Pirates aim to repeat

While helping the Orange Coast College women's volleyball program to its third state title in five seasons, then-freshman setter Kimya Jafroudi triggered the offense for a team that finished 26-3.

This season, as the only sophomore with experience in an OCC uniform, Jafroudi, the 2009 state tournament MVP, is now running the show, on the court and off.

"Last year, we were sophomore-heavy," said Coach Chuck Cutenese, who has begun his 19th season at the women's helm with a pair of nonconference wins. "But if you only have one experienced returner, it's best to have the MVP and setter back."

Jafroudi, who deferred last season to the corps of sophomore leaders that include three players now starting at four-year schools, has assumed firm command this season, Cutenese said.

"Last year, she led more by example," Cutenese said of Jafroudi, who had considered walking on at UC Irvine this season, before a congested depth chart prompted her to return to the Pirates. "This year, she's more verbal. Last year, she let the sophomores lead verbally and she just came in and did her job. Her role is different this year and she's growing into that role. She wants to get back to the state tournament."

Once the ball is in play, Jafroudi's role will be to distribute to a talented crop of newcomers from which Cutenese expects great things.

"We are really excited about our great freshmen group," Cutenese said.

Foremost among the newcomers are Katherine Wichner, Andie Frisina, Aimee Melone and Maddie Baird.

Wichner, a 5-foot-7 freshman opposite out of Huntington Beach High, boomed eight aces to go with 13 kills and 11 digs in a 24-26, 25-13, 25-18, 25-21 season-opening triumph at Glendale.

"She's really explosive and she has a strong arm," Cutenese said. "She plays much bigger than she is."

Frisina is a freshman libero out of Brea Olinda, who could help ease the loss of Nikki Osuna, whose 559 digs last season were a school record on her way to starting this year at Tulane.

"[Frisina] is a really good athlete," Cutenese said.

Melone, a 5-9 freshman outside hitter out of Loara, has missed the last two seasons with foot surgeries. She and Jafroudi are co-captains.

"She's only about 70% right now, coming back off of ankle surgery in 2008 and toe surgery in 2009," Cutenese said. "We have to keep and eye on her and I have to ask her if she's in pain, because she would never want to come off the court."

Baird is a 5-8 freshman out of Calvary Chapel High who decided to play this season at the last minute, Cutenese said.

Rachel Thierjung, a 6-0 freshman out of Mater Dei, and Cathleen Hopkins, a 5-8 sophomore who graduated from Calvary Chapel and transferred from Genesee Community College in New York, are the starting middle blockers.

They will help replace former All-American Briana Fields, who is now starting at Cal State Los Angeles, Cutenese said.

Opposite Karlee Skalla is another 2009 standout now starting at Alaska Fairbanks.

Liza Cheseborough, a 5-8 sophomore out of Edison and another Genesee transfer, will fill a valuable utility role, Cutenese said.

Kehaulani Vegas, a 5-9 freshman from Colorado, provides depth at setter.

Katie Bergen, a 5-10 freshman from Esperanza High, and Whitney Crosby, a 5-9 freshman out of Costa Mesa High, are additional outside hitters.

Lauren Kipp, a 6-1 freshman sidelined with back issues, and Haley Russell, a 5-11 freshman, should also contribute in the middle, while freshman Saasha Jacobson and sophomore Kayla Peralta are defensive specialists, anchoring what Cutenese called a strength.

"One of the top three things we have going for us is our ball control," Cutenese said. "I also really like our chemistry and work ethic. We're still teaching the OCC system and we don't know what other teams have. But this is a group that has an opportunity to achieve good things."

The Pirates open Orange Empire Conference play Oct. 1 at home against Cypress in a rematch of last season's state title match.

Copyright © 2019, Daily Pilot
EDITION: California | U.S. & World