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2014 Foothill League Boys Volleyball Preview

There’s no clear dominant team in league, but plenty of good storylines

Posted: March 23, 2014 10:48 p.m.
Updated: March 23, 2014 10:48 p.m.

Saugus' Max Nua could challenge for this year's Foothill League Player of the Year.

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It took more than a decade to get to the point where this statement could honestly be made about the Foothill League boys volleyball season: It’s anyone’s title.

After Valencia’s 12-year run of dominance in the league was decisively dethroned last year, it’s a bit of a mystery which team comes into 2014’s league opener on Tuesday with the best chance to take home a league banner.

West Ranch comes in as the defending champions following a 10-0 run through league play, which ended Valencia’s streak of 12 Foothill crowns in a row.

But Valencia, after finishing in fourth place and missing the CIF playoffs last year, is coming back strong with Foothill Player of the Year candidate and outside hitter Kyle Ensing leading the charge.

The third team that appears to be a top contender for a league title is, Saugus which will be in the mix with a host of talented, veteran players coming back.

Hart, Canyon and Golden Valley are the less experienced teams in the league, but all three of them also have new head coaches who are trying to keep their teams in contention with the more veteran teams.

Either way, this is a different, more balanced league than it used to be. And that’s never a bad thing.

West Ranch

What better place to start than the defending league champions?

At first glance, West Ranch may appear to be a team headed toward a rebuilding year. But don’t be deceived by the graduation of All-Foothill League and All-Santa Clarita Valley Player of the Year Tanner Skabelund along with All-SCV first-team setter Christian Cayabyab.

This West Ranch team is still very good and brings back plenty of talent, as evidence by its 14-3 record and a victory at the San Luis Obispo Midstate Tournament earlier this month.

“I would say there’s no doubt in my mind that we should go in as the favorites,” said West Ranch head coach Nate Sparks of his team’s prospects in league play.

What West Ranch lost in height and power with Skabelund standing at 6-foot-11, it makes up for in athleticism with hitters Andrew Dieterle and Clay Burns returning as the top offensive weapons.

Those two will be balanced by senior middle blocker and third-year varsity player A.J. Smith.

On the less experienced side, sophomore Ethan Marshall will take on the setting duties

Another newcomer, senior Ethan McCullough, will come in for back-row defensive rotations.

But West Ranch’s strength will be its offensive variety.

“Nobody is really going to know who is going to be hitting when we have a lot more offensive weapons,” Sparks said.

Hart

A fair label for Hart this year might be wild card or dark horse.

With a team stocked with talent and a brand new head coach, there are a wide range of possibilities for this team’s potential in league competition.

Ryan Mason, a former Saugus High volleyball player, took over the team this year in place of Kevin Ker.

Sonny Mueller leads a group of eight seniors on this team as he made the move from libero last her to outside hitter this season.

He’s the only one of four All-SCV players returning from the 2013 season.

The rest of those vacancies must be filled with player who, in some cases, are new to the varsity level.

“We’ve got a lot of talent, it’s just about finding the right way to put them in and playing good volleyball,” Mason said.

Another player who is returning but playing a different position is senior setter Kyle Besa, who was the team’s libero last year.

On the offensive side, senior Justin Fortner will help out as an opposite hitter and senior Tad Hawthorne may also get into the mix as an outside hitter once he recovers from a wrist injury.

As far as the first-year varsity players, senior Derek Dietz will step into the libero role and 6-foot-8 junior D.B. Gibbs is filling in at middle blocker.

With several basketball and soccer players joining the fold this year, the team hasn’t had a lot of time to play together and is working toward getting to full strength.

Hart is 1-2 so far.

Saugus

A lot has been building up to this season for Saugus.

The window of opportunity is there with three key players playing their third varsity seasons, making Saugus one of the more dangerous teams in league.

It all starts with third-year varsity senior outside hitters Max Nua and Zech Lee, who have helped lead the team to back-to-back third-place finishes at the San Luis Obisbo Midstate Tournament and the Dos Pueblos Invitational.

Outside of tournaments, Saugus is 3-0.

“We are off to a positive start anchored by a powerful hitting tandem,” said Saugus head coach Barry Nua.

In addition to Nua and Lee, Grant Spooner, another third-year varsity player, adds another option as a hitter.

Talented juniors are filling in at other positions, including Justin Coleman at setter, Zach Choo at middle blocker and Adam Volpei as a defensive specialist.

Both Coleman and Choo played varsity last year as well.

Valencia

Last year’s young, raw team took its lumps early but started to figure things out last in the season.

This is when we find out if that late surge will carry over into 2014 for what Valencia is hoping to be a bounceback season.

“It was kind of a rebuild last year,” said Valencia head coach Kevin Kornegay. “We’re really excited about going forward.”

Nearly the entire starting lineup from 2013 is back, led by junior outside hitter and returning All-SCV first-teamer Kyle Ensing.

He’s shaping up to be a potential Foothill Player of the Year and possibly more than that.

But he can’t win a league title by himself.

There’s also senior setter Logan Riley and senior libero David Lampert, along with returning outside hitters Trevor Nally and Chance Stevens.

Junior opposite Dakota Abbott is another offensive weapon with a ton of potential.

Senior and 6-5 middle blocker Nick Erickson will provide a big boost for Valencia in the front row once he returns from an ankle injury suffered just before the start of the season.

Erickson is expected back for Tuesday’s league opener against Saugus, Kornegay said.

Valencia is 3-7 so far, but against very stiff competition. It may pay off when the league season hits.

Canyon

Jeff Cody returns to his alma mater this season as he takes over a Canyon team that he previously co-head coached from 2007-09.

He comes in with a big challenge on his hands as Canyon returns very few players and boasts just one senior on the roster.

Still, Cody said his team is up to the task.

“I think the thing we have going for us is surprise,” Cody said. “I don’t think anybody is expecting much from us because canyon hasn’t been the best.”

On the positive side, Canyon returns the junior hitting duo of Jake DeYoung and Jared Hathaway along with promising sophomore libero Noah Ozuna.

Other than that, it’s a lot of new players filling in spots, including sophomore Jacob Frederick at setter, and a pair of middle blockers — 6-foot-6 junior Ian Franklin and 6-foot-5 sophomore Dominic Dotson.

Canyon heads into league play with an 8-3 record.

Golden Valley

Similar to Canyon, the last few years have been a coaching carousel at Golden Valley.

Kyle Schlehner takes over as the team’s third head coach in as many years following the one-year stint of Derek Saenz.

This Golden Valley team, despite going 0-10 in league play a year ago, does have some experience and potential.

“I think we can compete with this demanding league,” Schlehner said. “If we can work hard and pay attention to the details in practice, I think we can make a run here.”

Golden Valley will be anchored by a trio of senior third-year varsity players in outside hitter Tristan Murachanian, middle blocker Bradley Surette and libero Dominic Scaglione.

Running the offense will be freshman setter Anthony Devantier, who is picking up the varsity game quickly.

The team may also receive contributions from junior outside Jackson Fallin, sophomore opposite Kyle Schnyder and sophomore middle Quentin Jackson.

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