Costa Mesa High hired a new girls’ volleyball coach in Jillian Rifkin this summer.
Rifkin has had less than four weeks to work with her team to this point, but the Mustangs are doing their part to make the transition a smooth one.
With six seniors returning to the roster, Costa Mesa is not short on experience, and that has served the team well in the early going.
Costa Mesa reached the semifinals of the Santa Ana Tournament on Saturday. Three days later, the Mustangs hosted Godinez in their home opener, and they gave their fans what they had come to see.
Senior opposite Malia Tufuga had 12 kills, six assists and three service aces to lead Costa Mesa to a 25-3, 25-6, 25-14 victory over the Grizzlies in a nonleague match on Tuesday.
“These guys knew what to do, so when I came in, I just tried to clean it up a little bit, make it a little more precise,” Rifkin said. “That’s what we’re working on. We’re trying to lose less sloppy points and see if we can get better.”
“Right now, I think the sky is the limit,” Tufuga, a Stanford commit, said. “We’re looking pretty good right now, and we’re only going to get better. It’s only up from here.
“I’m excited. We’re only going to learn [more]. With four coaches on our staff this year, we’re going to learn and grow, and I think we can go all the way.”
Tufuga’s brother, Mason, is also on the Mustangs’ coaching staff as an assistant.
Rifkin has set high goals for the team herself, expressing a desire to challenge defending Orange Coast League champion Calvary Chapel for the crown this season.
Calvary Chapel beat Carpinteria Cate 25-19 in the final of the Santa Ana Tournament.
“We saw Calvary at Santa Ana,” said Rifkin, who replaced Todd Hanson as coach. “We got a chance to watch them play a couple of games, and they’re a good team. I think it’s good for these guys to have that goal.
“That’s a goal of mine, and I know it’s not an easy goal, but I do think it’s realistic. We’re going to work hard every single day and try to get there.”
Costa Mesa (5-1) jumped out to a 20-1 lead in the first set against the Grizzlies (1-6), as senior outside hitter Kayla Nguyen made 20 consecutive serves. In the second set, she again had a prolonged streak of 10 straight points served, taking the Mustangs’ lead to 16-1.
“It was kind of robotic,” Nguyen said after finishing with a match-high six aces. “I just kept aiming to the same spot to put pressure on the libero.
“A couple, I thought, were going to go out, to be honest. I was really surprised that they were going to go in, but I was really happy about it.”
Junior setter Jade Young distributed 20 assists in a predominantly 5-1 offense. She will run the offense after the recent graduation of Ashley Nguyen, who worked with Tufuga in a 6-2 system.
“I saw Ashley last year just kind of doing really good,” Young said. “It’s going to be very hard to fill her shoes, and hopefully, I somehow live up to that this year.”
Sophomore middle blocker Lorelei Hobbis and senior outside hitter Emily Paulsen each had four kills.
The lopsided affair allowed the Mustangs to empty the bench in front of a sizable crowd at home, and 11 players ended up with at least one kill. Junior outside hitter Catherine Pham pumped her fist when she recorded her lone kill in the third set.
“They deserve it,” Rifkin said of being able to spread the playing time around. “A lot of these players, there’s just such a small difference between one and the other that I do feel confident, even in a tight match, that I could put in any of those outside [hitters] and they’re all going to be okay, or the middle [blockers].
“They have earned my trust in our short time together that I feel like all of them know what their responsibilities are when they’re on the court. I know that I can put any of those guys in, and it’s not going to be a negative for us at all.”
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