One word could describe the local college women’s volleyball scene this season: unpredictable.
As usual, several Southland teams will probably be involved in the race for the national championship, but there will be a new look among local squads:
--UCLA lost five starting seniors from a team that finished second in the NCAA tournament last season.
--Cal State Long Beach lost three senior starters from last season, but the 49ers return Danielle Scott, who is expected to be one of the nation’s most dominating middle blockers.
--USC lost three senior starters from last season, but fifth-year Coach Lisa Love said that this is “one of the most talented, deep rosters” in her USC career.
Because of all the lineup changes, there is no clear-cut favorite this season.
“There will be a lot more uncertainty as to the outcome of the matches,” said Andy Banachowski, UCLA coach.
Cal State Long Beach, 30-3 last season, is ranked second behind defending NCAA champion Stanford in the preseason American Volleyball Coaches’ Assn. poll.
Scott, a 6-foot-3, two-time first-team All-American, is expected to lead the way for the 49ers. Last season, she led Long Beach with 498 kills, 26 block solos and 115 block assists. She also led the nation in attack percentage in 1991 and 1992.
The question for Long Beach will be at setter, where former defensive specialist Joy McKienzie will take over for two-time All-American Sabrina Hernandez, who completed her eligibility last season.
The 49ers open their season in the Long Beach Invitational, which includes San Diego State, Rice and Oklahoma, beginning Thursday at Long Beach.
UCLA, which was 33-0 and ranked No. 1 last season before losing in the NCAA final to Stanford, has almost a completely different starting lineup this season. The Bruins’ most notable loss is two-sport athlete Natalie Williams, who completed her volleyball eligibility last season. Williams was a two-time most valuable player in the NCAA tournament in 1990 and 1991, when she led UCLA to national championships.
UCLA’s sole returning starter is Julie Bremner, a senior setter. Bremner is an experienced player who led the United States to a silver medal at the World University Games this summer.
Despite the loss of so many seniors, the fourth-ranked Bruins won’t lack for experience because they will draw from their talented 1992 reserves. Annett Buckner, a junior who was the 1991 Pacific 10 Conference freshman of the year, will replace Williams.
UCLA will play host to the All-Cal tournament, which includes scrimmages against UC Irvine, UC Riverside and Pepperdine, today at 10:30 a.m. at Pauley Pavilion.
USC, 21-9 last season, is expected to improve upon its final No. 11 ranking of last season. The sixth-ranked Trojans will once again look to Katie Haller, a senior outside hitter, for leadership.
The Trojans’ biggest loss is 6-5 Cica Baccelli, who led USC in kills last season with 432. Bonny Brunst, a freshman from San Jose, or Capi Irato, a sophomore from Santa Barbara, probably will replace Baccelli, who finished her eligibility last season.
Other local teams also could have an impact on the national scene. Pepperdine returns four starters and will be looking to reach the NCAA tournament after missing it last season. Loyola Marymount, bolstered by several newcomers, is aiming for its second appearance in the NCAA tournament.