Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy volleyball aiming for higher spot in Mission League

Expectations have normally been sky high throughout the history of the Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy volleyball program, though they perhaps waned over the last few seasons.

The Tologs have won a couple of CIF championships, advanced to the state tournament and won multiple Mission League titles.

It’s not something that’s lost on Flintridge Sacred Heart Coach Ernest Banaag, who saw his team surge during the second half of league last season before advancing to the first round of the CIF Southern Section Division I-A playoffs.

Banaag and the Tologs spent most of last season adjusting to each other. Without a transition process in store, Banaag and Co. have aspirations to win a league championship and make a deep postseason run this season.

“Last year, we were getting to know each other and looking for ways to make the system work,” said Banaag, who guided Mayfield to three straight CIF titles between 2008-10. “We got it figured out and finished up strong.

“We have a lot of people back from last year and we want to take it to the next level. The expectation is to win league and we are very vocal about it. Why not have high expectations?”

The Tologs were the lone local squad to qualify for the playoffs last season.

Flintridge Sacred Heart appears to be in good shape for a return trip. It will feature a lineup consisting of junior setter Sophia Coffey, senior middle blocker Katie Conley, senior outside hitter Maddie Peterson, junior libero Emily DeVille and freshman outside hitter Kayla Lund.

“We are going to have quite a few people who can put balls away,” Banaag said. “We are also going to be focusing more on tightening up on defense and sticking to our blocking schemes.”

Crescenta Valley figures to rely on several key seniors to provide leadership and help return the Falcons back to the playoffs after missing out last season following a fifth-place finish in the Pacific League.

Leading the way for the Falcons, who are coached by Jen Ku Lee, are senior libero Rosa Kwak, senior setter Cassidy Iannello, senior outside hitter Nanette Grigorian, junior outside hitter Emmie Walker and junior opposite Michaela Guarino.

“We want to get back to the playoffs after just missing out last year,” Lee said. “I expect us to be a big blocking team that’s also good fundamentally.”

At Glendale, the Nitros will look to improve following a sixth-place finish in the Pacific League under coach Jennifer Vo.

The Nitros will feature four starting returners to help them try to attain that achievement.

Among those expected to carry the Nitros are senior outside hitter Serena Shaer, senior middle blocker Kirsten Cabarong, junior setter Sevanna Stepanian and sophomore outside hitter Jordan Lousararian.

Vo said there are some things the Nitros need to improve on, starting with building a sturdy defensive unit.

“We have to work more with our defense, so they are gelling at the end,” Vo said. “At the same time, we have a lot of starting returners who can provide us with leadership and provide us with a lot of variety.”

After winning a Horizon League championship in 2010 and sharing another with Alverno in 2011, Holy Family fell on hard times and struggled last season.

The Gaels lost a chunk of players to graduation following the back-to-back league titles, forcing coach Robert Bringas to find some new lineup combinations. The Gaels won only one match last season en route to placing fifth in league.

Bringas will have three senior returners in the mix this season, all with a full season of varsity experience on their resume. They are middle blocker Iris Guzman, setter Rianne Sanchez and outside hitter Katherine Rivera.

Bringas said he will look for the trio to provide insight — on and off the court — to the younger players.

“They got a lot of playing time last year, so we are going to build our team around those three,” Bringas said. “With them there, the chemistry seems a lot better now.

“We will have a lot of juniors and seniors. That’s a good thing in helping us try to go in the right direction.”

Flintridge Prep Coach Sean Beattie is seeking moderate improvement. The Rebels finished tied for sixth in the Prep League before losing eight players to graduation. Six of the eight seniors last season were in the starting lineup.

The Rebels figure to have a nice blend of young players to mix in with a couple of returners.

Among those expected to see plenty of time on the court are senior setter Jenny Shinpaku, junior outside hitter Dani Mott, junior middle blocker Rachel Benn, sophomore outside hitter Lauren Stiles and sophomore middle blocker Nicole Emmons. Shinpaku missed all of last season with a knee injury.

“For the most part, it’s a new team,” said Beattie, who piloted the boys’ team to an undefeated league championship in the spring. “We have a young team, but that can bring out the best in everybody.

“The way I look at it, everybody is on the same level. Everybody will have to battle.”

Glendale Adventist Academy and Hoover will have new coaches in Gared Luquet and Gabby Gallardo, respectively. The Cougars took fifth in the Liberty League. The Tornadoes finished seventh in the Pacific League.

The Cougars will have senior setter Brittany Gregg, senior outside hitter Melissa Lopez and senior middle blocker Kimya Marefat and junior outside hitter Harley Federici.

Luquet said the Cougars will try to stay patient throughout their matches.

“We hope to have the rallies [in a match] going for a long time,” Luquet said. “We want to go out there and play smart and be solid in a lot of different areas.”

Hoover will turn to Gallardo, who will also serve as the boys’ coach. Gallardo spent the past three seasons coaching both L.A. Poly squads.

The Tornadoes will have their fair share of seniors, including outside hitters Nicole Mirzakhanian, Lilit Chaparyan and Vanasis Ohanian and opposite Jenina Matela. They will be joined by sophomore libero Kathy Alfaro.

“We definitely want to be competitive to where we can make a difference in league,” Gallardo said.

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