SCV boys’ volleyball preview 

Trinity Classical Academy defenders Skyler Hillemann (3) and Noah Estanol (15) go up to block a shot by Bash Ramirez (11) of Castaic in the second set at Castaic High on Tuesday, 022123. Dan Watson/The Signal

 Another year, another West Ranch boys’ volleyball undefeated season in the Foothill League, right? 

This could be the year we see the snap of the Wildcats’ seven-season league championship streak, and 63-game win streak in league play, as most coaches believe the league title is within their grasp. 

Here’s an early look at the outlooks for local boys volleyball teams as Foothill League play begins this week. 

West Ranch looking for eighth straight title 

Head coach Brandon Johnson has never lost a league game in his six-year tenure with the Wildcats. West Ranch will have a younger team than normal but still may have the pieces in play for another championship. 

Sophomore Noah Douphner returns to the team and was the only freshman on the Foothill League First Team. Douphner’s big swing moves to outside this year where he’ll potentially play opposite of either Aidan Prestridge or Caden Soule.  

West Ranch outside hitter Aidan Prestridge (15) goes for a kill in the third set during a non-league match at West Ranch High School on Thursday, Feb. 24, 2023. West Ranch lost in straight sets. Chris Torres/The Signal

Sophomore setters Ryder Riley-Smyth and Jackson Manansala will lead the 6-2 offense with sophomore Lucas Fico in the middle of the net. 

The Cats have had a slow start to their already injury-plagued season. Johnson isn’t making any excuses. 

“There’s no excuse for anything and nobody should look down on what we’re doing,” Johnson said. “We’re trying to put in the work and we’re just a little bit behind. We’ve been dealing with a lot of things that are out of our control, whether it’s injuries or a lot of stuff. And so what we’re trying to do is we are trying to find a lineup that can get results and we haven’t been able to find it quite yet and that’s fine.” 

Time will tell if West Ranch can remain on the mountaintop but even if they are knocked off, with only four seniors on the team, they may not be down for long. 

Canyon in reload mode 

Fans won’t recognize any players on Canyon’s roster this season after the team graduated 11 seniors in 2022. In his 10th season at the helm of the program, Jeff Cody is tooling up for a bright future, but the horizon may be closer than he thinks. 

The Cowboys have brought up the bulk of last year’s junior varsity league championship team, with only two seniors in the starting rotation. 

Sophomore Jimmy Audette will lead the offense as the setter and captain in his first year on varsity. Audette has impressed Cody with how quickly he’s adapted to the varsity speed as well as built chemistry with the Cowboys’ hitters. 

Opposite hitter Landon Gibson will be one of the focal points offensively. Gibson has a big swing, serve and a solid connection with Audette, one of the most crucial traits of a successful volleyball team. Senior Lincoln Phillips will man one of the outside hitter positions. Cody believes Phillips’ competitiveness and maturity will lead the team in the right direction. 

Cody hasn’t seen a clear identity of his team just yet but believes it will grow over time as the group develops. 

“This year is all about growing,” Cody said in a phone interview. “The team needs to create their own identity. With no returners, we’re totally brand new. We’re in the process of finding out who we are through the early season.” 

Canyon will look to improve on its consistency as the team shoots for its second straight top-two finish. 

Valencia returns nearly everyone 

Valencia has one of the best rarities in high school sports, returning nearly every player from the previous season. 

The Vikings graduated a star outside hitter last year but feel good entering 2023 with a veteran group. Head coach Josh Kornegay has talented players at every position as Valencia aims for its first league title in eight years. 

Inapu Untalan will lead the offense at the setter positions. Untalan feels a great chemistry with all of his hitters. Some names to keep an eye will be: outside Jarek Pascua, middle blocker Zack Saddler and twins Dane and Jett Ricks. 

Valencia teammates Inapu Untalan (12) and Dane Ricks (4) put a shot over the net against Kyle Foley (12) of San Marcos at Valencia High on Wednesday, 022223. Dan Watson/The Signal

The Vikings never steer too far from the top of the Foothill League, but this may be the year they make the jump back into the throne. 

“This is really a big year especially for the senior class that started as freshmen with me,” Kornegay said. “It’s a big year and it’s a group of guys I think can really do something special for Valencia.” 

Hart gets off to a hot start 

The Indians are the only team entering league play undefeated, at 7-0. Hart has looked strong all over the court with strong hitting, blocking and serving. 

The group is led by 2022 First Team All-Leaguer Owen Douphner. The senior played just about every position last season but will be anchored at outside for 2023. Douphner is committed to play at CSUN alongside his fellow outside hitter, Hank Kaufman.  

Head coach Loy Mueller likes what he’s seen from the two so far but is also impressed with  middle blocker Gabe Stokes’ presence on the net.  

The youngest player on the team will lead the offense as junior Tanner Andrew returns to the Indians. Andrew has met Mueller’s high standards as the Indian offense has ran wild and smoothly through the setter to start the year. 

The group has demonstrated a strong connection and confidence so far this season. Mueller has liked how quickly his team has been able to shake off ruts and bounce back without becoming frustrated. 

Hart has a good shot at bringing home a league championship but Mueller will take the season one match at a time, and let the results speak for themselves when the time comes. 

