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In a season that hasn't produced a clear-cut favorite, Sylmar is one of a handful of teams expected to make a run at the City Section title when the playoffs begin next week.
Woodland Hills Taft, Granada Hills, Carson, Harbor City Narbonne and Palisades are often mentioned in the same breath, Sylmar Coach Bob Thompson said.
"Any of those have a very legitimate shot," he said.
There are some who figure Tujunga Verdugo Hills into the mix, but the Dons are a bit too young, according to Coach Will Reinhart.
Many, like Reinhart, feel Sylmar has the edge. Thompson won't go quite that far — not yet anyway — but he has been pleased with the performances he's seen from his team.
Outside hitter Luz Rodriguez, a returning All-City player, is Thompson's candidate for section player of the year. She is the team's kill leader.
"She's a good, versatile player that has all the shots," Thompson said.
Mayra Mata, a returning second-team All-City selection, ranks second in kills and leads the Spartans in aces, averaging eight per match.
"Her serving ability has really been carrying us right now," Thompson said.
Setter Erika Lopez has been a pleasant surprise. She rode the bench a year ago behind All-City selection Gabriella Herrera, who now plays at College of the Canyons. Lopez was a good understudy, according to Thompson.
"Without her, we wouldn't be a contender," he said. "She didn't get to set much last season, but this year, as she has improved her decision-making, we seem to be doing better. It's kind of like learning on the job right now."
The City playoffs are scheduled to begin Nov. 12 and the finals are Nov. 22.
Pacific Coast Showdown
If Corona del Mar is to have any chance at repeating as champion in the Pacific Coast League, it has to do a better job of serving in a rubber match with visiting Irvine Northwood at 4 p.m. on Thursday.
Corona del Mar Coach Bill Christiansen said serving was the difference the last time the teams played. Northwood needed only 14 kills from Lindsay Macias and took a little more than an hour to end Corona del Mar's 15-match league winning streak with a sweep.
It marked the first time in school history that Northwood had defeated the defending league champions.
"That we went out so quickly was not reflective of the match," Christiansen said. "They caught us on a bad day serving.
"As you know, in the new scoring system, every missed serve is a two-point swing. Hopefully, we'll be competitive and co-league champions."
Junior outside hitter Jordan Smith provided a bright spot for Corona del Mar with seven kills and 13 digs, and Lauren Snell had seven kills. Christiansen said bigger efforts will be necessary to keep Northwood at bay.
"It was a huge match," he said of the first league meeting. "We wanted to be undefeated league champions. Now we have to fight to be co-league champs. But we're looking forward [to it]. I know I have a good team. We've beaten a lot of good teams. We just have to cut down on our own errors."
Corona del Mar beat Northwood in three games during pool play at the Dave Mohs Memorial Orange County tournament in September.
Christiansen put his team on the spot before the season began when he boldly predicted that Corona del Mar, which has won six section titles since 1977, would advance to the Southern Section Division III-A final.
"This is the tallest team I've had in eight years at CdM," he said. "I don't have a starter that is 6-3 or 6-4, but I'm ecstatic with the height we have. Northwood is a little taller than us, but we're a lot deeper, a lot deeper than 95% of the teams we play."
A memorial fund has been established to help defray costs for the family of Hesperia Sultana player Karina Ledesma, who died Sept. 13, two days after falling ill while warming up for a match.
According to Sultana Activities Director Stan Clark, Ledesma, a junior, suffered a brain aneurysm.
For information about the memorial fund, contact Sun Country Bank in Apple Valley at (760) 247-2010.