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Foothill League 2012 girls volleyball preview: Everybody’s in the hunt

Foothill League should be a multi-team race

Posted: September 27, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: September 27, 2012 1:55 a.m.

Saugus senior Ashley Guthrie was named to the All-CIF Southern Section Division IA team in 2011.

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Gone are the days of a clear favorite on top of the Foothill League and a handful of easy wins at the bottom.

Welcome to the new and improved girls volleyball contingent in the Santa Clarita Valley.

Expect many more closely-contested matches and a lot less predictability.

Take a pick. There’s West Ranch, which might be fielding its most talented team in school history and is picked by multiple Foothill coaches to win a league crown.

Then there’s always Valencia, which has been the class of the league for the past decade and is looking to reclaim supremacy after finishing a disappointing second last season.

That’s not to mention defending league champion Saugus, which comes in under the radar, due to extensive graduation losses but is still one of the most talented teams around.

In the past, the league had a lower tier below those three teams, but Hart had one of its best preleague seasons in years, Canyon has posted some head-turning upsets and Golden Valley brings a wealth of experience to the table.

This year, there may not be a lower tier at all.

Saugus

Two of the top hitters in the league a year ago are gone, including reigning All-SCV Player of the Year Jaclyn Clark.

The Centurions (8-6 thus far) graduated off their starting libero and their best middle blocker as well.

What Saugus does have is a returning All-CIF setter in senior Ashley Guthrie and another strong hitting combination of senior Hannah Nua and junior Makena Wasserman.

Nua is a returning All-SCV second-teamer and she’s off to a blazing start with 214 kills this season.

“She’s doing a great job offensively,” said Saugus head coach Zach Ambrose of Nua. “Her numbers are very high and Ashley has been doing a good job getting her the ball.”

Younger sister Samantha Nua comes up to varsity to play middle blocker as a sophomore.

She and defensive specialist Julianna Dole are the two sophomores starting this year.

Senior libero Hannah Peeters will assist Dole defensively as yet another new face in the starting lineup.

Yet still, the Centurions took fourth out of a strong 32-team field at the San Luis Obispo Tournament early this month.

Ambrose said the team shows signs of brilliance at times, but “the consistency hasn’t show itself yet. We haven’t put it together for multiple games, multiple matches.”

Valencia

Just because the Vikings failed to win a league crown for the first time since 2001 doesn’t mean they’ve lost the respect of the rest of the league’s coaches.

Though it was by a narrow margin over West Ranch, Valencia was voted the favorite to stand atop the podium this season.

An early win against CIF-Southern Section Division IAA power Dos Pueblos and an 8-4 record against top-level competition has the Vikings ranked seventh in the latest Division IA poll. They’re the only Foothill team in the top 10.

“We have a terrific team,” said head coach Ray Sanchez. “I would say we don’t have any holes or needs anywhere.  We’re thrilled with the players that we have, and I think, across the board, we’re a very talented group and very cohesive.”

For Valencia, it all starts with the two senior returning All-SCV players, Delaney Knudsen and Sierra Sanchez.

Together, the pair of third-year varsity players anchor one of the best offensive combinations in league.

Knudsen will also share some of the setting duties with her younger sister, sophomore Lindsey Knudsen.

Up front, the Vikings return another pair of seniors, Hayley Knapp and Kellie Kleszcz, to play middle blocker.

New to the lineup this year are sophomores Kaity Uythoven and Teresa Cernosek, a libero and middle, respectively who are quickly adjusting to the varsity game.

More than any individual though, Sanchez is praising his team’s mental toughness.

“They’re worried about winning this year, this match, this game, this point,” he said.

West Ranch

When asked which team should be the favorite to win league, one Foothill coach said it best: “On paper, West Ranch should be the best.”

Can this team put it together on the court though?

It’s hard to say, according to first-year West Ranch head coach Gerrit Maxwell, who took over for former coach Nate Sparks in the spring.

