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Mira Costa Girls Prove They’re Still Queens in Volleyball

Without a senior in the bunch, a young Mira Costa High girls volleyball team flew into Chicago last week and beat the finest competition from the Windy City to win the Reebok Challenge tournament.

“It was nice to show them that volleyball on the West Coast is still No. 1,” said Mira Costa Coach DaeLea Aldrich, whose teams have won five league championships, four CIF titles and two state crowns since 1982.

If California is king in volleyball, Mira Costa can lay claim to the title of prep queen.

Year in and year out, the Mustangs have fielded teams considered among the best in the nation. Aldrich calls last season “a rebuilding year,” and Mira Costa still won the Ocean League title and reached the CIF 5-A semifinals.

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Now, with a team dominated by talented juniors, the Mustangs appear ready to regain their place at the top.

“I feel we can be another dominant Mira Costa team,” Aldrich said. “This team is capable of bringing back a state title, if not this year, then next year. It’s just a matter of how fast we mature.”

Mira Costa gained valuable experience last weekend. Playing in front of a partisan Chicago crowd, the Mustangs defeated H.L. Richards High, 15-6, 12-15, 15-7, Friday in the semifinals and then rallied to beat Carl Sandburg High, 14-16, 15-6, 15-1, in Saturday’s final. Before those matches, the Mustangs swept three Chicago area teams in pool play.

Two Mira Costa players, setter Piper Hahn and 6-1 middle blocker Kristal Attwood, were selected to the all-tournament team. They are among the nine juniors on a team that includes three sophomores and, surprisingly, no seniors.

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Despite the Mustangs’ youth, they were ranked fourth in the nation by Volleyball Monthly in the magazine’s preseason poll. Third-ranked Mother McAuley of Chicago lost to Sandburg in the tournament’s semifinals.

“It’s interesting not having a senior on the team,” Aldrich said. “Usually you need that stability the seniors bring, but Piper Hahn seems to fill that role for us.”

Hahn, sister of former Mira Costa star and CIF Player of the Year Lindsay Hahn, was one of three players who distinguished themselves last season as sophomores. The others, Attwood and outside hitter Rainy Chrisman, will give the Mustangs a sound nucleus for the next few years.

Rounding out the starting lineup are sophomore setter Robin Ortgiesen and two juniors--5-11 middle blocker Heidi Eick and outside hitter Erika Lawson.

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Aside from being young, tall and talented, Mira Costa’s players also carry a 3.4 combined grade-point average.

“They’re all intelligent kids,” Aldrich said. “It makes it fun for me because I tell them something and they pick it up really quick.”

Mira Costa remained unbeaten Tuesday night with a victory over Bishop Montgomery and will play host to Palisades tonight at 7:30 before opening Ocean League play at home Tuesday afternoon against West Torrance.

The Mustangs’ toughest competition of the regular season figures to come Oct. 1 in the 16-team San Marcos Tournament in Santa Barbara. Included in the field are Fremont High of Northern California, ranked No. 1 in the nation, and No. 2-ranked Irvine, the defending State Division I champion.

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It was bound to happen: Hawthorne quarterback Curtis Conway, arguably the South Bay’s most celebrated player entering the season, did not exactly knock ‘em dead in Saturday’s football opener at Hueneme of Oxnard.

More to the point, Coach Goy Casillas said Conway was off his game in the Cougars’ 14-13 loss.

“When Curtis Conway has a good day, Hawthorne has a good day,” Casillas said. “He didn’t have one of his good days, and that’s how it went. He needs to improve his execution.”

Judging from some of his miscues on Saturday, Conway also needs to improve his decision-making. Once Hawthorne was called for having an illegal receiver down field because Conway pulled up and passed during an option play.

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The senior completed eight of 20 passes for 120 yards and one touchdown, with one interception, and rushed for 69 yards on nine carries.

“It wasn’t one of his better ones,” Casillas said. “But it was the first game of the year. If we have to iron out some problems, I’m glad it’s now.”

Hawthorne, which dropped out of the CIF Division II rankings after opening the season in the No. 3 spot, will try to get back on track Friday night when it plays host to Morningside.

Kimberly Po of Miraleste, the defending CIF singles tennis champion, teamed with Meredith McGrath of Midland, Mich., last week to win the Junior U.S. Open girls doubles championship at Flushing Meadow, N.Y.

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Po and McGrath defeated a team from Italy, 7-6, 6-3, to capture the title for the second consecutive year. In addition, Po reached the singles quarterfinals.

Po and McGrath have been the top-ranked doubles team in the girls 18 age division for two years, winning seven national titles. This year they have won national hard-court and grass-court championships, in addition to the U.S. Open.

Po helped the Miraleste girls team win the CIF 4-A Division last year and will play on the squad again this season.

The Palos Verdes girls cross-country team, generally regarded as the top prep team in the nation a year ago, improved its time by nearly a second in winning team honors at the Woodbridge Invitational in Irvine last Saturday.

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Palos Verdes’ five girls finished with a combined time of 93 minutes, 26 seconds, bettering last year’s winning mark of 94:08. Ashley Black led the Sea Kings with a fifth-place individual mark of 18:15.

PREP NOTES--Palos Verdes reached the finals of the Irvine water polo tournament last weekend but lost to University of Irvine, 12-8. By virtue of their strong showing, the Sea Kings climbed to No. 7 in the CIF 3-A Division coaches’ poll . . . Mira Costa, ranked No. 5 in the 2-A water polo poll, will begin play today in the 32-team Millikan Tournament. The Mustangs return 10 of 11 players from last year’s Ocean League co-champion team and posted a 9-1 record in summer league play, with all the victories coming by nine goals or more . . . South Bay teams ranked in the first CIF sportswriters’ football polls are Leuzinger (No. 10, Division II), Serra (No. 5, Division VII), South Torrance (No. 7, Division VII) and El Segundo (No. 5, Division VIII).

South Bay’s Top 10 Selected by Times Sportswriters

Rank School, League Record 1 Carson (Conf. 2, League 1) 1-0 2 Banning (Conf. 2, League 1) 1-0 3 Leuzinger (Bay) 1-0 4 Gardena (Conf. 2, League 2) 1-0 5 Hawthorne (Bay) 0-1 6 South Torrance (Ocean) 1-0 7 San Pedro (Conf. 2, League 2) 1-0 8 El Segundo (Santa Fe) 1-0 9 Serra (Camino Real) 0-1 10 Rolling Hills (Bay) 1-0

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