While high school football players were enduring two practices a day in Valley smog and heat to prepare for the season, volleyball players were getting in shape their way.
At the beach.
Girls from Westlake High spent a week at Coronado near San Diego. The Calabasas team worked out in Malibu. Thousand Oaks traveled to Dana Point and Newbury Park went to Newport.
Well-tanned and well-conditioned girls from Calabasas and Westlake met for a spirited season-opening, nonleague match Friday. The game was in the Westlake High gym, so there were no sandy toes, just Sandi Thompson.
A Calabasas senior and returning All-Southern Section player, Thompson began serving with Calabasas leading, 4-3, in the first game. Four straight points were followed by an in-your-face ace and the Coyotes had control, 9-3.
Calabasas finished off Westlake in three games, 15-12, 15-7 and 15-12. All the Warriors had over the Coyotes were darker tans.
The win avenged a loss to Westlake in the quarterfinals of last season's Southern Section 2-A playoffs. Calabasas remembers the loss well because every player but one from last year's team has returned.
"This was for a lot of revenge," said Heidi Thorsen, a senior who along with Thompson serves as team leader.
Westlake won't have an opportunity to bounce the Coyotes from the playoffs this year because Calabasas and the rest of the Frontier League has been moved up to the 3-A Division.
"That's because Nordhoff is the best team in the 4-A, 3-A or 2-A," said Calabasas Coach Kristy Olson, refering to another Frontier League team. "Moving up just means we will have stronger playoff competition."
Westlake may have a rough time even making the 2-A playoffs this season. April Devine, a top player, was sidelined Friday with a sprained ankle, but Coach Dave Rubio said his team's woes are more than an ankle deep.
"If I can get the girls to be more tenacious and competitive," he said, "we'll be good. Calabasas was clearly superior in serve receiving and ball control. We just aren't passing well."
Westlake tied Royal for the Marmonte League title last season with a record of 11-1 and snapped the Highlanders' 29-game league win streak. Rubio acknowledged that repeating won't be easy.
"Royal is as strong as usual," he said. "Thousand Oaks should be outstanding. Newbury Park will be very good and Simi Valley returns all its players. We can finish third with some improvement."
One Warrior who doesn't need much improvement is Dana Simone, a senior who has played three varsity sports--soccer and track after volleyball--all four years. "Dana also carries a 3.89 grade-point average," Rubio said.
And she can cook, as the team found out during its weeklong stay at Coronado in August.
"I call it a team retreat," Rubio said. "We practiced four hours a day and lived in a big house owned by one of the girls' grandparents.
"The girls cooked the meals and we made great strides in terms of caring for each other and developing a team identity."
Establishing school identity is crucial because every Westlake player--and every Calabasas player for that matter--competed on Southern California Volleyball Club teams during the off-season.
"A lot of them identify with the club team more than with Westlake High," Rubio said.
Olson claimed the problem doesn't exist at Calabasas.
"All 12 girls played club," she said, "but now we are Calabasas. There is no problem."
Of course, winning helps. Olson proudly named players she believes greatly improved after playing volleyball the entire off-season. Calabasas does not begin and end with Thompson and Thorsen.
"My team is so deep," she said. "Carolyn Blake led in kills today. Tami Ellman and Tracey Gonzales are excellent players."
Olson played down the revenge motive but agreed there was special meaning to the victory.
"I've coached some of the Westlake girls on club teams," she said. "And my girls have played on the same side of the net with many of them. It's always nice beating people you've played with."
The familiarity extends to the coaches. Rubio and Olson both played volleyball for Cal State Northridge a few years ago. They remain friends.
"Dave, what are you doing this weekend," Olson said after the match.
"Call me when you get home," Rubio replied.