“We’re going to be as good as anyone in league, but it basically comes down to, ‘Can you perform during those clutch times?’” Maxwell said.

As for the “on paper” part, the Wildcats bring back a powerful one-two punch in outside hitters Sarah McGough and Alexis Clewis, a senior and junior, respectively.

Every starter on the team has at least a year of varsity experience, many with more than that.

The Wildcats are covered on defense with talented junior libero Haley Lind and they’re solid in the middle with seniors Sage Hernandez and Julia Thomas, who will play a hybrid outside and middle role.

To complete the puzzle, senior transfer Carly Carapella will fill in at setter after playing three years of varsity with Valencia.

Senior outside hitter Serena LeDuff also transferred from Valencia this year, and she adds another valuable offensive option.

“The nice thing is this team has a lot of depth,” Maxwell said, “so even when individuals struggle, we have other people who can come in and fill those holes.”

Hart

At the end of the 2011 season, Hart showed a glimpse of what it could have been with a dramatic 3-2 win over Valencia in its final match of the season. It was Hart’s first win over the Vikings since 2006.

This year, with seven seniors leading the charge, the Indians are hoping there is plenty more where that came from.

“The way we’ve been putting it together, playing consistent, the girls have a little more heart and desire than they have in the past,” said Hart head coach Mary Keen.

Experience can be found up and down the Hart roster, beginning with senior outside hitter Amy King and the power-hitting, left-handed senior opposite Kathryn Cambra.

In the regular season, the Indians (8-3) made it to the finals of the most competitive bracket in the Saugus Tournament last weekend, which included three other Foothill teams.

Earlier in the week, Hart defeated defending CIF-L.A. City Section Division I champion Granada Hills 3-0.

Hart has all the elements needed to win, including 6-foot-1 senior Amanda Plante and 5-foot-11 sophomore Chase Tengberg holding it down in the front row and experienced senior Katie Baker taking care of libero duties.

“I think this year I have more girls that can execute the play faster, which comes with height and their vertical (jumps) and their ability to see the defense,” Keen said.

Sophomore Erin Indermill will play setter for Hart after doing an admirable job as a freshman starter last season.


Golden Valley

In terms of sheer court time, the Grizzlies might field the team with more varsity experience than any other in league.

Four of Golden Valley’s starters are third-year varsity players, and they cover all the key positions for a team coming off a 2-8 league record last season, which tied for a program best.

For this team, there’s senior returning All-SCV second teamer and libero Hanna Acree. She’ll be joined by fellow seniors Katie Nicholson and Kylie Cordero, both hitters, as well as setter Madi McKiernan.

“The difference between us this year and last year is just doing the little things right,” said head coach Jeff Cody. “I think we’re better at the small details in the game.”

Senior middle Brianna Wright and sophomore opposite Courtney Molina are both making their varsity debuts this season, but will likely work into the lineup.

As is often the case with Golden Valley (4-6) though, the team lacks the height to match up with many league opponents.

In turn, the Grizzlies have to make up for it in other parts of the game.

Canyon

It’s already been an up-and-down season for the Cowboys, who have looked much improved based on their preleague performance, but are struggling to get healthy.

Senior setter Brianna Lonquich broke her foot and might be out for the season while senior outside hitter Morgan Fay has dealt with a handful of minor injuries in recent weeks.

“Injuries are part of the game,” said head coach Brandon Johnson. “You’ve got to battle through and people have got to step up in other positions.”

On the bright side, a short-handed Canyon (9-7-1) team managed to beat Notre Dame of Sherman Oaks 2-0 in last weekend’s Saugus Tournament.

Notre Dame was ranked fourth in the CIF-SS Division IA preseason poll.

The win is a good sign for a team coming off a winless run through Foothill play in 2011.

A healthy Fay and fellow senior Lauren Underwood are the team’s top options as hitters.

Underwood will primarily receive sets from her sister, sophomore Robyn Underwood.

Senior Mackenzie Thurston is the team’s best returning middle and sophomore Sarah Greenland will start at libero.

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