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The question is, who's No. 2?

Posted: March 25, 2008 3:05 a.m.
Updated: May 26, 2008 5:01 a.m.

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If the No. 1 boys volleyball team in the country were to reside in the Foothill League it is a safe bet that they would be favored to win every match and take home the league crown.

Since that is the case with the Valencia Vikings, it would seem to be a safe bet to pencil the Vikings in as the favorites to capture the 2008 Foothill League title and continue their 53-match league unbeaten streak.

Valencia opened the 2008 season as the top team in the land according to Rivals.com and again looks to set the standard by which Foothill League volleyball is played.

For the last seven years, the Vikings have claimed the Foothill League championship and with five of six starters returning from last season's title winning team, the early favorite is clearly Valencia.

For Saugus coach Ed Spooner, the favorite is very clear.

When asked what Saugus wants to accomplish this season, his answer was simple, and perhaps spoke for the rest of the league.

"Beat Valencia," he said. "That's what everybody wants to do, but that isn't going to happen."

Valencia isn't the only storyline in the Foothill League however.

Change is also sweeping the valley.

Four schools, Hart, Saugus, Golden Valley and West Ranch all signed on new head coaches, signaling perhaps a new era in Santa Clarita volleyball.

With regime changes at two-thirds of the schools, new styles will be introduced to try to stop the Vikings from claiming the top spot again.

Senior graduation, something that didn't hit Valencia, West Ranch or Golden Valley, will also be a major factor in the top teams of the league from 2007.

While Valencia lost only one player, and the Wildcats and Grizzlies lost none to graduation, Saugus and Canyon each lost its two best players. Hart lost its top player from 2007 as well.

But for now, the Foothill League starts with Valencia, the seven-time reigning champs.

The Vikings enter the season with a lofty ranking and a pre-league schedule that is among the toughest in the state.

Starting outside hitters, Jamey Ker and Jon Griffith will be joined by newcomer Derek Trent, a transfer from Bakersfield playing high school volleyball for the first time ever.

Surrounding them will be the familiar cast of Jake Piva, Skyler Seymour, Jim Baughman and Gio Botten, who will work with Trent at the setter position looking to feed Griffith, Ker and the rest of the team for the Foothill League season.

"We had a lot of juniors (in 2007)," said Valencia head coach Mark Knudsen, "so we have a full roster of experience heading into the season."

West Ranch will look to challenge the Vikings for the top spot in the Foothill League because of its returning experience.

"Our expectations are very high. We expect first place," said West Ranch coach Nate Sparks.

Sparks is in his first season coaching the boys team after coaching the girls the prior year. He also comes from a Valencia background playing volleyball there until his graduation in 2003 and coaching the girls team there as well.

Now, with a full team back from a solid showing in the 2007 Foothill League season, Sparks will look to lead the Wildcats into the season with a squad that knows each other quite well.

"We are playing a whole lot better as a team," Sparks said. "We have the skill level. We can compete with top teams, but we need to work on the mental part to make sure nothing breaks down on us."

Helping make sure the team will stick together will be 2007 starters Austin Peck and Nate Reynolds, both of whom led the team in kills and assists respectively.

Joining them will be junior Jeff Zepp and senior Jack Zeitoun, who will look to add to the Wildcat offense.

The other newcomer to the league in 2007, Golden Valley, will also look to challenge Valencia, but head coach Colin Bahmer is also realistic.

"Our goal is to finish second in league and anything beyond that is great," Bahmer said. "It is tough knowing that the No. 1 team in your league is also No. 1 in the country, so our goal is to accomplish the individual goals and have that translate into winning."

Edwin Portillo, Skyler Summers and Michael Olivier all return to lead a team that lost no players from 2007 to graduation.

Bahmer is also in his first season of coaching in the Foothill League coming from Oak Park where he coached the girls junior varsity team.

"We are inserting a new system so it has been a lot of adjusting and getting used to so far," Bahmer said. "But we've been improving on our serve receive and with that, our offense has picked up a lot."

Now, he will look to use his system to turn around a Grizzly program that finished in last place just one year ago.

For Saugus, the second place team in Foothill League play in 2007, 2008 will be a rebuilding year after losing its two best players and getting a brand new coach.

"We lost a lot of talent and you don't pick that up everyday," Spooner said of the loss in 2007 of Jake Deitrich and Steven Kempler. "The thing we have to do is develop a program that is winning and fun and hopefully attracts good players."

Leading the new wave of Centurion volleyball players will be a player that had never played until this year, Joey Deitrich, Jake's younger brother.

Joey came from the basketball team and, according to Spooner, has been a pleasant surprise, turning from basketball player to the best volleyball player on the team.

Kyle Eaton, Matt Romero and Mike Romero are the only returning starters from last year.

With all that youth, it will be a challenge for the Centurions to compete for the league title, but other goals are possible.

"We have got two or three sophomores and a couple kids as juniors who never played, but I think we should be in the running for playoffs," Spooner said. "But how far after that I don't know."

Following Saugus in the 2007 standings was Canyon, another school effected by senior graduation.

Shane Veiga, Andrew Spackman and Ryan Arthur, the core of the Cowboy offense and defense, all graduated, leaving head coach Brian Ingino to call 2008 a year of rebuilding.

"It's a rebuilding year and we are just looking to compete in each game," Ingino said.

Making it even tougher is that Brent Borgese, the top returner from last year's squad, began the year by breaking his collar bone, slowing his progress on the court. Fortunately for Canyon though, Borgese is regaining his form and should be up to speed at the start of league play.

While last year resulted in a playoff berth for the Cowboys, Ingino knows 2008 might not hold the same result.

"I would just like to see the guys grow," Ingino said. "We have a lot of younger guys who will get game experience.

It's a real big growing year for us."

For the Hart Indians, graduation took away top player Michael Sophley, but didn't move away any others, leaving Hart with the opportunity to compete for a playoff spot and perhaps give Valencia a run for its money.

Replacing Sophley in the middle will be sophomore Andrew Uberstein, while newcomer Ryan Schwartz will take over at libero in his first year on varsity.

The rest of the offensive power is still intact from a season ago as outside hitters Chris Gill and Shane Siezega are back as well as opposite Kendall Smith.

All three will look to lead the Indians to a solid showing in the Foothill League after missing the playoffs a year ago.
The Indians are among the four schools in the valley with a new head coach. Girls coach Mary Krisan takes over the boys team.

So, with all the change occurring in the Foothill League boys volleyball scene, the lone constant is picking Valencia to capture its eighth straight crown.

With five of six starters back, the Vikings will look to continue their domination of the Foothill and maintain that No. 1 ranking.

"It's nice to go into the year with that (ranking)," Knudsen said. "But we want to finish the year that way."

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