La Cañada High girls' volleyball begins new chapter

A new era for La Cañada High girls’ volleyball is set to start in 2013, while Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy starts year two under Ernest Banaag and Flintridge Prep looks to improve after graduating most of its squad.

After a surprising trip to the CIF Southern Section Division II-A semifinals, the Spartans are looking to regroup now that four-year varsity players and longtime offensive leaders Micaela Anderson, Kendall Walbrecht and Katie Pierce are gone; stepping in is a senior-less group of experienced youngsters.

Anderson, Walbrecht and Pierce, along with many teams before them, have left behind a tradition of dominance in the Rio Hondo League — 10 consecutive league titles and 67-match league winning streak — for this young group.

That’s not something La Cañada Coach Brock Turner has brought up to his team. What has happened doesn’t matter, what can happen does, he said.

“I don't make a big deal of it at all because their time is now and that's what's so important,” said Turner, whose team went 19-12, 10-0 in league in 2012. “Yeah, it's nice to look at a banner, but they weren't around. I say, 'Let's make our own history, let's put our own banner up there.'“

While this year’s group may lack senior leadership, it’s not short on experience, with five players returning with varsity experience after Anderson, Walbrecht and Pierce all missed large chunks of the season due to injury in 2013. This year’s group is led by junior tri-captains Loren Shin (libero), Leigh Sclafani (setter) and Megan Arnold (middle blocker).

Shin (297 digs, 23 aces) was a first-team all-league selection in 2012, while Sclafani (926 assists, 118 digs and 24 aces) received a second-team nod. Outside hitters Taylor Page and Jenna Gray also return for the Spartans after getting their first taste of varsity action last year.

La Cañada has also brought up leaders from last year’s junior varsity team, including the squad’s MVP and right-side hitter Sarah Sellman and setter Erin Kim. The Spartans are also deep with solid defensive players; juniors Taylor Kramer, Missy Horner and sophomore Julia Harbolt could all see action as a defensive specialist.

“Defense, serving, passing are going to be our strengths,” said Turner, who has sophomore lefty Megan Reilly, who can play all along the front, and junior middle blocker Haley Miller providing further depth. “Hitting's going to take awhile because everyone is new to the offense ... so just getting that going is going to take some time.”

Expectations are high at Flintridge Sacred Heart.

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

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?”

Flintridge Sacred Heart appears to be in good shape for a return trip to the playoffs. 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.”

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.”

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