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Foothill League 2013 boys volleyball preview: Teams have a lot to live up to

Top two league finishers last year have pressure with others contending

Posted: March 17, 2013 10:38 p.m.
Updated: March 17, 2013 10:36 p.m.

Hart senior Tanner Tengberg, left, is one of the Foothill League's top returning hitters this season.

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It’s hard to figure out which team has more pressure on it.

Is it the team with two unprecedented streaks to uphold in Foothill League play? Or is it the team everyone is picking to end those streaks?

Valencia, winners of its last 112 league matches and the last 12 league crowns, comes into Thursday’s Foothill openers as an underdog.

That’s according to a poll of the league’s coaches, who picked West Ranch as the favorite to claim the crown.

Both Valencia and West Ranch, which finished second in league in 2012, made it to the CIF-Southern Section Division II semifinals last year.

The league moved up to Division I, but within the Santa Clarita Valley, coaches are saying there’s more parity than ever.

If either streak ends for Valencia, it may have more to do with the wealth of talent in the area and less to do with a drop-off in Valencia’s talent.

Truthfully, this league is far from a two-horse race with Hart returning basically its entire staring lineup and Saugus putting together an impressive non-league resume.

The arrival of young talent also makes Canyon a tough out as it and Golden Valley come into the season with new head coaches at the helm.



Valencia

The most appropriate place to start for Valencia is to review who is no longer on the team. Make that two All-CIF players, including The Signal’s 2012 All-Santa Clarita Valley Player of the Year Eric Ensing, who graduated.

The Vikings don’t return a single All-Foothill League first or second-team player from last season.

In 2013, Valencia has lots of talent, but it’s a group still learning how to play together.

“Time will tell,” said Valencia head coach Kevin Kornegay of losing most of the 2012 starting lineup. “There’s been years where the same thing has happened and they were still able to pull through it. I think it’s going to be very competitive. It’s going to be tight. There will be some wars ahead.”

Senior libero Kevin McClain is Valencia’s only returning starter.

Though the elder Ensing has moved on, his younger brother Kyle Ensing, a 6-foot-4 sophomore who will assume the role of the team’s No. 1 hitter.

After him the Vikings will try to establish strong play from their middle blockers, senior Kyle Grant and junior Nick Erickson.

The play of the middles will be important since Valencia is struggling to find another option on the outside after Kyle Ensing.

It will be up to junior setter Logan Riley to find the right target.

“Everybody’s got that one big hitter,” Kornegay said of the rest of the league. “So it’s going to  be about that supporting cast.”



West Ranch

West Ranch has the kind of height in the front row that most college volleyball teams would envy.

Between senior and returning All-CIF outside hitter Tanner Skabelund and senior middle blocker Brenton Scott (both 6-foot-11), West Ranch head coach Nate Sparks said his team may very well have the tallest front row in the entire Southern Section.

And if Skabelund can hit with the consistency he did last year combined with Scott and another fellow senior Adam Hersh holding down the middle, the Wildcats could be primed for another deep playoff run.

“As long as everything keeps going to plan, which so far it has been, the guys are progressing at the rate they’re going to until league starts,” Sparks said.

And the plan, to put it simply, is to beat Valencia and win league.

Last year, West Ranch made school history by advancing to the Division II semifinals, which was three rounds further than the team had ever gone in the postseason.

But one thing the Wildcats didn’t do was win a Foothill crown. This team seems to have the makeup to challenge for one.

Senior Christian Cayabyab is converting from libero to setter this season to replace graduated All-CIF setter Anthony Hanna.

With Skabelund as the clear No. 1 option on offense, other hitters will include junior opposite Andrew Dieterle and junior Clay Burns.

Former outside hitters Ben Davis and A.J. Smith are switching to back-row defensive players this season for West Ranch.

“There’s just more room to grow than any other team I’ve coached,” Sparks said. “A lot of it has to do with the size and the talent.”



Saugus

Saugus may have graduated its best two players last year, yet the 2013 team might still be better.

