Irvine Valley hoping pieces fit

Irvine Valley College women's volleyball Coach Tom Pestolesi has a history of success, taking the team to the state championship tournament five times, including a third-place finish as recently as 2009.

The Lasers are coming off an injury-plagued 2010 season, going 14-7 overall and placing fourth in the Orange Empire Conference before enduring a second-round exit in the Southern California Regional playoffs.

But ask Pestolesi about pressure to return the program to state championship contention and he chuckles.

"The only pressure we have is the pressure we coaches put on ourselves," Pestolesi said, referring to his staff that includes Rich Brown, Gary Nakamura and Ki Yi. "As silly as it sounds, truly our No. 1 goal is to move them on to a good four-year school.

"I'm a dad. I have two kids that finished college and a third who is starting college in the fall. It's all about experiences and education. As corny as it sounds, when the season is over, unless you win it all, you don't remember the games, you remember the process."

That said, Pestolesi does want to win.

The challenge Pestolesi and his coaches face is overcoming the loss of four all-conference players from last year's team, including first-team setter Christie Allen.

"What we say is that every day you want to get 1% better," Pestolesi said. "If every day you get 1% better, you're going to become pretty good. All we ask is that you come in every day and do what you're supposed to do, and you'll finish where you should finish."

The Lasers do have a talented group of returning players, as well as newcomers. Defensive specialist Sarah Mendoza, a first-team all-conference player last year as a freshman, heads the list. Also returning is Hannah Unruh, who missed the final five weeks of last season with an illness.

"Hannah has been an amazing leader during the offseason," Pestolesi said. "She's showing a great work ethic."

Katelyn Shepherd and Carleigh Mueller also return this season from last year's team.

Sofia Furlong, who redshirted last season, steps in as the Lasers' setter.

"She really athletic," Pestolesi said. "She's tall, 6 feet 1, and is just getting better and better. It's exciting, we really have great kids."

Some of the top newcomers include a group Pestolesi is calling the "A-Team" — Allie Cook, Alex Goodman and Avae' Masaniai.

Pestolesi could have included Annie Kim on the A-Team. Kim last played collegiate volleyball in 2009 at Cal State Los Angeles.

"She was living in Irvine and wanted to play volleyball," Pestolesi said. "She is friends with a couple of the men's players, and she contacted me. She's a pretty athletic kid."

IVC's 8-6 mark in the Orange Empire Conference was good enough for fourth place last season behind Cypress, Fullerton and Orange Coast College. Pestolesi believes his team has the ability to improve on that.

"We have some athleticism, a little bit of height, we definitely have really good volleyball players," he said. "If we coaches don't mess it up, we have a chance to be a pretty good team.

"I love the parts we have a lot. We'll see how it all fits together. We have to remind ourselves as coaches to be patient and we have to remind the players to be patient."

Many of IVC's players have been active during the offseason, some of them competing in sand volleyball matches at IVC in May. The matches featured four doubles matches and one 4-on-4 match.

Against Fullerton JC, IVC won three of four doubles match and the 4-on-4 match to win the overall event, 4-1. They also beat NAIA school Concordia, 3-2, after splitting the four doubles matches and then winning the 4-on-4 match.

"It's a group that's really close," Pestolesi said. "The offseason went really well. Hopefully it's an indication of what we have and it will pan out well."

The Lasers play a scrimmage against Cuesta College in San Luis Obispo on Aug. 27, then play the alumni match Sept. 2 before opening the season Sept. 7 at College of the Canyons.

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