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HIGH SCHOOL VOLLEYBALL PREVIEW : Nordhoff Back With Designs on the Throne

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

They’re back. At least that is the consensus of the girls’ volleyball coaches whose teams will face Nordhoff High this season.

The Lady Rangers won four consecutive Frontier League titles during the 1980s, three consecutive Southern Section titles (1984-86) and a state Division II championship (1986). And even though Nordhoff has qualified for the playoffs in three of the four years since that championship season, this will mark the first time since 1987 that the other division members perceive the Lady Rangers as a threat.

It is with good reason that Nordhoff rates the favorite’s role in the Southern Section 2-A Division. Coach Cheryl Glass, in her 15th season, has eight of her top nine players back from a team that went undefeated in Frontier League play last season and was No. 8 in the final 2-A poll before losing in the second round of the playoffs.

The Lady Rangers showed some of that promise Saturday in the Ventura Invitational, taking third place overall--the team’s best tournament performance since 1986--and losing a tough 16-14 decision to eventual champion St. Anthony of Long Beach, a 2-A finalist last season.

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Nordhoff’s best player is multitalented Sami Sawyer, the returning Frontier League most valuable player who has drawn the attention of college recruiters. Sawyer, a 5-foot-9 junior, runs the offense as a setter and also excels as a powerful outside hitter and a pinpoint server.

Four other Lady Rangers earned all-league recognition last season. Middle blocker Alison Nofrey, outside hitter Sarah Wright and setter Jana Rigby earned first-team recognition, and outside hitter Joanna Sandefur was a second-team pick. Although Rigby is the team’s lone senior, Nordhoff is hardly inexperienced. The nucleus of this junior-dominated unit started on the varsity as freshmen.

Nordhoff, ranked 10th in the preseason coaches’ poll, also is strengthened by the return of middle blocker-outside hitter Kortney Rogers, a junior who started as a freshman but missed all but one match last season because of academic ineligibility. Rogers’ only appearance was a memorable one. She came off the bench to lead a furious rally that fell short in a five-game loss to powerful Atascadero in the playoffs.

While taking a typical low-key approach to the current season, Glass allows that she has high hopes for her talented players.

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“I expect all of them to play at a higher level,” she said. “Their mental attitude should be more competitive. Certainly, it is a goal to at least get to the semifinals of the (Southern Section) playoffs.”

Teams To Watch

Royal: Coach Bob Ferguson’s Highlanders might be inexperienced, but with five seniors they still are talented enough to be the team to beat in the Marmonte League. They also could develop into one of the better 5-A teams.

Filling the position vacated by graduated standout Wende Brown is senior Jennifer Hamilton, a 6-foot middle blocker who earned second-team All-Southern Section 5-A honors last season. Others who should contribute are Kristen Fick, a 6-foot junior middle blocker, Stacey Kaufman, a 5-9 senior outside hitter, and Tracey Tahy, a 5-5 senior setter.

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Ventura: The Cougars have never reached the 5-A playoffs, but they are the consensus favorite in the powerful Channel League in part because of 5-8 senior setter Wendy Ward.

Danielle Braun, a 5-9 senior and an all-league selection a year ago, will be Ward’s main target, and sophomore Jessica Lepper, a 6-1 middle blocker, also could emerge as an offensive force. Other Cougar standouts are seniors Heather Peterson, a 5-6 setter, and Sarah Mahoney, a 5-9 middle blocker.

Thousand Oaks: The Lancers have a new coach in John Bjerke to go with an inexperienced but talented team. The squad is built around Kaili Kimura, a 5-9 senior middle blocker who is the only returning starter from last year’s Marmonte League champion.

Three seniors who were backups last year--5-10 outside hitter Karli Cleary, 5-8 setter Lisa Gillette and 5-4 defensive specialist Julie Sugino--return for a team ranked 13th in the state preseason coaches’ poll and seventh in the Southern Section 5-A Division.

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Moorpark: After winning a Tri-Valley League title and reaching the quarterfinals of the 2-A playoffs, the Musketeers are ranked fifth in the 2-A and might have the talent to improve on last year’s season if freshman setter Amy Thomas comes through as expected.

The Musketeers have a solid nucleus of hitters, headed by All-Southern Section selection Kristie Evans, a 5-9 senior on the outside, and Nicole Funfar, a 5-7 senior outside hitter who missed most of last year because of a knee injury. Two vastly improved middle blockers, 5-8 senior Courtney Forman and 5-9 junior Jessica Donaldson, will help.

La Reina: Coach Stan Hirsch starts his 15th year at the school with a team that should challenge Moorpark for the Tri-Valley title. Multitalented Amy Crotty returns for her senior year as a setter and also will play as an outside hitter.

Crotty is surrounded by a supporting cast of junior outside hitter Cristy Potts, junior middle blocker Alisa McEachern, sophomore middle blocker Amy Gusick and senior outside hitter Tara Deukmedjian. The Regents, ranked ninth in the 2-A, could also get help from 5-10 freshman outside hitter Shane Anderson.

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L.A. Baptist: The Knights, 1-A quarterfinalists a year ago, again rate as one of the top teams in the division. Talented outside hitter Monica Davis has moved on to Pepperdine, but Sarah Rameson and All-Southern Section 1-A pick Lucrieta Haynes are back for their senior years.

Coach Sue Newcomb’s third-ranked team is balanced and experienced, with five returning starters. Amy Anderson, a senior setter, and Michelle Pistone, a junior setter, run the attack. Senior Gina Aust is the team’s top outside hitter.

Chatsworth: With a group of experienced hitters back, Chatsworth rates as one of the top teams in the City Section 4-A Division. But Coach Steve Berk still is looking for one of three setters--seniors Laura Horn and Sandy Conwell and junior Heather Mitchell--to take charge.

The tallest team in Berk’s four-year tenure, the Chancellors boast a front line that averages 5-10. Jody Paterno, a 5-10 senior middle blocker, is the team’s hardest hitter and best passer. Marsha Gekhtman, a 6-foot senior, aids the attack.

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El Camino Real: Coach Lori Chandler welcomes back three returning starters and again should have one of the top City 4-A teams. The Conquistadores feature a scrappy defense along with sophomore setter Jessica Dinaberg.


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