A rash of graduations from last year's top-two local boys' volleyball teams has Crescenta Valley and St. Francis highs wondering how they can match 2012 — one of the best campaigns in each program's history — in 2013.
After missing out on the postseason last year, Flintridge Prep, Glendale, Hoover and Glendale Adventist Academy hope rosters stacked with returners equal success and a playoff appearances this season.
For the first time since 2004, St. Francis earned a trip to the playoffs with a fourth-place finish in a formidable Mission League. After graduating five seniors, Golden Knights Coach Mark Frazee is hoping his team can find a way to push into the postseason.
“We’re always trying to strive for playoffs,” Frazee said. “I know our league is one of the toughest in Southern California and we’re constantly having to prove ourselves as a Division III team in a Division I league. With our seniors and our leadership, I think if we come together and if we can solidify everything we’ll be OK.”
Seniors Charles McCarthy and Chris Thompson at outside hitter and setter, respectively, will be called upon to lead a young St. Francis team, which went 12-6, 7-5 in league last year and was bounced in the first round of the playoffs. AJ Krappman returns as the Knights' lefty opposite hitter with sophomore Thomas Lund set to occupy one middle blocker position with the other still up for grabs.
Chris Thompson's younger brother, freshman David Thompson, will give the Golden Knights' offense a new look, as they'll be setting alongside each other this year and is one of several freshmen who’ll be asked to make a big contribution this year.
“I’m going to run a different offense than we’ve run in the past five or six years, I'm going to use two setters,” said Frazee, who'll also have Chris hitting and freshman Carl D’Aguiar at defensive specialist this year. “I have some pretty big shoes to fill with the guys that left last year.”
After graduating seven players and being bumped up to CIF Southern Section Division II, Crescenta Valley Coach John Nelson isn’t quite sure what to expect this year.
“We only have four seniors, so we’re young, but we’re learning and working fairly hard, so we’ll see,” said Nelson, adding playoffs will look a lot different this year. “It changes everything, now you’re going to see Laguna Beach, Santa Barbara and it’s a little bit of a different world, and we’re young, so it’ll be a little different.”
The Falcons, who compiled the second-most wins in program history, going 19-10, with a quarterfinal run in 2012, will look to a key group of returning seniors — Alex Shin, outside hitter; Freedom Tripp, middle blocker and Noah Klotther, who could play opposite, outside or libero — to lead a team loaded with 10 juniors to a postseason berth.
“It could be a dogfight for us, realistically, to get into third place and get that playoff spot,” Nelson said of his outlook on the Pacific League, which he figures will have Burroughs and Claremont in the top two spots. “On the other hand, potentially, we could be pretty good; we’re just so far behind and have so much to learn. The good news is we’ll be light years ahead next year.”
Flintridge Prep is in a similar position to CV. In a Prep League with recent Division V powerhouses Chadwick and Pasadena Poly, the Rebels moved into Division IV for 2013. Prep will also likely be behind to start the season with many of its players coming over from the boys’ basketball team, which had its Southern Section playoff run come to an end Friday.
Once everyone is caught up to speed, Flintridge Prep Coach Sean Beattie likes the group, which is loaded with seniors, he has in line.
“What I am looking at for this year: we have our setter back, both middles, an outside returning ... so it’s a team that’s kind of familiar with each other,” Beattie said, “which is good considering the basketball run because we aren’t going to have a lot of time together by the time we start playing games – assuming they’ll even by back by then.”
While it's a Flintridge Prep squad that missed the postseason last year, there's plenty of reason for optimism with a group that should be dynamic offensively with plenty of size after graduating its libero Michael Ellis and outside hitter Kory Hamane.
Among the returners and basketball players are Kareem Ismail and Tyler Weakland in the middle, Chadd Cosse on the outside, Jedrick Eugenio, who played opposite hitter last year, and a defensive specialist from last year, Harrison Jung.
The Rebels, who went 11-15, 2-6 in league last year, also return second-year setter Michael Lii and Michael Leslie, another opposite. Kurt Kozacik is one of three players, along with Jung, to likely battle for the libero spot with the runner-up likely filling in at defensive specialist.
“I really have high hopes for this team, but I had hopes for last year’s team, too,” Beattie said. “It was definitely disappointing not making playoffs, I thought we were good enough to make playoffs.”
While Beattie would've set his sights on a third-place finish in the Prep League over the last three or four years, he's aiming for the top now after figuring Pasadena Poly and Chadwick should be down a bit this season.
“The league has all come to an even footing, anyone has a good chance, as in the past we knew Poly and Chadwick were the head honchos,” said Beattie, whose team’s season will begin Friday when it hosts La Cañada High. “The top has come down and the bottom has come up.”
After splitting last year's two Pacific League matches for their only league wins, Hoover and Glendale will look to be competitive in each match this year.
“We have seven returners, so that's pretty good, but I have five seniors, that's pretty bad,” Glendale Coach Ta'ase Mose said. “The varsity team looks pretty good this year, so we can compete.
“I told the guys, ‘With the skill we have this year, we should be able to make playoffs.’”
The Nitros, whose only win in a 1-15, 1-11 in league season came against Hoover, will look for their offense to lead them to victories this year with most of their seniors coming on that end of the net. Seniors Josh Collado and Victor Bernardino will fuel Glendale's 6-2 offense at both setter positions.
They'll look to feed senior outside hitter Kevin Fonta; Luis Trejo, a senior middle blocker/opposite and junior middle Kyle Hulguin.
“Our offense is pretty strong; it's just our defense, that's what I'm focused on now,” Mose said. “Without defense, we can't win any games.”
In it's second year back from a one-year hiatus, Hoover has seen a boost in numbers, which could mean good things for the future. The Tornadoes, who went 2-12, 1-11 in league in 2012, return a number of seniors that have coach Charles Min optimistic for the present.
“We’re senior heavy so next year might be a little hard but we have a good group,” he said. “We haven't set any firm goals yet, but we're better than we were last year.”
Cornerstones from last year, Dan Sanidad and Christian Pacificador, are back for their final high school seasons at outside hitter and setter, respectively. Min also expects Seniors Kennedy Wilson and Jon Lintag to take on bigger roles on offense this year.
“They’ve been making really good progress in the preseason and it takes a lot of pressure off of Dan,” Min said of Wilson and Lintag. “They could play anywhere on the front line, middle and outside or opposite.”
Glendale Adventist Academy is looking to continue to progress under second-year coach David Nicolas. A year after an 0-14 campaign, the Cougars finished 3-10 (2-8 in the Liberty League) under Nicolas in 2012.
“This year we hope to continue to build up our program,” said Nicolas, who return all but two players from 2012. “We're trying to push the younger kids to get more interested, so we can develop them.”
Nicolas should be able to make the postseason if they’re “firing on all cylinders” with the team separating itself with its hustle, Nicolas said.
“I think it's right around our caliber,” Nicolas said of the Liberty League. “Obviously, we were on the lower end last year, but we're getting to the level where we're ready to compete in our league.”