All four of the local girls' volleyball teams qualified for the CIF Southern Section playoffs in 2013.
Unfortunately, two of those squads, Burroughs High and Bellarmine-Jefferson, lost their share of impact players to graduation. Burbank, however, retained almost its entire team and will have its starting lineup from a year ago returning, while Providence lost just one key starter.
Two of the programs also have new coaches for the 2014 season. Kyle Roach takes over for the Bulldogs, replacing longtime coach Sarah Bown, and the Guards have a first-year coach in Edwin Salazar, who took over for Brandon Johnson, who was with Bell-Jeff for one season.
With the season on the horizon, here is a closer look at the teams.
The Pioneers are coming off a 2013 season in which they went 16-8 and placed second in the Liberty League (6-2) behind champion Pacifica Christian.
Providence will likely have to contend with another talented Pacifica Christian team again this season. The Seawolves went 24-6 in 2013 and not only captured the league title, but went on to win the Division IV championship, besting Laguna Blanca in four games. Pacifica Christian also advanced two rounds in the state playoffs.
"It is really going to be tough beating Pacifica Christian," Providence Coach James Jimenez said. "They are defending CIF champs and their top players were juniors last year, so we're going to have our hands full. But we are hoping to be able to finish among the top two in league."
A year ago, the Pioneers won their playoff opener against rival Bell-Jeff, 21-25, 19-25, 25-18, 25-23, 15-10, before falling in the second round to Laguna Blanca.
With just two players graduating from last season's squad, Jimenez said he will field an experienced group.
"It's great that we have a lot of experience coming back," said Jimenez, a Providence graduate who returned for his second stint as a coach for the Pioneers in 2013. "Technically we lost just one from the starting rotation and we think we have a pretty good replacement for that spot. Experience is always good, especially in tough situations.
"We will need that experience because we have a pretty tough schedule. We don't want a soft schedule and we want to play the good teams because that is the only way we're going to get better. At this point now, we are ahead of where we were at this time last year."
The Pioneers open their season Sept. 2 with a nonleague match at Alemany.
Providence has a pair in all-league returners in senior setter Jenny Nardoni and junior libero Nikka Adraneda. Also returning to bolster the lineup is senior outside hitter Lorena Ubillus and senior middle Oliva Menke.
"Oliva really holds down the middle and she is a leader for us when she's on the court or when she's on the bench," Jimenez said.
Junior opposite Leila Alskaf should also be a valuable player for the Pioneers. New to the squad is junior transfer Emily Mai from Notre Dame Academy, Her sister, Megan, is a senior opposite for the Pioneers.
The Bulldogs became a competitive force in the Pacific League under the direction of Brown, who stepped down after piloting Burbank for seven seasons. Last season under Brown's direction, the Bulldogs went 16-7 and 11-3 in the Pacific League, tying for second place with rival Burroughs.
Brown had five winning seasons in her seven-year tenure and ended with a 91-44 record. Her teams qualified for the playoffs in six of seven years and the Bulldogs won a league championship in 2012.
"I think Sarah did a great job for this program and she really built it up to where it is today," said Roach, who served as an assistant to Brown. "I am a big fan of Sarah's and I'm just trying to maintain what she built and maintain the reputation for Burbank volleyball."
In last year's Division II-A playoffs, Burbank swept Temescal Canyon in three games before losing in a sweep to Whittier Christian in the second round.
Fortunately for the Bulldogs, they lost just three to graduation.
"I didn't change up a whole lot of what Sarah was doing last season, so much is the same for them," Roach said. "But they have really adapted to what I've been doing and they have been more than receptive. I've known them as long as Sarah has so it's not a real big change for them. We really have a good group of girls this year.
"With losing just three players we have the core of our team back and we will have players with experience. I think we have nine seniors this year."
Leading the group is Burbank's only returning first-team all-league honoree, senior middle Allison Tiegs. Tiegs tallied 222 kills and 35 digs to go along with 45 blocks.
Other returning all-league players are senior libero Lily Winn, senior outside hitter Rose Cowart, senior setter Sara Treadway and senior outside hitter/opposite Denise Daniel.