Injuries and a lack of depth held Saugus back from what appeared to be a highly promising 2012 season.

But the way the Centurions are playing now, head coach Barry Nua feels like they can build on last year’s third-place league finish.

“I think that the boys are ready,” Nua said. “And when I say that I mean they’re getting better every game, so I feel like we’re going to compete.”

Saugus turned heads by claiming a championship in the Arcadia Tournament earlier this month.

It did so with the strong hitting combination of 6-foot-5 junior Max Nua and senior Tony Balzer, who was named the Arcadia tournament MVP.

Those two have the task of replacing do-everything outside hitter Matt Coleman and middle blocker Colby Wilson, an All-Foothill and Signal All-Santa Clarita Valley first-teamer.

Even with those two graduated, Saugus is in solid shape with junior setter Grant Spooner back on the court. He missed most of league play last year after breaking his leg.

Zech Lee had to step into the setter spot unexpectedly last season, but now the junior has moved to an outside hitter position.

Helping out in the middle is Zach Choo, the team’s lone sophomore starter who will rotate into the front row with senior middle Garrett Harding.



Hart

Any team with as much experience as Hart can make some serious noise.

The heart of this team will be the connection between senior setter Chris LeClair and senior outside hitter Tanner Tengberg, a pair of third-year varsity players.

Those two, along with just about every other starter, return to a Hart team playing very consistent volleyball early in the season.

“We have a very senior-heavy team and most of the guys have been playing for a while now,” said Hart head coach Kevin Ker, whose team just missed the playoffs last season after a fourth-place finish in Foothill. “We’re going to be able to compete with a lot of teams in league just because of the experience that we’ve had.”

In addition to experience, Hart’s strength is its offensive balance. LeClair has been a strong setter for the last two years, and he’ll have the option of Tengberg hitting on the left side, senior Adam Marrs on the right side or senior Nolyn Preston in the middle.

Marrs steps into a hitting role after primarily playing on defense last season.

Leading the defensive lineup this season will be junior Sonny Mueller, yet another returning starter.

Sophomore middle D.B. Gibbs is the only new face in Hart’s starting lineup.



Canyon

Nobody is going to call Canyon a favorite to win league.

But first-year head coach Brandon Johnson is sticking to a simple philosophy that he thinks will help Canyon collect a lot of wins.

“We just have to outwork teams,” Johnson said. “We have to work harder. We have to want it more and we’re going to have to catch some breaks, but you create your own breaks from working hard.”

Johnson stepped in during the summer to replace Andrew Spackman, the team’s head coach for the past two years.

Johnson has also been coaching Canyon’s varsity girls team the last two seasons.

Now he takes over a fairly young, but exciting team.

At the center of it all is senior setter Andy Kern, who Johnson calls one of the best in the league at his position.

He’ll be distributing the ball to players like senior Lance Ayson and sophomore Jake DeYoung, a pair of outside hitters.

Another sophomore hitter, Jared Hathaway, will also get into the mix, and freshman libero Noah Ozuna adds to the list of starting underclassmen on this team.



Golden Valley

There’s no sugarcoating it for Golden Valley this year.

With new players filling in at many key positions and a new head coach taking over very late in the offseason, it’s hard to classify this season as anything but a rebuilding year.

The Grizzlies will rely heavily on two juniors in outside hitter Tristen Murchanian and middle blocker Bradley Surette.

Those two are given the massive task of replacing three-year varsity starter Alec Schlossman, who is now playing volleyball at Harvard University.

First-year head coach Derek Saenz is left to piece together the lineup. That task is made especially difficult since Saenz took over the program just three weeks prior to the start of the season.

“We’re concerned with adding a lot more culture of winning and training for volleyball,” said Saenz, who is replacing three-year head coach Jeff Cody.

He’s inherited a team that’s replacing its top hitter and setter.

Due to lack of depth, the Grizzlies will be playing without a libero.

Last year’s starting libero, Dominic Scaglione, has converted to outside hitter this season as a junior.

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