New playoff experiences for Spartans, Tologs volleyball

Things will look a lot different for the La Cañada High and Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy girls' volleyball teams heading into the postseason.

After two straight disappointing endings in the CIF Southern Section playoffs, the Spartans could find themselves in the unfamiliar underdog role if they manage a first-round victory. Just up the hill, the Tologs return to the postseason after a one-year hiatus under first-year, yet veteran playoff coach in Ernest Banaag.

The Spartans (16-11, 10-0 in league) enjoyed the top-seed in the Division II-AA playoffs in 2010 — when they fell in the quarterfinals — and fell at home to Mission Viejo in the second round as the fourth seed last season.

La Cañada will certainly be favored in its opener when it hosts Paramount (14-8, 5-5), an at-large, fourth-place team out of the San Gabriel Valley League, Tuesday. As always, Spartans Coach Brock Turner wants his team to avoid looking ahead, something it may have been guilty of last year.

"A few years ago when we won CIF we were seeded No. 1, last year we had a decent draw, but I think the girls were looking ahead to playing La Salle in the quarters and Mission Viejo snuck up on us," Turner said. "This year it's different for us because we've had so many injuries and different lineups. We are finally getting together and they have confidence in each other."

Should La Cañada knock off the Pirates, it'll be hitting the road to take on PAC 7-league champion Arroyo Grande (19-6, 12-0), which received a first-round bye and was ranked No. 6 coming into the postseason.

"It's fine, over the years I've realized not to worry about it, it just is what it is," Turner said of the draw. "I don't worry about it anymore. Sometimes you just have to beat a team earlier in the playoffs than normal."

The Tologs (15-15, 6-4) will also take on the sixth-ranked team in Division I-A, Valencia, on the road in the first round after earning the final guaranteed, third playoff spot out of the Mission League.

Sacred Heart is familiar with the Vikings (24-10, 9-1) after the two met in the Redondo Union Tournament just over a week ago on Oct. 26. Valencia, the Foothill League champion, defeated the Tologs in an abbreviated best two-out-of-three match, 25-22, 19-25, 15-6.

"The girls were asking me if I knew who we were going to play, and some of them were saying they wanted to play Valencia again because they wanted a rematch," said Banaag, who led Mayfield to CIF titles from 2008-10. "I had a funny feeling we were going to play them, too.

"I feel pretty good about it. Obviously [the Vikings] came in first in their league and we came in third in our league, but I feel like our league was a lot tougher than their league. We played them at Redondo and lost, but we didn't play our best. I think the fact the girls have seen them already and know they didn't play their best, as well, makes it a good story line."

Banaag said his young team went back to basics last week in practice to prepare for the intense playoff atmosphere it's going to encounter.

"I just tried to reinforce the idea that it's the technique, the fundamentals that are going to get them through the matches," Banaag said. "It's going to be loud and it's going to be crazy — they're going to have boys there — but the skills you have and the coaches are going to get you through it. … We have another shot at Valencia and hopefully second time's the charm."

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