It’s practically a rite of fall when it comes to San Diego high school girls’ volleyball. Pencil in Torrey Pines to win the Avocado West League and while you’re at it, make sure to include them among the small handful of contenders to win the CIF Open Division championship.
Rival coach Rachel Morris, starting her second year at the controls of Torrey Pines’ primary Avocado West adversary La Costa Canyon, is well aware of what her club is up against in terms of the league race and beyond. While obviously not ready to concede an inch to the Falcons without a fight, she knows her spikers are staring down a formidable obstacle.
“Torrey Pines is really well-coached and has a tradition of success,” says Morris. “That experience alone kind of earns them the favorite’s role.
“But we definitely have experience as well and it wasn’t that long ago that LCC was the most respected volleyball program in San Diego. This year’s LCC team wants to regain that respect and I feel that we can be a tough team—right up there with anybody.
After garnering three of the eight Open Division berths last season and having loop champion Torrey Pines capture its seventh section title in eight years, the Avocado West can reasonably lay claim to being the best league in San Diego.
Here’s a quick rundown on five of the six Avo West schools (minus Mission Hills) in the order of last year’s finish. Each school’s 2019 overall record in parentheses.
TORREY PINES (33-4)
Anybody planning to challenge the Falcons’ supremacy better have plenty of weapons because ninth-year Head Coach Brennan Dean’s squad is loaded again—with both talent and depth. TP graduated three starters, all playing at NCAA D-I schools this fall, but returns six seniors, who all possess D-I offers, in addition to a high quality transfer.
After dishing out 550 assists last season, 5-11 Yale-bound Carly Diehl will handle one of the setting slots in Dean’s 6-2 offense. Delaynie Maple and Maya Satchell will be a pair of 5-11 bookends at outside hitter, 6-1 Megan Kraft is slated to start at opposite and 6-2 Trinity Durfee should run one of the middle blocker positions. Combined, those four were responsible for 827 kills, 178 blocks and 411 digs in 2019.
Junior transfer Sophia Callahan piled up 709 assists and 221 digs for 29-9 Xavier Prep of Palm Desert as a sophomore. She figures to slide seamlessly into the second setting position when eligible in mid-September.
“We should be really good,” judged Dean. “Our defense and ball control should be excellent but we’re not super big.
“I’ll be concerned about how we manage things when we come up against a team with a future D-I type who could go through our block, so that’s a question mark.”
The Falcons will get a stiff test early as they open on the road against Cathedral Catholic, August 29. The Dons, who Dean says “are probably better than us right now,” split two regular season match-ups with TP last year but Torrey Pines won the rubber match, 3-1, in the CIF title contest.
LA COSTA CANYON (27-11)
Consider 2018 an educational season for the La Costa Canyon girls and their then first-year head coach Morris. “Last year there was a learning curve for all of us, me included,” said Morris, who transitioned to LCC after serving as co-Head Coach at Canyon Crest. “I was learning the culture that had been in place and trying to create the type of culture we wanted to have going forward—that’s always an interesting dynamic.”
The Mavericks return explosive senior Sophia Tulino, last year’s kill leader (454) but will be without 6-3 offensive powerhouse Morgan Lewis, now at Oregon. Morris is hoping her club can fill the Lewis void by spreading things around.
“This year I see us being a little more balanced,” Morris offered. “Tulino’s definitely going to have nights where she’ll take over but we’re going to need production from a lot of players to be as successful as we hope to be. I think we have a system in place that will help everybody succeed and elevate.”
Senior setter Mia Schaefer (868 assists in ’18) heads up the rest of the returning cast. Included in that group are senior outside hitter-turned libero Alex Lougeauy and 6-2 sophomore middle blocker Avery Tatum. The most interesting new face might be 6-2 freshman Eva Rohrbach whose positional versatility will present Morris with plenty of options.
Chemistry shouldn’t be a problem since LCC sports three sets of sisters on the varsity (six in the overall program). Tulino’s sophomore sibling Emily and Rohrbach’s twin sister Bella could be frontrunners for the second setting position if Morris opts for a 6-2 offense.
Those who saw the Mavs last year should expect a different version this time around. “At our first practice, our entire staff just kind of looked at each other and said ‘wow,’ “ enthused Morris. “Everybody had improved so much.”
CANYON CREST (20-17)
Coming off a season in which it tied LCC for second in the Avocado West and gained one of the eight CIF Open Division invites, Canyon Crest will have some holes to fill in 2019 after graduating nine seniors, including D-I matriculators Olivia Schewe (Princeton) and Evie Gonzalez (Northeastern). The Ravens will also have to deal with the Achilles injury that has sidelined starting junior setter Gracie Wood (780 assists in 2018).
