The Baltimore Sun

Led by Bell-Jeff, girls' volleyball teams looking to build on success

For nearly a half-decade, the Bellarmine-Jefferson High girls' volleyball team has been the most successful of the four programs in the city.

Under coach Miguel Segura, the Guards had a streak of seven straight Santa Cruz League championships and a league unbeaten string that has swelled to 52. In addition, Bell-Jeff advanced to the CIF Southern Section quarterfinals for five straight seasons.

But Segura, who helped the Guards advance to Division IV-A championship game in 2009, has departed to take the head girls' and boys' volleyball jobs at rival St. Genevieve.

Taking over at Bell-Jeff is Brandon Johnson, who has extended experience coaching in the Santa Clarita Valley.

At Providence, a familiar face returns to head the program. James Jimenez, who left the school four years ago and has coached at Holy Family, is back in the fold. He helped guide the Pioneers to a share of the Liberty League championship in 2008.

Burbank comes into the season after winning a share of its first league championship in 37 years, and is hoping keep that success going.

For Burroughs, it is coming off a season in which it advanced to the CIF Southern Section Division III quarterfinals.

Here is a look at how the teams are shaping up.

BELL-JEFF

Johnson spent the last two seasons as the head boys' and girls' coach at Canyon Country Canyon. He was also a junior varsity coach at Saugus for three years and an assistant for three years at College of the Canyons.

"I know this program has been very successful the past few years," Johnson said. "And we are looking to continue that tradition and try and expand even further. I have been with them only for about three weeks, so it hasn't been a lot of time, but we are coming along."

With a solid group of returners from a team that went 17-10-1 last season, Johnson said he likes what he sees with the players who will take the floor for the Guards.

"They have been working very hard these past few weeks and they have been very receptive to what I'm doing as a coach and how I approach things," Johnson said. "I tell them if I ask you to do something new, just try it and see what happens. And they've been very good with that.

"I realize that they had a different coach for their years here and it's tough sometimes to listen to something new or do something a different way. But I have been working for them and they have been working for me, and so far it's worked out fine."

Johnson takes over a team that lost its best player to graduation. Taryn Nelson, the Guards' go-to offensive weapon at outside hitter, was selected to the All-CIF Southern Section Division IV-A first team and was named the Santa Cruz League Player of the Year. She tallied 315 kills, 89 aces and 282 digs.

Taking up the slack will likely be a pair of seniors — outside hitter Briana Hillo and opposite specialist Liz Fundora — who were all-league second-team selections last season. While Hillo tallied 169 kills, 14 aces and 33 blocks, Fundora had 89 kills, 28 aces and 120 digs.

Another asset Johnson said he is happy to have is senior Amanda Maalouf, who is in her fourth season as the team's setter. Maalouf, a first-team all-league selection, touched the ball more than any other Guard last season, tallying 575 assists, 52 aces and 192 digs.

"We have the core group of seniors who we are going to rely pretty heavily on," Johnson said. "They have the experience and they know what is expected of them. But we also have some younger players and it's going to take some time to get them to where we want them to be.

"But having a returning setter like Amanda is key. I know how important it is to have a good, experienced setter. Having a senior setter is key. It's like a quarterback in football, because the setter runs things on the floor."

Another player who Johnson expects good things from is junior middle Clarissa Cabrera.

In the race for the league title, Johnson said he isn't sure what to expect. However, he added that it should be interesting when the Guards take on St. Genevieve and Segura, who was a staple at Bell-Jeff for more than a decade.

Bell-Jeff opens its season Tuesday with a nonleague contest at Mary Star of the Sea.

BURBANK

The Bulldogs lost a substantial group of seniors who helped the team go 18-4 and share the Pacific League championship with Arcadia.

Perhaps the biggest loss to graduation was senior setter Tyler Brooks, who was named the league's player of the year. Last season, Brooks tallied 359 assists, 151 digs and 52 aces to go along with 22 kills.

"We have kind of an old-new team, because we have a lot of seniors and we also have a lot of juniors who were sophomores on last year's team," Burbank Coach Sarah Brown said. "But we do have a pretty good group from last year, although we did lose some important seniors."

Brown said the players from last year's team were able to gain some invaluable experience during Burbank's title run.

"It was definitely a good experience for them," Brown said. "With all the seniors kind of leading the way, the younger players saw what could happen when you are all striving for the same thing and you are willing to put in the hard work it takes to be successful. We all had that common goal to win a league championship last year, and they were able to accomplish that.

