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GIRLS' VOLLEYBALL

Foothill Hopes to Keep Surprising

November 07, 2000|MICHAEL ITAGAKI

The Foothill girls' volleyball team continues its roller-coaster ride of a season with its first-round Southern Section Division I-A playoff match tonight.

Foothill hosts Troy at 7 p.m., but it was never a certainty that the Knights would get this far.

This season, Foothill has escaped postseason sanctions, exceeded preseason expectations and experienced plenty of regular-season celebrations.

"At the beginning of the season, everyone was talking about Canyon and El Modena as the [Century League] favorites," said Foothill Coach Scott Bruce, whose team successfully defended its league title by finishing 14-2 and 10-0.

"It was supposed to be us and Villa Park battling for third. No one expected us to do real well, and we've had chances to lose.

"We were down in one match, two games to none against El Mo, then fell behind, 13-3, in the fourth game. But we came back and won. The girls have fought back all season."

Their hard work could have ended with Thursday's victory over Villa Park.

When the Knights went to Hawaii over the Labor Day weekend this season for a tournament, Foothill Girls' Athletic Director Rick Falk said they did not receive proper permission from the section to start their season early.

But fortunately for Foothill, its postseason and league championship eligibility were not affected. The Knights were penalized mildly, with one of the sanctions being that Foothill cannot play in any tournaments next season, Falk said.

The Knights enter the Division I-A playoffs with a young team--led by junior setter Rachel Dalitz and senior middle blocker Amanda Smith--that was also ranked as high as fourth in the Division I-A poll this season.

"When girls saw [the ranking] they were all excited," Bruce said. "But I was trying to tell them that rankings don't mean anything when the playoffs start."

And if the Knights want to go deep into the playoffs, they will have to ignore those rankings. If they win tonight and in the second round Thursday, a quarterfinal match against second-seeded Mater Dei looms.

GROUNDED EAGLES

Santa Margarita's first-year coach, John Hawks, received the inevitable news Sunday that the Eagles wouldn't be playing in the 2000 playoffs.

"We were 7-15 and that's not very impressive," said Hawks, whose team finished third in the Serra League but still applied for an at-large berth.

The Eagles won section titles in the past four seasons under Eddie Rapp, who is now the women's coach at Fullerton College. Santa Margarita also won the school's first state volleyball title last season.

"Some of our girls don't understand how hard it is to reach that [championship] level and how much work is involved," Hawks said. "They have to learn that you need to sacrifice to succeed."

The Eagles' tough schedule took its toll as they piled up losses against teams including San Jose Archbishop Mitty, Mater Dei, Newport Harbor and Lakewood St. Joseph.

But Hawks isn't too discouraged. He should have 11 returners next season, including 5-foot-11 setter Shelby Hamm.

PLAYOFF PRIMER

Division I-A has the strongest field and includes four of the county's top-10 ranked teams: Mater Dei, Irvine, Huntington Beach and Newport Harbor. Manhattan Beach Mira Costa, winner of the Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions, is seeded No. 1.

San Clemente is second-seeded in Division I-AA. Top-seeded Long Beach Poly might have to beat Capistrano Valley and Esperanza or El Toro to reach the final.

Tough draws for county teams affect Garden Grove League champion Pacifica. If the Mariners win Thursday's Division II-A first-round match, they will most likely have to play top-seeded Lakewood St. Joseph in Saturday's quarterfinals. In Division II-AA, Orange League champion Valencia will probably have meet top-seeded South Torrance in the quarterfinals.

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If you have an item or idea for the girls' volleyball report, you can fax us at (714) 966-5663 or e-mail us at: mike.itagaki@latimes.com

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

GIRLS' VOLLEYBALL TOP 10

Orange County Sportswriters' Poll

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Pos. School (League) Rec 1. San Clemente (South Coast) 14-0 2. Mater Dei (Serra) 17-2 3. Irvine (Sea View) 13-1 4. Laguna Beach (Pacific Coast) 13-5 5. Huntington Beach (Sunset) 14-4 6. Newport Harbor (Sea View) 14-9 7. Esperanza (Sunset) 11-5 8. Corona del Mar (Pacific Coast) 15-9 9. La Habra (Freeway) 16-2 10 T. El Toro (South Coast) 12-4 10 T. Los Alamitos (Sunset) 12-8

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