“We’re really excited for league again,” Mueller said in a phone interview. “We’re waiting to get there, but when we get there we’ll take on every game as if it’s the most important match we’ve ever played.” 

New-look Saugus ready to compete 

Saugus enters league play as the only team bringing in a new head coach. Kaitlyn Reiner has been with the Saugus boys’ and girls’ volleyball for several seasons but now enters her first as a head coach. 

Reiner will aim for a top three finish in league behind some talented players on the Centurion roster. Senior Taylor Phipps has demonstrated strong leadership on the court and will man one outside spot. Landon Cookston may have a big year from the opposite hitter position. 
The two will take sets from Eli Hanamaikai and Jeremy De Leon, in the 6-2 offense. Reiner has big swings, good leadership from her nine seniors and some depth in the rotation, but has most impressed with the team’s effort on every point. 

“Their willingness to not give up, they really fight hard for every point,” Reiner said in a phone interview. “I’m really big on the effort but this group gives everything. Their efforts and cohesiveness are outstanding.” 

Saugus has gotten off to a slow start but has been dealing with multiple injuries for the second straight year. The team will hope to be healthy as league play starts this week. 

Golden Valley feeling better than ever 

It’s been over 10 years since the Grizzlies finished in the top three of the Foothill League. However, sixth-year head coach Sam Hand is as confident as ever for his upcoming 2023 campaign. 

Hand’s young roster only has three seniors but also contains a ton of raw athleticism and some quality players. 

Outside hitter and captain Ryan Ko returns to the team for his senior season. Jacob Navarro will move to the other outside spot after spending last year at middle. The pair will be a huge part of Golden Valley’s potential success. 

The offense will be run by setter Oliver Boton. The setter has impressed his coach with his maturity and jump serve. Libero Alonso Dominguez will join varsity this season but also already has one of the best jump serves on the team. 

Hand’s seen plenty of his teams struggle either serving or serve receiving, but feels a new confidence in his 2023 squad. 

“I think something that our team has been struggling to keep up with has been first touch priority,” Hand said in a phone interview. “West Ranch has been dominant because of strong serving and serve receive. This year we finally have a full roster of guys that can put an aggressive serve in the court and our serve receive is as reliable as I can remember… We’re pretty excited about the general future of the program.” 

The team is aiming for a top three finish in league. A trip to the postseason could do wonders for this young team looking to build up the Golden Valley boys’ volleyball program. 

Castaic ready to surprise  

The Coyotes opened up the year with the program’s first home win in a victory over Trinity. Castaic will shoot for more program-firsts this season with a team of 100% returners. 

Head coach David Chae returns to Castaic for the program’s second year of varsity and brought back last year’s team full of sophomores. 

The now-juniors will have plenty of work ahead of them but the team looks immensely improved from last season. 

Opposite hitter Riley Humphrey, Quinn Broadwater and Colton Kim will be some of the players to keep an eye on. Dunstan Loego will lead the improved offense as the setter, but the team’s defense has stood out to their head coach the most. Libero Alexcis Padlan leads the team in that department as they aim to climb the Foothill League standings. 

It could be another year of growing pains for the young Coyote program but Chae is aiming for the team to gain the respect from around the league. 

“I just want to be respected, that’s all,” Chae said. “We’re playing in murderer’s row pretty much with Division I players all around. If we can just show that we’re here to play, that’s what I really want. And if we can sneak out a victory or two, that will be awesome.” 

Trinity showing potential in second varsity season 

The Knights are also entering their second year of varsity and have shown some promise. 

Head coach Dan Hastings returns to lead his team and already has some high expectations in place after last year’s two-win season. 

Outside hitters Mario Bethke and Jed Browning have big swings that can keep the team in most matches. Bethke also has a strong jump serve that can take over a game. Senior setters Noah Estanol and David Lim will run the 6-2 offense and have added leadership to the group. 

Mario Bethke (24) of Trinity Classical Academy puts a shot over the net against Castaic defender Riley Humphrey (33) at Castaic High on Tuesday, 022123. Dan Watson/The Signal

Freshman Skylar Hillemann may also be a name fans will hear a lot this season as the young middle blocker is coming along smoothly on varsity. 

The team has a handful of football players who have been learning how to play volleyball, and after the loss to Castaic, Hastings knew the team was ready to compete. 

“Our chemistry is better this year than it was last year already,” Hastings said. “They understand the sport and I’m really excited about that. We have some really good guys, with a passion for each other. So, I’m just trying to keep them calm and I’m kind of just along for the ride.” 

SCCS building program back into winning shape 

Santa Clarita Christian will also be in its second consecutive year as a program after a long hiatus from the school. 

Head coach Austin Fry will aim to keep the team inclining after last year’s six-win season. 

If you follow the basketball team, you’ll know most of the volleyball guys as well. Will Allen and Manny Yarborough will lead the offense on the net. Cy Mitchell and Landon Hermanson will also look to contribute on the offense led by setter Carter Aispuro. Hermanson will also give the team an edge with strong serving skills. 

The team has struggled so far this year with a 1-5 record but has shown its competitiveness as only one loss came via a sweep. 

Heritage League volleyball may be within sight for the Cardinals but the team has a good shot of staying competitive and punching its postseason ticket with a top finish in league. 

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