Though the Patriots keep intact most of their 2010 team, it won’t be an easy ride to the championship.
Liberty is eyeing a return to prominence while a young Deer Valley squad could also contend.
But Heritage head coach Janet Hannigan feels that her team doesn’t intend to relinquish the league banner anytime soon. The Patriots finished last year with a 26-12 overall record.
“We’ve got to be ready to expect anything,” Hannigan said. “We definitely can’t rest on our laurels. We’ve got to keep pushing and look for ways to improve.”
So far, Heritage looks good, posting shutout preseason wins over West and Acalanes. The team is without the services of its starting center, senior Chelsey Hancock, who fractured a portion of her foot in June and will likely be out until league play starts in October. Hancock made a team-high 64 blocks last season.
Even without Hancock, the Patriots have a talented core of returning athletes such as outside hitter Savannah Shelton and libero Ashleigh Reed – both seniors. Junior Melissa Shatswell, a middle blocker, notched 69 kills last season and was also responsible for 206 service aces.
The Patriots are also counting on junior setter Hailey Nunn and junior libero Allie Nichols. Sophomores Colleen Hannigan and Brileigh Boyce, newcomers to the varsity squad, will be key members.
Heritage, which saw its 2010 season end in the second round of the playoffs to top-seeded Foothill, opens league play Oct. 4 at Antioch.
Though Deer Valley was in the thick of the BVAL race last season, the Wolverines were a senior-laden squad. Of the 13 athletes on the 2010 roster, seven turned their tassels at year’s end. Last year, the team finished 17-20 (8-2 BVAL) and lost in the second round of the playoffs to Amador Valley.
Head coach Lou Panzella is optimistic about his team’s chances, but anticipates growing pains early on. Deer Valley isn’t especially big this year – the tallest player is 5 feet, 9 inches – so Panzella sees ball control and defense as necessary for success.
“We’re pretty young, pretty inexperienced and working hard at getting better,” Panzella said. “We have a lot of people stepping into new roles and it may take us a while to establish our leadership.”
Panzella is looking to his four seniors to lead the way – middle blocker Akili Moore, outside hitter Marisa Malone, opposite hitter Leah Youngcamp and libero Rachel Roskelley. Panzella spoke highly of Roskelley, who emits positive energy every time she steps onto the court.
The Wolverines will be bolstered by newcomers such as junior setter Megan Santos and sophomore outside hitter Taylor Brittner.
“We have 11 girls on our team,” Panzella said. “It’s going to take all 11 pulling in the same direction for us to have success.”
Longtime Liberty head coach Linda Ghilarducci, affectionately known as “Gooch,” feels that the lumps the Lions took last year will only benefit them this season.
In 2010, only one senior played as Liberty finished 13-28 overall (7-3 league). The Lions were ousted from the North Coast Section tournament in the first round by Granada.
This season, Liberty returns six starters, who are ready for tough competition from around the Bay Area. The Lions field two juniors who earned first-team all-BVAL honors last season: setter Kiana Pinkowski and middle blocker Alexis Dumitrescu. Pinkowski led the team with 363 service aces and 590 assists while Dumitrescu made a team-high 39 blocks.
“They’re ready to conquer the season,” Ghilarducci said. “I feel like we’re really going to hold our own and be more of an experienced team this year.”
Other talented returning Liberty athletes include junior outside hitter Taylor Scriven, senior outside hitter Ana Silvia-Vega and senior libero Taylor Morgan.
Junior libero Melissa Cobarruzi, who played junior varsity, should be a factor along with sophomore middle blockers Morgan Van Usso and Emily Belt.
Antioch would like to improve on a 2010 season in which the Panthers finished 10-17 overall and 6-6 in BVAL play. Antioch’s roster was senior-heavy last season, meaning head coach Nicole Whitman nearly has an entirely new squad on her hands.
One key bright spot for the Panthers is sophomore libero Linsey Baynes, who earned second-team all-league honors as a freshman.
Senior Jacy Colen, a middle blocker, was an honorable mention all-league selection as a junior.
Antioch is fairly young this season, led by four seniors, three sophomores and a freshman, outside hitter Emily Polanco.
Last year was a season to forget for Freedom, but the Falcons are hoping for better results under new leadership. First-year head coach Arvin Cruz looks to bring his club volleyball experience to Oakley, where Freedom tries to rebound from an 0-17 season (0-10 BVAL).
Cruz, an assistant coach for Pleasant Hill-based Pacific Rim Volleyball, wants to instill club team spirit. “I’m feeling pretty good about the team right now,” Cruz said. “This season, everybody’s working hard, getting in shape and learning some stuff they haven’t learned.”
Though Cruz hasn’t written in anyone’s role with a Sharpie, he said a few athletes could come forward to provide key leadership. Senior libero Brytnie Winkler and junior outside hitter Dominique Austin will be fundamental to Freedom’s success.
Cruz also sees talent in JV players Taylor Bolles, Sirena Burgueno and Amanda Linder.
Pittsburg was the second BVAL team that couldn’t break the win column in 2010. Additionally, of the 12 players on the Pirates’ roster last season, seven were seniors. The team finished 0-8 last year, playing no preseason games.
Pittsburg will count on senior leadership from athletes such as 5-10 Tiana Lui, who returns from last season’s team. Senior Joelle Williams, who runs hurdles for the Pirates’ track team, was an all-league honorable mention selection last year.