Head Coach Ariel Haas, who has been on board since the CCA program started in 2004, is not about to cancel the season but knows he’s got some work ahead to match last year’s performance. “We certainly still have some talent and I anticipate we will be a very good team,” said Haas. “Exactly how good, I don’t know.
“There are a lot of new faces that are going to be thrust into the limelight early and we’ll have to see how we emerge from that.”
Among the talent Haas mentioned is the outside hitter threesome of junior Sydney Ely and seniors Margaret McCarthy and Jennifer Schirman, sophomore middle blocker Rachel Bermudez and senior libero Vivienne Franke. Ely smacked 221 kills last season, best among CCA’s returners, and Franke racked up a team-leading 207 digs as a junior. Haas expects newcomer Audrey Sawyer, a 5-11 junior transfer from Torrey Pines, to have an impact.
How the setting circumstances evolve will go a long way towards determining where the Ravens are at season’s end. Haas has shifted junior defensive specialist Ellyse Givens to setter and she’ll be joined by the freshmen duo of Addie Picker and Zoey Preston with a 6-2 likely in the offing.
Despite having just a 14-person roster, Carlsbad Head Coach Kristin Tomkinson possesses a nice combination of experience and numbers and she opens her fourth season at the helm with a sense that the program is trending upward.
The Lancers’ foundation will come from four returning starters, three of those—outside hitter Mackenzie Karnig, middle blocker Erin Smith and 6-6 right sider China Rai Crouch—are seniors. The fourth, sophomore Megan Corona, will pair up with Karnig on the outside.
Tomkinson will be looking to inject some talented younger players into the rotation quickly and at least one, 6-2 freshman middle blocker Cayla Payne, could start opposite the 6-1 Smith in the middle. Another potential first-year contributor is the coach’s 6-2 daughter, Auburn Tomkinson who will spell Crouch. When six-foot Santa Fe Christian transfer Rylee Schulz becomes eligible in mid-September Carlsbad foes will have a lot to deal with at the net.
“It feels like we have a lot of height,” says Tomkinson. “When we’ve got everyone where they need to be, we should have a decent-sized block.”
Setter and libero appear to be stations where there might be more questions than answers for the moment. A trio of juniors—Anna Penman, Halle Hewitt and Palm Springs transfer Sammy Castillo—none taller than 5-9—are vying to be the starting setter or possibly setters since the Lancers are likely to adopt a 6-2 attack. Senior Jaden Ferguson and juniors Casey Lavin and Ailene Uetzare are battling at libero with the latter holding an early edge.
Enthusiasm aside, Tomkinson enters the campaign prioritizing process over outcome. “Building a program that can compete in this league takes time,” she said. “We’re now getting a consistently better caliber of player trying out.
“If we can step on the court every match and play the way we’ll be able to, keeping our energy up, staying positive and improving day-to-day, the results will take care of themselves.”
SAN MARCOS (20-19)
The three best players on last year’s San Marcos squad were sisters—Ellie, Allyson and Ensley Alden. Ellie has graduated but senior middle blocker Allyson and sophomore outsider hitter Ensley return giving third-year Head Coach Sherry Clouet a nice set of building blocks in her attack. “Those two will definitely be our best offensive players,” said Clouet, a graduate of Florida State who was also an assistant coach there under Hall of Fame mentor Cecile Reynaud, “but overall we have a great crew coming back and I think our middles and outside hitters will be fantastic.”
Another set of sisters, sophomore twins Chloe (MB/OPP) and Livi (OH) Narancich, will augment the Alden girls and junior Paige Readman, who collected 170 digs last fall, seems to have libero locked down. Unlike CCA and Carlsbad, the setting duties look settled.
Back are seniors Alaura Sensmeier and Natasha Shrivastava who handed out just under 1,000 assists as juniors and looking to the future, Clouet hopes to bring along Brianne Zevely, the only freshman on her roster, behind the vets. The coach sees 2019 as a significant year in both the short and long term development at San Marcos.
“We have huge potential, these girls are hungry and they want to surprise some people,” said Clouet. “We’re still in the process of forming the leadership and culture of our program. Realistically, within our league, which is incredibly tough, we’re going to be focused on process.
“We’re at a point where I think we have the capability to maybe make a run at the CIF Division I championship but if we want to achieve something like that, we can’t be about winning every single match. We have a lot of the right pieces and it’s about getting them the experience that will allow them to get to the next level.”