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Costa Mesa girls’ volleyball reaches quarterfinals of Santa Ana tournament

Costa Mesa High’s girls’ volleyball program enters the 2018 season with a streak intact.

The Mustangs have made the CIF Southern Section playoffs in each of the past two seasons, their best stretch since they made the postseason four years in a row from 2002 to 2005.

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Team success requires a team effort, and the right pieces to boot. Costa Mesa will be challenged in trying to replace the contributions of recent graduates Courtney Moore (outside hitter) and Felicia Crenshaw (middle blocker).

Costa Mesa has five returning varsity players, none of which are middle blockers. Sophomores Tarah Harmon and Catherine Pham and freshman Lorelei Hobbis will be asked to fill the middle.

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“It’s really hard to replace a first-team all-league middle like Felicia Crenshaw,” Mustangs coach Todd Hanson said. “They’ve got big shoes to fill, but it’s early on, and they’re having their successes, so that’s what we try to build off of.”

With a new lineup, a tournament may have been exactly what Costa Mesa needed. The Mustangs experienced a mix of success and failure in the Lady Saints Tournament on Saturday at Santa Ana High.

Costa Mesa defeated Artesia, Godinez and Century to win its pool.

Junior outside hitter Stephanie Bernal provided a match-clinching service ace for the Mustangs (3-1) in her team’s opening match, as Costa Mesa swept Artesia 25-11, 25-22.

In their second match, the Mustangs squared off against a familiar foe in Godinez, a former Orange Coast League rival. The Grizzlies moved to the Golden West League for this season.

Costa Mesa dropped the opening game, although junior libero Rae Galarion strung together six points in a row on her own serve.

Within the Mustangs’ 6-2 offense, setters Malia Tufuga and Ashley Nguyen were the most prolific attackers, showing a level of comfort in setting the other.

Nguyen had 14 assists, six kills and two aces, while Tufuga had a match-high 12 kills with five assists and two aces.

Harmon had a block and a kill on consecutive points at the end of the second set to help the Mustangs draw even with the Grizzles.

Costa Mesa went on to beat Godinez by a final of 19-25, 25-20, 15-7. The Mustangs completed pool play by defeating Century 25-13, 25-19.

Unfortunately for the Mustangs, winning their pool gave them time to cool off – too much time. In receiving a bye for the first round of the playoffs, Costa Mesa had to wait three hours to return to the court for its quarterfinal.

The Mustangs dropped their quarterfinal 26-24 against host Santa Ana, who moved into the Orange Coast League this season.

“I think that it kind of built up our confidence, winning our pool,” Tufuga said. “Losing like that, it’s a tough but good experience. It shows the girls that we still have some work to do.

“I feel like we’re more athletes playing volleyball more than volleyball players [at this point].”

Nguyen said opportunity to experience success before failure allows the Mustangs to have a short memory with regard to the loss.

“I think about what I did,” Nguyen said. “I kind of hold onto it, but then I try to let it go, and it works. I think we all need to do that. Just let it go. It was just a mistake. We all make them.”

Cross-training proves beneficial to the overall athleticism of a volleyball player. Tufuga, Harmon and Hobbis have all played basketball. Tufuga also plays softball.

For front row players, the positives to be taken from playing multiple sports are obvious to Hanson.

“The big thing coming from those players is that their conditioning is much better,” Hanson said. “Tarah is a stud. That girl gets up and down the [basketball] court. She jumps five, six and seven times in a row at the net, and that’s not a problem.”

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