The ball's in their court

Phrases like "rebuilding process" or "transition year" aren't being thrown by La Cañada High's girls' volleyball team in 2010, even though the team brought up eight new players to replace the 11 who graduated.

The Spartans continued their tradition of winning in 2009, as they came out on top of Rio Hondo League and advanced to the CIF Southern Section Division II finals. This year the program is focused on more of the same.

"The bar will be set high, as the standards of the program will continue to be a major factor in our success," said Coach Brock Turner, who is in his seventh year. "Even though the team is young in experience, we do not consider it a rebuilding year."

La Cañada enters the season focused on winning its eighth consecutive league title and second CIF Southern Section Division II championship in three years after falling short to Elsinore last year.

The Spartans take on the task with a revamped, and much younger, squad. Eight new players, and no freshman for the first time in 20 years, join the team.

Courtney McCutchan is La Cañada's biggest loss, as she led the team in kills (390), aces (48) and was second in digs (230) last year. McCutchan received a full-ride scholarship to play for Lehigh University after being named all-league four years in a row, including two MVP years in 2007 and 2008.

"Last year when we got into the season and had some challenges early, I could rely on a lot of experience," Turner said. "We don't have that this year."

Turner's squad will look elsewhere to overcome any early-season woes this year.

"We'll be strong in the front row, but our strength early in the season will be serving and passing," Turner said. "That's what we'll have to rely on as we get through the bumps in the road."

This year's two captains, junior Catherine Horner and the Spartans' lone senior, Eirene Kim, were both all-league players last year. Kim will be shifting from libero to defensive specialist and Horner will anchor the back row as the team's defensive specialist after leading the team in aces (48) and collecting 141 digs last year.

"Having the leadership of our two captains will be one of the contributing factors to our team's success this season," Turner said. "They've been through a lot since they've been here at La Cañada."

Before the season even started, Turner's first mission was to replace both his outside hitters — McCutchan and MaryJo Scott, who now takes the court for Kenyon College.

Filling their shoes are sophomores Micaela Anderson and Kendall Walbrecht. Anderson shifts over after serving as the right-side hitter last year and Walbrecht gets the nod after turning heads in a standout club and summer season.

Returning to middle blocker again this year is junior Claire Hilsen. She led the Spartans in blocks in 2009 with 35.

Juniors Kirstie Shurie and Laura Schroeder will also be called upon to contribute. Schroeder, a transfer from Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy, will be given the task of anchoring the right side on both offense and defense, and Shurie will assume the squad's setting duties.

Although the cast is different this year, La Cañada's goals remain the same.

"Our goals are as high as past years and we'll demand even more this year," Turner said. "We have the talent to compete."

Things look good for the other local squads as well.

Anne Arlie replaces Shelli Orlandini as coach at Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy.

Arlie, who has been a varsity assistant and lower-level coach at Sacred Heart for the past five years, inherits the area's most highly-regarded program, one that made two CIF semifinals appearances and one trip to the CIF finals during Orlandini's five years at the helm.

Most recently, the team advanced to the second round of the CIF Southern Section Division 1-AA playoffs.

Senior outside hitter Camille Coffey, a four-year starter, is the clearest remaining link to those past teams and will be the main weapon in the Tologs' arsenal as they first aim to navigate the Mission League, where nemesis Harvard-Westlake has been dominant for the last two seasons.

"It's always fun to watch Camille play," Arlie said.

Arlie's first order of business will be to sort out the Tologs' best lineup from a group of returners such as setter Alessandra Orlandini and a crop of varsity newcomers.

"I'm very excited about it," Arlie said of her first season as a varsity head coach. "I think we're going to surprise a lot of people. I know the attitude within the team is very good and that, mixed with a high skill level, is just going to make us even better.

"I think we're going to have a really good year. I think we'll be a force to be reckoned with."

Flintridge Prep made the playoffs for the first time since 2005 last year after finishing fourth in the Prep League.

Things won't get any easier for the Rebels this year, as they are moving up to Division 3-AA and are adjusting to the loss of top hitters Marin Seifert and Morgan Brown.

"In losing Marin and Morgan Brown, we lost about 70% of our offense from last year," Beattie said. "That's what we're really focusing upon this year — where we're going to make up that offense — but we've always been a very strong defensive team."

Setter Casey Meurer and libero Tori Glebocki, both seniors, are the top returners, but Beattie said that everyone will get a chance to contribute as he tries to find the right combinations on the court.

"Last year was a good taste of success, especially for the returners that are coming back," said Beattie, who expects Mayfield, Pasadena Poly and Chadwick to once again top the league hierarchy. "They can see that now we can do it, we can compete with the other girls in our league.

"[This year] it's going to be a fight, just like it has in the last few years, between Westridge, us, Rio [Hondo Prep] and Webb for that last playoff spot, but if we can play the kind of defense we're capable of, we could give those top teams some trouble, and that's all you can really hope for."

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