Boys’ Volleyball Preview: New-look Flintridge Prep chases more league success

Boys’ Volleyball Preview: New-look Flintridge Prep chases more league success
Flintridge Prep's Jonathan Samuels is one a few key returners for the Prep League champion Rebels. (Tim Berger/Staff Photographer)

Nine athletes who recently finished playing soccer or basketball have made their way to the Flintridge Prep gymnasium to add reinforcements to the boys' volleyball team.

It's quite a boon for Flintridge Prep, which will look to continue its impressive string of dominance in the Prep League. With the winter season now in the rear-view mirror, the Rebels are at full-strength in their quest to win a fifth straight league championship.

Flintridge Prep enters the season ranked eighth in the CIF Southern Section Division III poll. The Rebels reached the Division IV semifinals last season before moving up to Division III after the CIF realigned the divisions.

"We've got the whole team back and we're ready to take another shot at league and make the playoffs," Flintridge Prep Coach Sean Beattie said. "We had about 11 players combined from the varsity and junior varsity teams practicing while the others were playing soccer and basketball.

"I feel like we can have a strong team, but we just need to put the pieces together. The league will be tough again and we'll give it our best shot. Everybody probably lost at least one key player [to graduation]."

Flintridge Prep lost a monumental talent in Dante Fregoso, a former All-Area Boys' Volleyball Player of the Year who was named the league's most valuable player last season after registering 444 kills and 265 digs, graduated.

Flintridge Prep brings back senior outside hitter Jonny Samuels, sophomore outside hitter AJ Nicassio and senior middle blocker Jake Althouse, who starred for the basketball team. They will be joined by junior outside hitter Majeed Ismail.

"You lose a lot when you don't have somebody like Dante and he's going to be very hard to replace," Beattie said. "There are some spots to fill and we like the group of players we have to step in and contribute right away."

Crescenta Valley finished third in the Pacific League and reached the Division II playoffs. The Falcons will remain in Division II.

Crescenta Valley has plenty of seniors under the watch of coach John Nelson, who said it's possible the Falcons can make a move north in the league standings.

The Falcons return senior middle blockers Anders Johnson and Brent Dunkin, senior outside hitter Jonathan Lee, senior opposite hitter Ben Allen and senior setter Eugene Shin.

"We'll have that leadership and we'll have some more size," Nelson said. "We'll also look for some of the underclassmen to step up and fill out a spot in the lineup.

"We know that our league will be tough again. Burroughs won league [and the Southern California Regional Division II championship]. There's also some other teams that have done well, like Burbank and Arcadia."

Hoover ended a 19-year playoff drought last season after finishing fourth in the Pacific League.

However, things will be different at the top for the Tornadoes after coach Gabby Gallardo left to take the same position at Burbank.

Hoover graduate Danny Seranian takes over for Gallardo with a goal of returning the Tornadoes to the postseason.

"It's pretty surreal to be coaching, let alone where I once played," Seranian said. "I was mentored by Gabby and learned a lot of things, such as having a strong work ethic at practice. You can't be lazy and you are expected to show up and be on time."

The Tornadoes, who will be in Division III after previously being in Division II, will turn to senior outside hitter John Pfeifer and junior setter Edwin Miciano to pave the way.

St. Francis just missed qualifying for the Division I playoffs after taking fourth in the demanding Mission League. The Golden Knights, who are now in Division II, will look for a more favorable outcome while trying to make the playoffs for the first time since 2012.

"I think we have a pretty good team in tact," St. Francis Coach Mark Frazee said. "All of our returners started at some point last season, so they have more experience.

"Everybody is familiar with one another. So we have the potential to be even better. We lost some close matches, so we'll look to fix things to put us in position to finish up strong."

The Golden Knights will have a lineup that includes senior outside hitter Sean Stephen, sophomore setter Joey Thompson, senior opposite hitter Alejandro Moreno and senior outside hitter Hunter Gunski.

Glendale will also begin a new chapter after bringing in coach Andy Cheng, who takes over for Ta'ase Mose after coaching the junior varsity team the previous two seasons.

Cheng said the Nitros, who took fifth in the Pacific League, might be in a rebuilding stage after 10 players graduated. Still, Glendale will have some talent at its disposal in junior opposite hitter Albert Balekjian, junior libero CJ Maylad, sophomore setter Julian Mabunay and sophomore outside hitter William Phan.

"It will sort of be a rebuilding year, but we have high hopes," Cheng said. "We've been practicing hard and there's some chemistry already there.

"We'll try to grab a playoff spot, but we know we'll have to work hard in order for that to happen."

Glendale Adventist Academy and St. Monica Academy will also have new coaches.

Glendale Adventist, which took sixth in the Liberty League last season, will turn to Marton Medina to guide a more experienced squad. Medina replaces Chris Lindstat, the school's athletic director.

The Cougars will have some athletes who can provide leadership, including senior setter Justin Sapigoa, senior outside hitter Christian Knipschild, junior outside hitter Joshua Young and junior middle blocker Don Corbin.

"It's exciting because we have a good mix of talent," Medina said. "I'll be looking at how they function as a team in terms of how they work together in approaching the game."

St. Monica brings in Owen Keenan, who led the girls' basketball team to the Independence League championship and a playoff appearance. Keenan replaces Marco Barman.

The Crusaders offer a bit of experience with the return of senior outside hitter Michael Grumbine and junior setter Nicholas Matranga.

"We'll look to improve in league," Keenan said. "We'll be a work in progress, but they are enthusiastic and ask a lot of questions."

St. Monica took fifth in league last season and didn't qualify for the Division V playoffs. The Crusaders will remain in Division V.