In the opening weeks of the girls' volleyball season, some big-name programs have struggled as they look for ways to replace the production of senior-heavy rosters from a year ago.
Edison High enjoyed its time in the sun last year. The co-Sunset League champions rode the power of Hannah Phair and the cohesiveness of twins Dani and Cassidy Dennison to a state title over Menlo-Atherton.
All three have left the Chargers. Phair plays sand volleyball for UCLA. Dani Dennison, formerly Edison's libero, is playing for Texas Christian University, while Cassidy Dennison is continuing her volleyball career at Cal Baptist.
Lindsey Sparks was a big part of the Chargers' success last year too. She served as the setter then, but roster turnover has forced the hand of Edison coach Matt Skolnik. Sparks was lined up at outside hitter during the team's Sunset vs. Trinity League Showcase match against Santa Margarita. The Chargers coach explained the move after the match last week.
"She's a very good hitter," Skolnik said, calling Sparks a stellar all-around player. "She's definitely a phenomenal passer like she was last year. We're just trying some things to see what our best lineup is and where the best spot for her to be is with us."
Kristin Austin looked as though she may be among those ready to step up for the Chargers (3-5). The senior middle blocker was an all-area second team selection last season.
The Sunset League was swept in the Sunset vs. Trinity League Showcase, and no local teams advanced to the final day of the Dave Mohs Memorial Tournament. Corona del Mar lost to Long Beach Poly in straight sets, and the Jackrabbits fell to Temecula Valley (25-19, 17-25, 15-13) in the Division 1 title game.
Edison was also among the quarterfinalists, while Laguna Beach placed 12th, Huntington Beach took 17th and Sage Hill finished 21st in the Division 1 competition of Dave Mohs.
Local coaches have put up a united front of preaching patience. Huntington Beach has been one of the more successful teams thus far, going 9-4 after competing in two major tournaments.
The upper tank of the Sunset League may be a logjam. Huntington Beach shared the league title with Edison last year, but Los Alamitos may have closed the gap. The Griffins (9-3) posted a five-set victory over the Oilers at the Lakewood Molten Classic, 25-19, 21-25, 26-24, 18-25, 15-13.
Huntington Beach also sent an outstanding player to UCLA in the form of outside hitter Cami Sanchez. As the Oilers look to replace Sanchez and four-year libero Ashley Stevens, the team is looking for new stars among its youth.
Oilers coach Craig Pazanti gave high praise to the multi-talented Xolani Hodel, saying, "I think she is going to be one of the top middle blockers in Orange County this year."
"She started on our JVs last year, but moved her way up when we went into the playoffs. She had a really good postseason, and she has come back super strong."
Hodel was also a starter on the Oilers' girls' soccer and basketball teams, which each went on to its respective state tournaments. In the spring, she competed as a high jumper and mid-distance runner in track and field.
Jillian Kim, who played on the right side last year, is a returning member of last year's Daily Pilot Dream Team for the Oilers.
Pazanti is not thrilled about his team's Sunset League schedule. The matches against the league's upper tier in Edison and Los Alamitos will come at the front half of the schedule. The Oilers have beaten Los Alamitos and Edison in the first half of league in each of the last three years, and if they do that again, controlling their destiny at the end should not be a concern.
Corona del Mar (5-4) ought to be well-positioned for another Pacific Coast League crown, as junior middle blocker Kendall Kipp and senior utility Ashley Humphreys return following first-team Dream Team seasons. The Sea Kings have won 11 straight league titles.
Currently, Laguna Beach (3-4) sits atop the CIF-SS Division 3 rankings, owing largely to a straight-sets win over Division 1 foe Corona del Mar in its season opener. The Sea Kings are listed among those to watch in their division.
Sage Hill (4-5) is ranked second in Division 3, while Pacifica Christian (5-2) tops the list of schools in Division 10. It is just the Tritons' second year with varsity sports, but the athletic department has seen rampant success in several sports, including girls' soccer and boys' basketball.
Kimberly Adams is in her first year as Pacifica Christian girls' volleyball coach. She is thrilled to be a part of the Tritons' rise to prominence among the other small schools.
"I'm excited to be a part of it," Adams said. "They came in with an eager attitude to learn, and that's been really helpful with them improving as much as they have so far."
Los Amigos (3-5) rounds out the local programs currently in the rankings. The Lobos came in at seventh in Division 9 this week.