Breakers start where they left off

Ten months after winning a CIF Southern Section championship, the Laguna Beach boys' volleyball program opened its 2011season with a victory.

Laguna traveled Tuesday to Huntington Beach to take on Edison team with four starters back from a squad that won the 2010 CIF Division 2 and CIF Southern California Regional Division 3 titles. The Breakers opened the new season with a sweep of the Chargers, winning 25-17, 25-19, 25-16.

Senior opposite Robbie McKnight had 12 kills, senior outside hitter Alek Burk 10 kills, senior libero Troy Donenfeld eight digs, Burk and junior setter Jack Winn each had seven digs and Winn had 18 set assists.

Laguna entered the season ranked No. 1 in Division 2. Edison is ranked eighth in Division 1.

"I think we had some kids step up nicely and it was a pretty good win," Laguna Coach Lance Stewart said. "We had lost our starting outside hitter the day before and put a sophomore in there who hadn't played before and he did a real nice job.

"We played steady throughout. It was nothing flashy, just a nice win."

A day before Tuesday's opener, Stewart said that starting junior outside hitter Austin Hillemann went down with an ankle sprain during practice. Stewart said he expects Hillemann back "probably in a week, or so."

Sophomore Weston Barnes took Hillemann's spot on the outside and gave a strong performance.

"He hit over .300, blocked some balls and passed OK," Stewart said. "He did a nice job in his first start."

McKnight, Burk, Donenfeld and senior outside hitter Colin Ceithaml are returning starters from last year's team.

"We don't have the varsity experience that we've had in the past, even though we have several seniors on this year's team," Stewart said. "Last year's team had guys on it, like Scottie Chapel, Travis (Woloson) and Reid Thompson, who had played together for a long time in the program. It's a little different this year.

"The one great thing this team has going for it is that it's got pretty good team chemistry. I think we're going to play pretty good defense. Our serving and blocking not be as powerful but this team has really nice potential.

Donenfeld is a returning all-league and third-team All-CIF performer. McKnight earned first-team All-Orange Coast League and All-CIF honors last year as a setter. This year, however, McKnight has been moved to opposite.

"He's such a good hitter, especially along the back, that I felt we had to use him," Stewart said of McKnight. "We talked about making the switch a few months ago and he was for it. He's doing what he can for the team, and that's pretty admirable of him."

Stewart said that two players fighting for the setter spot are Winn and senior Alex Bekken.

Making up the 2011 Laguna roster is Duross O'Bryan (defensive specialist, Sr.): Conner Cooper (defensive specialist/libero, Sr.); Tyler Kesler (middle blocker, Sr.); Ethan Morris (middle blocker/outside hitter, Sr.); Steven Bell (middle blocker, Sr.); Caden Robinson (outside hitter, Sr.) and Max McCarter (middle blocker, Soph.).

Laguna takes to the court again today with pool-play action at the Foothill Invitational. Twenty six teams are split into five pools. The Breakers, who won the tournament last year, are the top seed in Pool 1 and play their games at court No. 1 at Beckman High. Also in Pool 1 is Laguna Hills, Norco and West Valley. Laguna plays Norco at 3 p.m. and follows with games against West Valley and Laguna Hills.

The division playoffs begin at 9 a.m. Saturday.

"The tournament gives us a chance to play a lot of games in a couple of days and gives us the chance to see some teams in our division," Stewart said.

Next Wednesday, Laguna hosts Huntington Beach, the No. 7-ranked team in Division 1, at 5:30 p.m.

"They are a volleyball-tradition school," Stewart said of Huntington. "They're young this year but they still are talented."

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