"Sara has been setting for a few years now and she just does a great job for us," Roach said. "It's nice to have someone who is experienced and knows how to play that position because setter is so important."
While Cowart had 178 kills to go along with 213 digs and 57 aces, Winn contributed 317 digs and 37 aces, Treadway had 58 kills, 146 digs, 599 assists and 22 aces and Daniel tallied 144 kills, 95 digs and 32 aces.
Also returning for the Bulldogs is senior outside hitter Ashlyn Edwards and senior middle Nicole Maihot.
Arcadia is the defending league champion and Roach said he expects the Apaches to again be formidable this season.
"I think that Arcadia might be the favorite, but I think it's going to be competitive this year in league," he said. "I'm hoping to be among the top teams in league this season."
The Indians are coming off a season in which they went 18-10 and 11-3 in the Pacific League. However, the team did lose its two best players to graduation.
Those players were a pair of first-team all-leaguers in middle Caitlin Cottrell and libero Dani Gonzalez. Cottrell, who earned All-CIF Southern Section honors in 2012, averaged 13 kills a match. Gonzalez, who is at California Lutheran University, averaged 16 digs a match. Setter/opposite Katie Rutecki (11 assists and eight kills a match), a second-team all-league pick, also graduated
"We lost the three seniors and they were our main players," said Burroughs Coach Edwin Real, whose team lost in four games to Palm Springs in the first round of the Division II-A playoffs. "Two of those three are playing in college, so you can see they meant a lot to the team. They were very important parts to our success last year and they are going to be hard to replace.
"We do have some talent on the team, which is helpful. We just don't have a lot of talent at all the positions. We do have three freshmen and one is 6-3, which is nice. So we will just have to see what they are going to be able to do."
That player is Marin Grote, who should give the Indians some much-needed stature in the middle.
Danielle Ryan, a junior outside hitter, is a key returner for Burroughs. She was an all-league honorable mention who is in her third year with the team.
A player who could give Burroughs a boost is senior libero Milah Haslerig, a transfer from Texas. Other key players will be senior outside hitter Kelsey Strong, sophomore outside hitter Cesera Suarez and senior setter Lizzy Gunn.
"We have some battles for some of the positions, which is good," Real said. "We have some options with some players at different positions and that's good as well."
In the league race, Real, like Roach, believes that Arcadia will be the team to beat.
"You can bet that Arcadia is always going to be good," Real said. "Their main player is back and I think she's finally a senior. Burbank has everybody returning so they should be good.
"I think that with missing those returners we are a little down this year, but I think we'll be fine."
The Guards lost a great deal from the 2013 season. Along with its coach departing, Bell-Jeff graduated five seniors, including senior outside hitter Briana Hilo, an all-league standout who had 182 kills, 111 digs and 37 aces.
The team also lost four-year starting setter Amanda Maalouf, an all-league player who had 345 assists, 64 aces and 59 digs.
Last season, Bell-Jeff went 10-9-1 and 4-4 in the Santa Cruz League for a third-place finish.
Unfortunately for Salazar, he has walked into a situation where the Guards are fighting to get players out for the team.
"It has been interesting," Salazar said. "We have had about six kids out there and we will most likely end up with about eight players. The players are going to have to play a lot, because at this point we really have no other choice.
"But the girls who are out for the team have been playing really hard and they don't miss practices. They just have an incredible attitude and they have the heart and are willing to do what has to be done. We have a lot of young players and they are doing the best that they can."
One of the players who Salazar will look to this season is junior Jasmine Freeman, who will be a libero but could see time at other positions as well.
Two other players the coach singled out are sophomore outside hitter/setter Vanessa Smith and junior setter Tiana Wolf.
"We have another transfer player who hopefully will come out and we could use her," he said. "We know we might have some problems this year but hopefully we will be able to build the program and we can work with the girls that we have and we can be better next year."
Salazar said he expects defending champion St. Anthony will be the premier team in the Santa Cruz League this season.
Follow Jeff Tully on Twitter: @jefftsports.