"Sometimes it's not always the level of skill that makes a team successful. Sometimes it's more important how a team works together and how much desire the players have to reach a common goal."

Along with the varsity crown, the Burbank junior varsity team also captured a Pacific League championship a year ago.

Leading the group of Bulldogs returners include senior middle/opposite Hayley Bradford, junior setter Sara Treadway, junior outside Denise Daniel, junior outside hitter/opposite Rose Cowart and junior libero Whitney Mackey.

An interesting new addition to this year's squad is junior setter Lily Winn. Winn is an all-league softball player who helped Burbank win a league championship in 2013.

Also adding to the mix will be junior middles Allison Tiegs and Nicole Mailhot and junior outside hitter Ashlyn Edwards.

In defending their league title, Brown said she expects a tough going for her squad.

"I think it's going to be the same teams that have been good the past several years," she said. "We saw Burroughs over the summer and they were good and we expect Arcadia to have another good team. Also, I think Crescenta Valley is going to be a little bit better from last year.

"But we go into every season wanting to win league and that is going to be our focus again this season."

Burbank opens its season Sept. 12 with a nonleague match at South Pasadena.

BURROUGHS

The Indians return one of the most talented players in the Pacific League from a team that went 19-6 a year ago. That player is senior middle blocker Caitlin Cottrell, who was an All-CIF Southern Section Division II-A first-team selection, as well as an All-Pacific League first-team pick. Cottrell averaged 12 kills and 1.2 aces a match.

"She's definitely been looking good," Burroughs Coach Edwin Real said. "She has come a long way. She has been taking her reps and she has been going great."

Despite finishing third in the Pacific League, the Indians stepped it up in the postseason and advanced to the Division II-A quarterfinals, falling to Pasadena Poly, 25-18, 24-26, 25-13, 25-16.

The Indians graduated four seniors and have five returning players on this season's roster.

"Even through we have just three seniors this year, they are really good leaders and they are very good examples on the court," Real said. "The three of them are all pretty hard workers as well, and they are all returning all-league players, which is nice."

Along with Cottrell, the other returning seniors are setter/opposite Katie Rutecki and senior libero Dani Gonzalez. Rutecki proved to be a solid all-around player last season, averaging 13 assists, five kills and 1.1 aces a match, while Gonzalez averaged 12 digs a match.

"Katie is just a very competitive player and we can always count on her," Real said. "And Dani is also one of those competitive players and she anchors the defense in the back row and takes up as much court as she can."

Also returning are sophomore middle Danielle Ryan and junior outside hitter Kelsey Strong.

A welcomed returner is sophomore opposite Lexi Hamilton, who is 6-feet-1. Hamilton played in the program prior to her freshman season before moving with her family to New York. However, she moved back and has rejoined the team.

Another newcomer is junior back row specialist Darby Adams.

With a solid group of returners, Real said he expects his team to vie for a Pacific League championship, a title the Indians won in 2012.

"We expect to be right there," he said. "But we know Arcadia is also going to be good. We played against them during the summer and our teams were very competitive against one another."

Things get rolling for Burroughs Tuesday when it will travel to Monrovia for a nonleague match.

PROVIDENCE

Jimenez inherits a Pioneers program that went 12-10 and placed fourth in the Liberty League a year ago.

"The Providence principal wanted a coach who was also a teacher," said Jimenez, who teaches religious studies. "I had always kept in contact with [athletic director] Andrew [Bencze] and I had always followed the program. So when the job opened up, I thought it would be a good opportunity for me."

Although the Pioneers did lose some contributing seniors to graduation, they do have some key athletes back.

Heading the list of returners will be senior setter Jennifer Nardoni and junior middle Olive Menke, who along with senior defensive specialist Liza Meir, will be the squad's tri-captains. Junior outside hitter Lorena Ubillus will also asked to contribute.

"We have just two seniors on the team this year and most of the leadership is coming from our juniors," Jimenez said. "We are expecting to have a lot of player contribute for us this year. But those four are going to be our main players."

Joining the team this season is sophomore outside hitter Fabi Jimenez (no relation). Jimenez had a standout season as a freshman for the Pioneers' girls' basketball and softball teams.

Sophomore middle Stephanie Hanoud should also see her share of playing time.

Not knowing what exactly to expect in the Liberty League this season, Jimenez has been trying to get acquainted with the Pioneers' competition.

"From what I've been told, Pacifica Christian should be tough and Archer should have a good team," he said. "But I won't really know for sure until I see it with my own eyes."

The season for the Pioneers will begin Wednesday when they host Faith Baptist in a nonleague contest.

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