Coach Lance Stewart doesn’t expect the Laguna Beach High girls’ volleyball team to blow many teams off the court this year.
The Breakers are young, and serving is a strength. Stewart said it’s probably the best serving team he’s had since he returned to Laguna Beach in 2003.
But if they’re going to be effective, they’re also going to be, well, annoying.
“We’re not going to be big and powerful," Stewart said. “We’re going to have to annoy people. We’ll have to win long points and I think we’re capable of that. I think we’ll be much better defensively this year than we have been in the past."
One of the goals is to win the Orange Coast League title, and the Breakers typically have no problem with that. Last year, they also advanced to the CIF Southern Section Division I-A semifinals before falling to Dos Pueblos.
That team featured co-league MVPs Alexandra Palmer and Piper Obradovich, who both graduated; Palmer is at Santa Clara and Obradovich at USC. But there are plenty of talented returners on this year’s squad, led by senior outside hitter Paulette Grand Pre.
Grand Pre, who has committed to play collegiately at William and Mary, led the Breakers in both kills (404) and digs (294) a year ago. She is currently out with a bulging disc in her back but Stewart said she should be back by the time the Breakers have their nonleague match against rival Corona del Mar on Sept. 28.
“She’s a really good jumper and really good passer," Stewart said. “We’ll be looking for leadership from her on the court."
Seniors Alex Rieckhoff and Haley Wyett are also returning first-team all-league players. Rieckhoff played opposite a year ago and will also be setting this year, while Wyett will be fighting for a spot in the middle.
Other returners include 6-foot-1 sophomore middle blocker Caroline Holte and sophomore setter Allison Palmer, both of whom were second-team all-league last year. So was Chanel Stewart, now a junior, who led Orange County in aces a season ago.
“She leads a group of very talented servers," Lance Stewart said.
Middle blocker MacKenzie Hester, a 6-foot-2 junior, also returns and lends flexibility as Stewart said she can also play outside or opposite.
Other varsity players include senior Taylor Dorse, junior Lauren Capobianco and sophomores Avery Bush, Rachele Killian, Marina Paul and Natalie Redwitz. Dorse and Bush were the co-Offensive Players of the Year on junior varsity last year, while Redwitz was Defensive Player of the Year. As for CIF, Stewart expects a challenge in Division I-A as defending champion Santa Barbara, Dos Pueblos and Marymount are all standout teams.
The Breakers open their season Thursday with a home match against Sage Hill. The first big tournament of the season, the Dave Mohs Tournament at Edison, begins Sept. 18.
“I think it’s the best chemistry we’ve had in a while," Stewart said. “It’s going to be interesting to see how they come together."