Every boys volleyball team wants the top spot in the Foothill League. That’s a given. But the race for the No. 1 spot – or even the No. 2 spot – might not be as interesting as the No. 3 spot.
West Ranch and Valencia are coming off of dominant seasons and can have repeat performances this season.
But Saugus and Canyon battled for the final playoff spot last year, and can potentially be in the same situation this year.
Golden Valley has a new coach and Hart has a revived work ethic, creating an unpredictable atmosphere in league.
Here’s a look at this year’s teams in the order they finished last year:
Fresh off its best season since 2012, West Ranch (6-3) may have the deepest team it’s ever had.
Coach Nate Sparks, who has announced he will step down for personal reasons after this season, believes he has 19 solid players on his roster.
Outside hitter Michael Flores leads that group.
The senior recorded a team-high 414 kills last season, propelling West Ranch to an undefeated Foothill League run and the school’s first appearance in the CIF semifinals in four years.
West Ranch, which moved up to Division 1, also brings back opposite Derek Seo, who had 157 kills last season as a junior.
Twins Cameron and Connor Bertolett will start at outside and libero, respectively.
Andrew Johnson returns at right side hitter for the Vikings and brings equal parts experience and energy.
“(He’s a) left-handed guy that hits the ball well, so he’s perfect for the position,” said coach Kevin Kornegay. “He brings fire to the team, kind of a spark plug kind of guy. As he goes, the team goes.”
Valencia, who lost in the CIF-Southern Section Division 2 quarterfinals to Burroughs last season, also has the volleyball smarts of Cameron Williams and the athleticism of Connor Ruffner, who also plays basketball.
Dorian Ellis, also a football player, made the jump from the freshman team to varsity.
“Very athletic kid, has a huge upside, he’s 6-foot-4 right now,” Kornegay said. “If he connects, he’s terminating it.”
There’s a battle at libero between Jacob Knudsen and Jon Yamasaki. First-year varsity starter Aaron Erskin will be at setter.
The Cents struggled in preleague, losing five games before coming back from a 2-0 deficit to defeat Chaminade of West Hills in five sets Tuesday.
They have had a tough schedule thus far, though, taking on the likes of Oak Park High and Notre Dame High of Sherman Oaks.
The team lost only one player, Sam Safley, to graduation, so Saugus has experience on its side.
The Centurions edged Canyon last season to earn a postseason berth, but saw their season end in in the first round of the CIF-SS Division 2 playoffs in a loss to Oak Park.
Last season was a rebuilding time for the Cowboys, who missed the playoffs after losing the deciding match against Saugus.
“Sadly we didn’t make it and they beat us, so there’s that,” said coach Jeff Cody. “We really want to get back to playoffs and then with the retooling with all the divisions we’re excited about what we can do in playoffs.”
Canyon has been moved from Division 2 to Division 3. Returning for this year’s playoff push is Shea Stanford, a first team All-SCV player. Other experienced players include Reagan Marsh, Dustin Deisbeck, Jackson Edwards and Dylan Night.
After playing libero last year, Edwards was moved back to the setter position and has made a smooth transition.
“He’s set before so he’s excited about it, and he seems to be doing great,” Cody said. “He might not have the size, but he’s definitely much more aggressive.”
Senior setter Anthony Devantier headlines the Grizzlies this year.
“He sets up our offense and he also can swing,” said coach Daniel Tice. “Sometimes we’ll have a pass where it’s a little bit of an overpass and he’ll go up and attack it if he’s front row. He’s really good at mixing it up.”
Devantier will play volleyball at NCAA Division 3 Arcadia in Pennsylvania.
Eric Castro has moved up from JV at the middle blocker position. With experience in basketball, Castro has great footwork and is excellent at kills.
Tice, a first-year coach at Golden Valley, is also focused on building team chemistry.
“Last year I saw issues with attitudes splitting up the team when they’re playing … when I was just helping out with the program,” he said. “This year I’ve made it a goal to establish a team presence.”
The Indians are ready for change.
“The boys have worked collectively from frosh all the way up,” said coach Jeannie Brauninger. “They’ve worked really hard to get better and to change how the Santa Clarita Valley views the Hart volleyball program.”
Junior Dylan Lang is a key returner but will be out with a sprained ankle for an unknown amount of time.
Darrin Dietz, who was brought up from JV, is a newcomer who is “really quick,” according to Brauninger, and is part of a group that’s accomplished a 4-2 record in preleague play.
Hart’s comeback victory against Ventura on Monday exemplifies what the team is all about this season. The Indians were down two sets before confidently coming back to take the game.
“They’re tenacious,” Brauninger said. “They could’ve easily just given up but they didn’t. They just kept playing and they’ve really meshed and gelled really well.”