COC women’s volleyball returns core players and a will to win

College of the Canyons’ Sam Nua, left, celebrates teammate Emily Burns’ successful block during a game against Pierce College at COC last season. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

A strong core of returners is coming back for the College of the Canyons women’s volleyball team this year, right down to the coach.

Clay Timmons is back for his second year as interim head coach of the Cougars.

“Going through last year, it gives me a little bit more confidence and (I know) exactly how I want to implement … the tools we’re going to use for the program,” Timmons said. “(I’m) a little bit more confident in my ability to lead as the head coach.”

His attitude is reflected in the offense as well.

Emily Burns, a Valencia High graduate, brings a physical presence to the opposite hitter position. She’s over 6 feet tall with a long reach that’s perfect for putting the ball away.

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Burns, who was named All-Western State Conference First Team last year, has picked up on some intangibles, too.

“She’s really stepping into being a captain,” Timmons said. “I’ll give direction to her and she’ll give direction to the team. She’ll be one of the people on the court who the girls are going to look to between the points.”

Another Valencia product, Rachel Perez, is back at setter. Although she’s a quiet leader, Timmons said, her athleticism helps her navigate the court and get to the ball in both the 5-1 and 6-2 offense.

Saugus product Sam Nua is back at middle hitter after an ankle injury late in last season. Nua led the WSC last season with a .476 hitting percentage and was consequently named All-WSC First Team.

All of the above players add to an aggressive attack that Canyons has only improved on since its 19-6 overall, 6-2 conference performance last season.

“We maintain a decent amount of firepower,” Timmons said, “but I believe that we actually improved our overall ball control, which will allow us to do a little more than we did last year offensively.”

Defensively, Demi Dawson of Valencia returns at libero, and Caroline Page will add skill to the defense as well as offense.

Brimming with experience, the Cougars are eager to surpass last year’s Southern California Regional playoff run that ended in the first round.

“We’re excited to have as good if not a better team back and get that chip off our shoulder,” Timmons said.

The Cougars compete in the Pierce Kickoff Classic on Aug. 25-26, then begin the regular season on Sept. 1 at Irvine Valley at 5 p.m.

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