot-8.
“We have size for us,” Kanow said.
Crystal Hwang, Stephanie Hang and Emily Heng are expected to step into starting roles.
“We have more offense,” Kanow said. “Our defense will definitely be a work in progress.”
No. 8: La Salle
The Lancers lost their top outside hitter, but Diamond Ridley-Pierce, who’s perhaps the most dominant middle blocker in the West Valley, returns for her senior season.
Junior Katrina Palffy is back on the outside, and junior Jessica Kennedy is on the opposite side. Senior Kathryn Haderlein is back at setter.
Caroline Knop, Emily Rail and Ruth Guziec return to the backcourt.
No. 9: South Pasadena
Young players and a new coach could be the saving grace for the Tigers in an effort to mount a challenge for the Rio Hondo League title.
Sophomore Claire Kieffer- Wright and Samantha Figueroa are expected to lead the Tigers, and coach Ben Diaz made the move from La Salle to South Pasadena. The Lancers went to the CIF-SS playoffs in each of their seasons under Diaz, going undefeated in Del Rey League play last year.
“We have a couple of kids that are pretty good,” Diaz said. “They can do some damage.”
The Tigers have only one senior, Melicia Murphy, who will play opposite. Jessica Arroyo will be at setter and Victoria Padilla at libero.
No. 10: San Gabriel Academy
The Eagles reached the CIF-SS Division 5A championship match and became the first West Valley team to advance to the CIF-State tournament.
The Eagles lost six players to graduation. Five players return, including sophomore Sabrina Solorzano, junior Eriazmin Mauries and senior Sara Vaca.