Prep plays waiting game as season nears

Unrest, Conflicts and WarGomez (music group)John Nelson

GLENDALE — Several of the key members of the Flintridge Prep boys' volleyball team are currently experiencing the playoff run of their lives.

It's happening in basketball, though, as three of the Rebels' starters – middle blockers Kenyatta Smith and Jared Norsworthy and outside hitter Kory Hamane — are also starting members of the school's basketball team, which is playing in the CIF Southern Section Division 5-AA championship game Saturday and could very well go on to a state playoff run of indeterminate length soon after.

The Rebels' volleyball season starts Wednesday against St. Francis, but Coach Sean Beattie can't say when he'll have his whole team together, let alone when those missing players will even pick up a volleyball for the first time this year.

"We're kind of preparing our team knowing we're not going to have those guys for the next three weeks," said Beattie, whose team is the only local reigning league champion and went the furthest in the playoffs last season with a second-round appearance in Division V. "I'm being optimistic for them.

"We're going ahead with what we have and, right now, we've got about nine guys on the roster because the other guys are all on basketball."

Of the non-basketball players, the top returners are outside hitter Nolan Jimbo, setter Kieran Mulroy and libero Alex Holden.

Jordy Manker and Gautam Tammewar will start the season as the Rebels' top middles until Smith and Norsworthy return and Beattie is looking for first-year varsity player Michael Ellis to step up at outside hitter early in the year.

"It's going to be difficult at the beginning, especially missing guys like Kenyatta and Jared, two big middles," Beattie said. "It's not like we're hoping they lose so they can get back faster. We want them to go as far as possible.

"It's concerning a little bit that by the time they get back, we're going to be pretty far into the season, but at the same time, it's a good thing for us, it's a good thing for the school and it's a good thing for those kids to go as far as possible."

Other than adjusting to the temporary loss of some starters, the Rebels must also find a way to offset the permanent loss of Edmund Chow, last year's starting outside hitter, whose experience as a libero made him a cornerstone of the Rebels' passing and defense.

"We think we have a strong offensive team, we really do," Beattie said. "When you look at both Jared and Yatta, they can both hit the ball straight down and Nolan's a great outside hitter.

"What we're really looking at is really to focus defensively …We're looking to play stronger defense and if we do that, offensively, we know we can hold our own."

Chadwick, ranked No. 1 in CIF Southern Section Division V, only graduated one senior from its team that shared the Prep League title with Prep, ranked fourth, last season and looks to be the favorite this year, according to Beattie.

"I expect to take our lumps at the beginning, maybe even when we get everybody back," Beattie said. "But once we get back into the swing of things, if we don't challenge for league, I expect to make a decent run in the playoffs."

Crescenta Valley also made the playoffs in Division II last year with a third-place finish out of the Pacific League, which is now one team lighter after Hoover dissolved its program following a string of last-place finishes.

"In our case, we lost two matches, or you can look at it as if we gained two days of practice," Crescenta Valley Coach John Nelson said of the change that will likely be most felt by Glendale, which loses its chief natural rival in league. "It just makes it kind of awkward that you have a bye right in the middle of league."

There's been some turnover on the Falcons' roster, as the top returners are setter Mitch Collins, outside hitters Logan Shapiro and Jun Kim and opposite Vince Zan Hoek.

In the middle, Nelson will play Wes Cormier and Ian Poprocki.

"They've been learning pretty quickly, so my younger guys have been really improving a lot," Nelson said. "But we're young. I have a senior that this is only his second year [on varsity] and then I have a bunch of juniors, who this is only their second year."

Glendale has even less experience, as Coach Ta'ase Mose is returning just two varsity players in Regan Ornopia and Emil Borje. Still, the third-year coach has some confidence in his team's ability to make a run this year.

"We are looking forward to this season," Mose said. "We have the players to take us to the playoffs."

Reigning league champion Burroughs returns most of its team, leaving the Falcons, who start today at Village Christian, and Nitros, who will kick off at California Academy of Math and Science March 8, to battle it out with Arcadia and Claremont for the league's top three playoff spots.

In the Mission League, St. Francis Coach Mark Frazee is setting out with an optimistic tone, as well, heading into Wednesday's opener against Prep.

"It's been some lean years for us the last few years," Frazee said. "It's cyclical. I think we're right at the cusp of having a few strong years."

Frazee looks to indeed have one of his strongest teams in years with returners opposite hitter Nick De Cesare, middle blocker Kenny Leavens, outside hitter Michael Bacall, opposite hitter Wesley Coffey and libero Thomas Banks all back. New setter Chris Thompson and outside hitter Charles McCarthy are also on board.

St. Francis went undefeated in a preseason tournament at Van Nuys High and Frazee is expecting an upswing for his program.

"Considering that we haven't been together much, I was pretty happy with the way the guys played," Frazee said. "It's a good start."

Glendale Adventist welcomes not only a new coach this season, but a largely new cast of players, as well.

Ken Vigilia, who had previously coached the Cougars, is back after putting the program in the hands of Hugo Gomez for two seasons. The team Vigilia reclaims is similar to the one he assumed at the beginning of his first stint, as it is young and inexperienced.

Only two players from last year's third-place Westside League and Division V playoff team return in setter Tanner Warrick and defensive specialist Zachary Buell.

"One of the hardest things is finding a setter, so at least Tanner has some experience at that position already, so that helps out a lot," Vigilia said. "But everybody else, to be honest, it seems like it's their first time playing volleyball.

"You've got to start somewhere, they're really good kids and they want to learn."

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