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High Schools | SPOTLIGHT ON VOLLEYBALL : NOTES

Playoffs Will Surely Produce Range of Emotions

November 06, 2001|Mike Bresnahan

It's the time of the year when season-long aspirations can turn into an off-season of heartbreak. Or a lifetime's worth of memories.

Southern Section girls' volleyball playoffs begin tonight, with plenty of intriguing matchups possibly down the road.

And it's only the beginning for some schools: Teams that advance to the final in each division automatically qualify for the state playoffs that begin Nov. 20.

Santa Ana Mater Dei lost in a section final the last two years, but has a strong chance of winning its first sectional title. The Monarchs (27-3), seeded No. 1 in Division II-A, could play No. 2 Irvine and Nebraska-bound Olivia Waldowski in the championship.

"That's the hope," Mater Dei Coach Craig Pazanti said. "We like to think we can do something special."

In Division I-AA, top-seeded Long Beach Poly (22-4) could play No. 2 Long Beach Wilson (19-7) for the fourth time this season. The Jackrabbits won both league matches against Wilson in five games and needed three games to defeat the Bruins in a best-of-three match at the Las Vegas Durango tournament.

"We've got a good possibility [of meeting again] as long as we do what we're supposed to do," Poly Coach Jeff Eyanson said.

Manhattan Beach Mira Costa (24-5) went undefeated in league play for the 17th consecutive season, but the Mustangs could be challenged by Westlake Village Westlake (25-2) or Newport Beach Newport Harbor (18-9) in Division II-AA.

San Clemente (27-3), top-seeded in Division I-A, and Lakewood St. Joseph (17-10), top-seeded in Division III-AA, should dominate their divisions on the way to possible state titles.

North Hollywood Harvard-Westlake (12-2) has struggled without Courtney Schultz, who has been out because of a back injury, but is still favored to win Division III-A and could win a second consecutive state Division III title.

L.A. Marymount (27-4), top-seeded in Division IV-AA, defeated several larger schools and is expected to win a section title and a second consecutive state Division IV championship.

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Middle mania: Middle blockers Sarah Salem and Brittany Wood are keeping Laguna Beach from being a middle-of-the-pack team.

Salem, a 6-foot-2 senior who committed to Duke, had preseason surgery on a broken pinky, but recovered in time to become a difference-maker on the court.

"Every team keys on her and puts two or three [blockers] up, but she is very productive," Coach Shawn Patchell said.

While Salem has a stronger arm swing, Wood, also a 6-2 senior, has superior placement skills to help find soft spots in defenses.

It's a winning combination for Laguna Beach, the only section team to make the playoffs every year since they were created in 1972.

And the Artists (17-4, 10-0 in Pacific Coast League play) recently won their 26th league title in the same span.

"It's a huge label to live up to because of the past," Salem said. "You have to represent that."

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Palisades power: Palisades did not make the City Section final last season, an aberration that could be corrected by next week.

The Dolphins (13-0) are the top-seeded team in the City playoffs that begin tonight and could win their 22nd championship since the City began holding playoffs in 1973.

The Dolphins don't rely on a single key player. Nor do they necessarily dominate on offense or defense.

What they have is a cohesiveness and balance that was lacking last season and that cost Palisades a chance to win a fourth consecutive City title.

"If I had to pick a most valuable player, I couldn't," first-year Coach Jeff Conte said. "They fit together like a puzzle."

The Dolphins host Franklin (9-4) in the first round.

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