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Foothill League boys volleyball preview: Vikings seek history

Other teams will try to prevent state-record win streak

Posted: March 29, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: March 29, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Senior Broc Oppler and Valencia will try to set the state record for most consecutive league wins in boys volleyball.

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Seven returning seniors.

Ten straight Foothill League championships.

A combined 19 feet of height between its three front row players.

While all those figures are impressive in their own right for the 2011 Valencia volleyball squad, no number stands out more than its current league winning streak — 92.

The Vikings are just four matches short of tying the state record for consecutive league wins, 96, accomplished by Loyola High of Los Angeles from 1999-2006.

“It’s on everyone’s mind,” said Valencia head coach Mark Knudsen. “I’m sure everybody wants to be able to stop us from doing it and I think everybody is going to be trying to this year, and hopefully we can stop them all from doing it.”

Possibly the biggest threat to the streak is Hart, which coincidentally meets up with Valencia on the fourth game of the season, which will be the potential record-tying match on April 14 at Valencia.

In terms of overall experience and depth, Valencia will likely be favored.

The pressure of the situation could tip the scales, though.

“We don’t have anything at all to lose,” said Hart head coach Mary Krisan. “They have everything to lose with the streak and all that. For us, it’s just another match that we want to win.”

Knudsen doesn’t hide the fact that the record is important to Valencia, but also said day-to-day priorities this season don’t hinge on it.

The mission for the 2011 season is the same as any other: win league and win a CIF-Southern Section Division II title.

Last year, Valencia (5-5) was bounced in the quarterfinals.

With a stockpile of talented club players at every position, plenty of experience and a No. 3 ranking in the latest CIF-SS Div. II poll, the Vikings’ sights are set higher this season.

They boast three seniors with two years of varsity experience, Broc Oppler, Shane Nazarian and Kurt Fults.

Nazarian will play setter and feed the ball to both Oppler and Fults as outside hitters.

Filling in for departed All-CIF first-teamer Nick Ferry is junior libero Griffin Ender, who adds to the already strong core of servers.

“Basically at this point in the season, we’re just worrying about what we need to do and make sure everyone is playing their best,” Knudsen said.

Upon hearing of the possibility of stopping the Vikings’ winning streak at 95, Krisan said she made a point to inform her team of the significance of the matchup.

But for Hart, winning that match isn’t the top priority.

“I haven’t heard the guys talk about the game at all ... I really think they want to win the whole league,” Krisan said. “These guys really want their year up on the wall.”

To bring home a league title for the first time since 1992, Hart will need heavy contributions from two seniors who have already signed with Division I college programs.

Long Beach State commit Taylor Gregory and University of Hawaii commit J.J. Mosolf are the only two returning starters for the Indians (7-3), who graduated six seniors.

Joining Gregory at the net will be fellow middle and junior Rhett Almond, who helps create one of the tallest blocks in the league.

The hitting power is there. The net play is there. Even new starting sophomore setter Chris LeClair has steadily improved during non-league play.

The only question for Hart is consistency and communication between the younger and older players.

Those could be the deciding factors in the two matchups with Valencia.

But it isn’t just Hart trying to dethrone the Vikings.

No team has as many starters coming back as last year’s third-place finisher, Golden Valley (7-3).

Of the seven starters on last year’s team, the Grizzlies bring back six.

The team didn’t graduate a single senior, but starting setter Josh Escoe quit for personal reasons.

Two players named to last year’s All-SCV second team, junior outside hitter Alec Schlossman and senior opposite Ryan Kessler, return.

Another senior, Andrew Raulinaitis, moved into a hitter position this season after playing middle in 2010.

He is one of many players who have taken it upon themselves to get better at the details and fundamental facets of the game.

“I think there are definitely aspects of our game that have improved,” said Golden Valley head coach Jeff Cody. “I think our serving has gotten a lot better. I think our defense has been pretty good. One of the things we talked about at the end of the playoffs last year was, ‘We need to get ready for next year.’”

In last season’s divisional playoffs, Golden Valley exited in the first round after going 5-5 during Foothill play and earning third place.

The Grizzlies also have a pair of newcomers expected to contribute in Harman Rao, a senior who didn’t start playing volleyball until last year, and junior Zach Pearce, who will be swapping time between setter and hitter.

“I think one of the really great things about this team, with them being so young last year and then everyone’s returning, is we’re so evenly balanced,” Cody said.

West Ranch’s situation is a stark contrast. The Wildcats (7-3) have very little experience coming into the season, but lots of promise.

Valencia is the only league team with more club players on its roster, but 10 of West Ranch’s 12 players are new to varsity.

At times, the lack of experience has shown in non-league matches, head coach Nate Sparks said. But it’s hard for him to be discouraged about a team that has already won more matches than it did in the entire 2010 season.

“We’re trying to get them to control our side of the net and just worry about the things we need to do,” Sparks said.

West Ranch finished 6-14 overall and 2-8 in league last year, but with new arrivals like junior setter Anthony Hannah, a possible top-three finish is looking more realistic.

Sophomore Adam Hersh (middle) and junior Chet Nordskog (outside) are two more fresh faces to share the court with senior middle Jonn Soatch, the team’s lone returning starter.

Hersh is hitting better than .500 so far this season.

But while the Wildcats’ focus is internal, Canyon (5-2) is doing everything it can to prepare for specific matchups with the top Foothill teams.

First-year head coach Andrew Spackman challenged all his players to work on jump-serving to help keep Valencia’s passers out of system, and he rose the net four inches during practice to prepare for Hart’s size.

After coaching the JV team last year, Spackman had a good idea which players he had coming back and what needed to be done to erase the memory of a 1-9 record and last-place finish in league a year ago.

“I just came in and decided to do things completely different than we did last year because obviously we weren’t getting it done,” he said.

The Cowboys not only have to replace six graduation losses, but two juniors who chose not to return for their senior seasons.

One of the few returners, junior Michael Foster, has yet to commit a hitting error this season.

Joining him will be Danny Daniyelyan, who played for Spackman on last year’s JV squad. He’ll move around to play setter, hitter and opposite throughout the season.

Austin Van Nattan, a football-turned-volleyball player, is another new face for Canyon.

Another team trying to change its image with a new head coach is Saugus.

Under head coach Colleen Nua, the Centurions benefit from the return of junior middle hitter Colby Wilson, junior opposite Matt Coleman and senior libero Caleb Pilarski.

To account for the loss of setter Ryan Mason, who now plays at Cal State Northridge, Saugus (4-6) will be moving multiple players in at the position.

So far, senior Peder Vandermark is the frontrunner.

Whether they played varsity last year or not, Nua didn’t give anyone a free pass.

“I hadn’t seen them at all play last year, so when we came in, they had some skills they needed to improve on, especially serving and passing, and they have improved a lot,” Nua said.

With little disparity of talent between most teams, most coaches agree that the margin between second place and last place in league will be minimal.

“It’s going to be a tight race I believe for that second and third playoff spot,” Sparks said.

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