Tonight marks the beginning of Foothill League volleyball and every team is vying for a shot at the league crown.
Last year, Valencia and Hart split the league title after going 9-1 in Foothill League play with each school dropping one match to the other.
This season, every team has already played a heavy dose of preleague matches in an effort to better prepare themselves for league play.
West Ranch, led by second-year coach Jamey Ker, went 0-6 in its non-conference matches. Despite the winless record, Ker believes his team gained a lot of valuable experience from playing some of the best teams in the state.
“I told the girls that I wanted our preseason schedule to be as tough as possible so that we are preparing ourselves for our league,” Ker said. “We played some of the best teams in Southern California in our preseason. It’s definitely got us excited to get our first win and prepared us for any eventuality against our league opponents.”
The Wildcats were without star outside hitter Allison Jacobs for the last three contests, who was playing for the US Girls National Youth Volleyball team in the NORCECA Tournament in Honduras.
With Jacobs back in the fold for the start of league, the Wildcats will look to earn their first victory of the season when they face Saugus tonight.
Golden Valley, helmed by another second-year coach Jack Johnson, went 5-3 in its preleague slate. They are one of the younger squads with four sophomores on the roster, all of whom are expected to contribute this season. Defensive specialist Delaney Sherwood and starting middle blocker Sahliyah Ravare have already made an impact.
“Our team is still young. Of the starters, most of them are juniors. There’s one senior outside hitter, Sophia McRae,” said Johnson. “Sahliyah and Delany are learning as they go. They have played volleyball for a while, playing for city leagues, but they’re learning to play at this level on the court because they are our best options.”
Canyon, which opens league play tonight on the road against Valencia, went 8-4 in its 12 non-league contests. The Cowboys are led by seniors Juliana Ascencio, Kyra Titner and Sasha Thomas-Oakley, who head coach Robert Treahy describes as “a beast.”
“I am so proud of her becoming more than a one-dimensional player,” Treahy said of Thomas-Oakley mid-August. “She’s the leader of our team and we’re lucky to have her. I’m very excited about her future.”
Hart, who played the fewest preleague games, went 4-1, and will also open their league schedule on the road against Valencia on Thursday. Coach Mary Irilian believes her roster is built on skill, but is held together by team cohesion.
“This is one of the bests group I’ve ever had as far as team cohesion goes,” Irilian said. “The girls are really I think putting the team first this year as far as bodnign and connecting with evyerone.”
The returning co-Foothill League champions return Zoe DiNardo, Shelby Grubbs, Megan Soto and Noelle Blumel and add two freshmen in Kylie Tengberg and Audrey Welch.
Valencia, the only Foothill League team in CIF-Southern Section Division 1, finished 2-8 in its non-conference schedule.
While the Vikings record isn’t ideal, Sanchez had a similar mentality to Ker — he scheduled tough opponents to better prepare his team for league.
“Our preleague schedule has not gone well for us,” Sanchez said. “But I hope that we played high-caliber teams and that’s going to get us ready for a challenging league.”
The Vikings will to look to rebound after a slow start to the season, but have a tough test in their league opener against Canyon.
Saugus, which has made steady progress since head coach Zachary Ambrose took over in 2016, went 5-4 in non-league play this year. After going 5-5 the last two seasons in the Foothill League, they’ll look to go over the .500 mark in league play for the first time since 2011.
Canyon’s match against Valencia begins at 5:30 p.m. at Valencia High School. West Ranch faces Saugus at the same time at Saugus High School.
Golden Valley and Hart will both begin league play on Thursday, Sept. 6, with the Grizzlies facing the Wildcats on the road at 5:30 p.m. and the Indians taking on the Vikings at 5:15 p.m.