Because of budget cuts and coaching changes, several South Bay girls' high school volleyball programs are undergoing a season of change.
There are new coaches at North Torrance, West Torrance and San Pedro. Miraleste, Rolling Hills and Palos Verdes teams have been combined at newly opened Peninsula High, creating another opening. And Mira Costa, ranked No. 2 in the state, will try to win a title with untested setters.
San Pedro lost its girls' and boys' coaches because of budget cuts and teaching changes. Other teams have reduced rosters and some have no budget for equipment.
But despite the hardships, the South Bay remains home to some of Southern California's best coaches and players.
"I think it'll be a good year," said fifth-year South Torrance Coach Moira Fagan. "The talent is always there."
As usual, Mira Costa expects to have one of the area's best teams.
The Mustangs have won seven Southern Section titles, two state championships and have been state runner-up twice under Coach Dae Lea Aldrich. Mira Costa advanced to the State Division I quarterfinals last season after losing to Corona Del Mar in the Southern Section 5-A Division title match.
Four starters return--outside hitters Shawnee Hayes and Shannon Parke and middle blockers Tate Medley and Ann Windes, but Mira Costa may have to work on its setting. Aldrich said juniors Deidre Wibberley and Carrie Eick will try to step in for Robin Ortgiesen, who is now a freshman at Loyola Marymount.
"I think losing our setting is not a problem, that's just where we have to grow," Aldrich said. "Robin was just so talented. It's not that I don't have faith in these kids. But they don't have enough time or experience yet. They just need playing time."
Mira Costa, which is favored to win the Ocean League, improved to 2-0 Tuesday night with a 6-15, 15-6, 15-0, 15-5 nonleague victory over visiting Peninsula. The Mustangs will compete in two prestigious tournaments in the coming weeks: the 12-team Power Classic at Redondo High on Sept 27-28 and the 32-team Challenge Tournament in Chicago on Oct. 4-5.
Peninsula had enough players with varsity experience to field nearly three teams. But while players from Palos Verdes, Rolling Hills and Miraleste have earned a place on the Peninsula roster, keeping everyone happy has been a challenge.
"We have stars from the three different schools and some may not be playing or they're splitting playing time," Peninsula Coach Brian Godbold said. "They're taking on different roles in the makeup of the team. It's a difficult place to be."
However difficult it is, Godbold seems to enjoy the process.
"I think the hardest part for me is coming in and taking girls from three different programs and dealing with what three other coaches set up in the players' mind as the right way to do something. It makes it difficult and also keeps me on my toes. But, I wouldn't give it up."
Peninsula's starting lineup includes at least one player from each of the schools. Lara Buss, the only starter from Palos Verdes, is one of the most talented. The junior setter quarterbacks the offense, which includes outside hitters Kristin Ostergard (Miraleste), Beth Witton (Rolling Hills) and Romi Greenbaum (Rolling Hills) and middle blockers Diane Wright (Miraleste) and Kim Kohles (Rolling Hills). Greenbaum has been moved to right-side hitter after twice earning all-league honors as a setter.
"Lara's an outstanding setter," said Greenbaum, whose brother, Dan, set for USC. "I'm kind of relieved (not to be setting) because I prefer hitting."
Peninsula lost to Mira Costa in four games on Tuesday night, but showed signs of promise. Godbold said his team lacked the polish and experience that makes Mira Costa a powerhouse.
"Their passing is impeccable," Godbold said of the Mustangs.
Pioneer League favorites Torrance and South Torrance are tall and talented, fielding perhaps their best teams ever. For Torrance, there is time to grow. The Tartars start four juniors and two sophomores, including junior outside hitter Kim Blankinship, sophomore middle blocker Tami Burchard and junior setter Suzanne Radcliffe.
"We're one of the up-and-coming teams," Torrance Coach Marie Andersson said.
South has a history of success, benefiting from the area's strong club programs. South is older and more experienced as well. Senior starter Jennifer Hughes will set full-time after earning team most-valuable-player honors for her hitting the past three seasons. Seniors Sandy Rhodes (outside hitter) and Heidi Emmrich (middle blocker) start with juniors Stani Bernesovsky (middle) and Nicole Odom (outside) and 5-foot-11 sophomore Stephanie Pfau (middle).
"This has got to be the best team I've ever coached at South High," Fagan said. "We'll have a powerful offense this year."
Said Andersson: "I feel (South) is going to be our strongest rivalry during the year. With all our returners and the girls that play club, it's going to be a tough match."
Torrance and South will meet for the first time Oct. 15.
North Torrance, under first-year Coach Guy Takashima, and West Torrance are strong third-place candidates in the Pioneer League. North has two returning starters who will be supplemented with players from last season's 14-1 junior varsity team.
"This group is not accustomed to losing," North junior varsity Coach Ron Brown said. "When they do lose, they work that much harder."
Likewise, West Torrance, under first-year Coach Mike Barker, is expected to be a defensively strong team but has suffered several losing seasons in a row.
"We haven't had the past programs to work from and the girls are just now learning the fundamentals of volleyball," Barker said. "In comparison to teams like Torrance and South, which have had long established programs, we will probably not stand up to them."
Middle blocker Beth Tapp and outside hitters Stacey Detoskey and Shannon Kauffman are keys to West's success.
Bishop Montgomery returns five starters from last year's team that finished second in the Mission League. Second-year Coach Kurt Barcenilla says his top player is junior setter Miya Malauulu, whose brother George is a quarterback for the University of Arizona and a former Carson High standout.
Other standouts for the Knights include senior middle blocker Erin Wells, a second-team all-league pick last season, and senior back-row specialist Julie Weir.
Bishop Montgomery evened its record at 1-1 Tuesday with a four-game victory over a strong South Torrance team.
Of the area's City Section teams, Carson is the strongest. Gardena has added 6-foot sophomore Vika Malu and 6-2 Kristi Maddams to the complement of setter Lianne Chun, outside hitters Linh Dao and Jackie Nguyen and junior varsity additions Betty Park and Lisa Lee.
"I think if the girls get their passing down, we can surprise some people this year," Gardena Coach Dennis Sullivan said.
The program at San Pedro was nearly a casualty of budget cuts, first-year Coach Grant Farley said.
"We basically thought there wasn't going to be a girls' volleyball team," Farley said. "We've got some catching up to do, but they have a lot of enthusiasm. We are a very inexperienced team."
Setter Eva Ramirez is San Pedro's only returning starter. Middle blockers Adanna Davis and Jenny Sanders should be strong additions from the junior varsity team.