Golden Valley ended the 2018 season at the bottom of the Foothill League, winning just three games the entire year, but through eight games has almost doubled their win total winning five games.
Co-head coaches Daniel Tice and Sam Hand team up to and creates a new and more competitive identity for this year’s team.
“Just to step up and show that we are equally competitive and certainly just as dangerous as any school in the league,” Hand said. “Really a sense of pride that comes from the ground up work ethic that these kids developed on their own. They are just super hard-working individuals and I want that to be showcased as much as possible through the way that they play.”
Led by senior setter and team captain Gage Pierce, the Grizzlies have won three of the last four games including shutout wins against Highland and Vasquez.
“He is just a tower of communication and leadership on the court,” Hand said. “Anyone has questions, anyone has doubt he’s the first person they look to. He really is the glue between the offense and defense of the team.”
Senior outside hitter Russell Karimee makes adjustments on the fly with his intelligent play and precise hitting.
“He is probably the best out of system player that I have seen in a long time,” Hand said. “He just corrects mistakes on the fly, goes for touches on every single play, he can hit any ball that is thrown in his direction and is super smart on getting his feet to the ball and placing it on the court where players are.”
Junior Max Grifman transitions to being an opposite hitter that has shown flashes of dominance on the right side of the net. Sophomore middle blocker Caleb Watson joins the team and has already shown signs of improvement from last year to this year.
Showcasing their depth and size, the team has adopted a new nickname for this year’s team.
“We like to call ourselves “the big bodies” and that kind of comes from a different kind of team that we have had in the past in that it’s almost self-explanatory that they are a bigger group of players both physically and mentally,” Hand said. “They really move the crowd when things are going well and they seem to control most games with their attitude and their spirit.”
Saugus currently enters league play with a winning percentage of .500 percent after beating Camarillo, Ventura and Lancaster and dropping only one game at the Cam Classic that took place on Mar. 1-2, but lost its last match to Chatsworth a week ago.
Tim Kempler and Cameron Mudget are the lone returners from last year’s team and step into new positions to this year to fill the voids.
“…that’s a kind of what I have preached to my team all season is that they are volleyball players that are willing to step into any position and play wherever they are needed to help the team and they have bought into that,” said Saugus coach Max Nua. “They are making themselves well-rounded athletes.”
Newcomer outside hitter Daniel Compton also figures to take up a bigger role this year while Dillon Smith, Tucker Davis and Alex Mooy are all fighting for spots in the middle.
“Right now we are a young group with only two returners,’ Nua said. “We are a very scrappy team and we are fighting to make a name for ourselves where some other teams might have a lot of returners and expect a lot. but we are going to make a name for ourselves and be a very scrappy team that can shock a couple of teams around the league.”
After beginning the season on a three-game win streak, Valencia hit a bump in the road losing matches against high-level competition schools like San Marcos of Santa Barbara and lost five out of six matches at the Best of the West Tournament, with the lone win coming against Thousand Oaks.
The Vikings began the season with one of their key players in Dorian Ellis, but should be getting him back for the second half of Foothill League play.
“He’s kind of the leader that we don’t have on the court and he’s trying to lead from the bench,” said Valencia head coach Kevin Kornegay. “When he comes back it might flick a little switch and change the dynamics. He is the most experienced guy I have, so I can’t wait to get him back.”
In the absence of Ellis, Jacob Knudsen has stepped up into the No. 1 outside hitter and has improved dramatically since last season.
“… he was a little of an outside hitter last year and at the beginning of this year he is now the outside hitter No. 2, but now he’s the No. 1,’ Kornegay said. “He’s solid and the most consistent guy I have. A great passer, great setter and server. He’s the whole package.”
Newcomers Dominic Gonzalez and Ethan Lin add some bulk and size in the middle for Valencia and junior setter Daniel Ra steps into the setter role with Aaron Erskin graduating.
“He was behind Aaron and we pulled him up as a sophomore,” Kornegay said. “Told him I can put you on JV, but for the future, I need you to be ready when Aaron leaves. It’s his job now and we have him for two years, so we are excited about that.”