Given the success of the Newport Harbor High School girls' volleyball team this season--it is Orange County's best team and the No. 1-seeded team in the Southern Section 5-A playoffs--it's interesting to note what the players would have given you for their chances before the season.
"I honestly didn't think we'd be any good," Anastasia Arnold said. "Over the summer, I looked around at practices and I thought, 'Geez. We are going to be bad.' "
Trouble was that Newport Harbor, which had been the county's best team with Woodbridge last year, had lost three key players to graduation.
Sara Allison and Tracy Krueger, the Sea View League's co-most valuable players in 1986, went to California. Karen Hansen, an all-league selection, was playing at UCLA.
When the Sailors' first competition of the season, the El Camino Tournament, rolled around, things didn't look so good. Then it got ugly.
Newport Harbor, with one of the state's best power players in Jenny Evans, made a grand total of three kills in the tournament. The Sailors could do no better than place third in their pool play and were eliminated in the first round of the tournament's playoffs.
"It looked like everything was going to be as bad as we thought it would," Evans said.
About a month later, Newport Harbor won the San Marcos Tournament, the state's most prestigious event. The Sailors won it by defeating Corona del Mar, which had won the Orange County Championships the week before, in a one-game final, 15-0.
"It was one of the those matches when we couldn't do anything wrong and they couldn't do anything right," said Dan Glenn, Newport Harbor coach.
But it was also an official signal that Newport Harbor was the best team around. Players had developed. Sienna Curci had solidified her position as the team's lone setter, succeeding Sara Allison. Arnold and Kirsten Conklin made up for the Sailors' weaknesses at net and provided a strong power base along with Evans.
Most important, the talent started to work together.
"It happened all of a sudden," Curci said. "We just seemed to make up our minds that we could be really bad as individuals or really good as a team."
The Sailors went on to a 16-0 regular-season record and an undefeated Sea View League season. What they had was time and experience on their side. Newport Harbor has nine seniors, some of whom have played together for the past six years, and virtually year round when including club play.
"Experience is a tremendous advantage," Glenn said.
And because of that, the Sailors figure to be around for quite a while in the playoffs. They open playoff competition Thursday at 7:30 p.m. against Santa Monica in the Newport Harbor gymnasium.
If things continue to go as expected, the Sailors are favorites to make their first appearance in the 5-A final since 1985.
"Things are really going well now," Arnold said. "It seems everyone knows what they're doing, and what it takes. We have to play as a team to be successful. If we don't, we'll go right back to where we were at the beginning of the season."
And that would be very, very bad.