The way last season ended for the top-seeded La Cañada High girls' volleyball team — in the CIF Southern Section Division II-AA quarterfinals at the hands of Oaks Christian — was tough for Spartans Coach Brock Turner to swallow.
"It was very disappointing, it's the one loss over the years that I have hung on to more than others," said Turner of the 25-27, 25-23, 14-25, 25-22, 15-11 defeat to the Lions.
The defeat broke the Spartans' two-year streak of making it to the CIF Southern Section Division finals. La Cañada is eyeing a return to the championship after graduating just one starter last year. The Spartans enter 2011 ranked No. 4 in CIF Southern Section Division II, according to the CIF preseason polls that were released on Aug. 22.
"It's maybe better that way [being ranked fourth]," said Turner, who's entering his eighth year as La Cañada's head coach. "We have something to shoot for."
The Spartans sat on top of the polls for most of the season in 2010 and went 30-4 (10-0 in Rio Hondo League) for their ninth consecutive league championship. Expectations are set higher than a league championship and quarterfinal appearance this year, as the Spartans return eight starters.
Catherine Horner, a senior, four-year varsity starter and La Cañada's co-captain, will anchor the Spartans' back line at libero. Kirstie Shurie, a three-year varsity setter, will join Horner as a co-captain this year.
La Cañada's six other returners include junior outside hitters Kendall Walbrecht and Micaela Anderson. Laura Schroeder, a senior, will return to her spot on the right side and Katie Pierce, a junior, and Claire Hilsen, a senior, return as the team's middle blockers.
Pierce is the reigning Rio Hondo League MVP after she posted a 54.4 kill percentage (232 kills on 411 attempts), 146 digs, 42 aces and 26 blocks last year. Walbrecht, a first team all-league selection in 2010, accumulated a team-high 330 kills. Every Spartan up front can put the ball away, though, as Schroeder and Hilsen had 180 and 149 kills, respectively, last year.
"If someone's not having their 'A' game, someone else can bring it," Turner said. "We do have a lot of weapons."
Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy has plenty of veterans who have multiple years of experience competing at the varsity level to help replace the loss of Camille Coffey, who led the team with 241 kills and added 162 digs en route to being named the All-Area Player of the Year and the Mission League's co-Most Valuable Player last season.
"Camille will be missed and you are not going to replace her," Sacred Heart second-year Coach Anne Arlie said. "We still have a talented team.
"We now want to use that talent that we have and spread out the responsibilities so we don't have to rely on one player."
The Tologs, who placed second in league last season, will bring back senior setter Alessandra Orlandini, senior middle blocker Katherine Rubschlager, senior outside hitter Drew Washington and senior defensive specialist Shelby Tom.
Orlandini earned All-Area second-team accolades after registering 537 assists last season and will be expected to be the backbone of the Tologs' offense.
"Every year is a new challenge and we have a lot of seniors," Arlie said. "We have a lot of good leaders who are very intense on the court."
At Flintridge Prep, Coach Sean Beattie will use the first five matches to get a better understanding of his team. The Rebels are in the ultra-competitive Prep League that features Chadwick, Pasadena Poly and Mayfield. Chadwick, Pasadena Poly and Mayfield all advanced to the CIF Southern Section Division III-AA semifinals last season with Chadwick besting Pasadena Poly in the championship match.
The Rebels placed sixth last season, but Beattie said the Rebels might be in position to challenge for fourth place in league with the return of senior opposite hitter/setter Julia Miller and senior outside hitters Kate Woolley and Kimberly Kim.
"Going in, you know our league will once again be very tough," Beattie said. "We have so many new players that it will take some time.
"We don't want to get frustrated if things don't go our way. At least we have a chance at that last spot for the playoffs from league."