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Talented Harvard-Westlake Has the Look of Champion


At Harvard-Westlake High, the definition of success in girls' volleyball is a little unusual.

The underlying expectation is to win a championship, oh, every year.

This season is no different, with the Wolverines poised to make a run at a Southern Section championship.

There are too many talented players for Harvard-Westlake to fall short, which it did last year in a four-game loss to Bishop Montgomery in the Division III-AA final.

But with the graduation of Bishop Montgomery middle blocker Katie Olsovsky, who is at USC, Harvard-Westlake returns to a familiar role--championship favorite.

Courtney Schultz, The Times' regional player of the year last season as a sophomore, is back at middle blocker after a phenomenal summer against upper-level club competition.

Outside hitter Karalyn Kuchenbecker, also a junior, is attacking the ball with fervor, and Terbrie Taylor, a junior middle blocker, has honed her blocking skills to the point of becoming a defensive dominator.

Anna Nesser, a 5-foot-10 senior outside hitter, has mastered the passing game for Harvard-Westlake, which won the elite Iolani tournament two weeks ago in Hawaii.

The Wolverines finished ahead of several traditional powers, including Mira Costa and Newport Harbor.

"I think they shocked themselves in Hawaii," Coach Jess Quiroz said. "We met [teams like Mira Costa] and beat them twice, like it was nothing."

In the Wolverines' tightest match, Kuchenbecker reeled off five consecutive aces in a come-from-behind victory against host Iolani.

Whether the Wolverines can continue their success remains to be seen. Tough nonleague matches loom against Royal, Huntington Beach Marina, Fountain Valley and Bishop Montgomery.

If Harvard-Westlake is successful early, playing well late in the season could become a mere formality.

Other teams to watch in the region:

* La Reina: The Regents stumbled again last year, failing to get past their annual hurdle--the playoff quarterfinals. That should change this year with senior standouts Jennifer Ryan and Ashlie Hain.

* Westlake: With outside hitters Tawny Thorp and Katie Meledy, the Warriors have a good shot at their fifth Marmonte League title in six years.

* Buena: Krystal McFarland is at UCLA, but the Bulldogs start five talented seniors. Setter Janee Richards tries to keep all the hitters happy.

* Royal: Carly Huffman, a returning All-Marmonte League selection, is tough at middle blocker and Tanya Grover provides pop from the outside.

* Chatsworth: One of the tallest teams in the region with 6-1 Linda Wang and 6-4 K.C. Doig in the middle. Setter Carlie Allison runs the offense for the City Section contenders.

* Oxnard: Outside hitter Sarah Morrison, who is drawing college interest, has the Yellowjackets looking at a Pacific View title.

* Thousand Oaks: Former Pepperdine star and first-year Coach Tara Kroesch inherits a team with Marmonte League title aspirations.

* Flintridge Sacred Heart: Sarah Skeehan, a 6-1 middle blocker, will try to keep the Tologs within striking distance of Harvard-Westlake in the Mission League.

* Sylmar: The Spartans lost to Palisades in the City Championship match, but Nancy Ariza and Stephanie Cisneros are two of five returning starters.


Preseason rankings of girls' teams in the region (league in parentheses)

1. Harvard-Westlake


2. La Reina


3. Westlake


4. Buena


5. Royal


6. Chatsworth

(West Valley)

7. Oxnard

(Pacific View)

8. Thousand Oaks


9. Flintridge Sacred Heart


10. Sylmar

(Valley Mission)


* THE PROVEN: Margot Wallace, a 5-10 senior at Van Nuys who has committed to Georgia, is the top setter in the City Section. Middle blocker Jennifer Ryan of La Reina, who has committed to Santa Clara, and setter-outside hitter Ashlie Hain are top players. Outside hitter Tawny Thorp of Westlake has a powerful arm swing for the defending Marmonte League champions. Buena has height and talent with 6-2 middle blocker Lindsey Martin and 5-11 opposite hitter Lisa Worley. Colleen Hamlin of Louisville was co-Mission League player of the year last season. Maria Abaca, Alpha League player of the year, is back for Village Christian. Stephanie Cisneros of Sylmar has a strong attack from the right side. Outside hitter Lisa Kennedy and opposite hitter Ruth Hokum of Thousand Oaks are capable on offense and defense.

* THE PROMISING: Seniors Brynn Olssen and Amy Truong might make Highland more than just the king of the Golden League. Outside hitter Tanya Grover of Royal came on strong at the end of last season. Middle blocker Linda Wang of Chatsworth was a Times' second-team all-region selection as a sophomore last year. Middle blocker Vanessa Young of La Canada was a second-team All-Southern Section selection last year. Setter Mary Clare Coghlan tries to help Notre Dame overcome key personnel losses. Julia Beynon, a 6-2 middle blocker at Buckley, could be dominant at the small-schools level.

* FAST FACT: Harvard-Westlake, Sylmar, Granada Hills and Thousand Oaks Hillcrest Christian were the only teams from the region to advance to a championship match last season. All four lost.

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