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Newport Harbor Is Not a Shoo-In

September 11, 2003|Paul McLeod | Times Staff Writer

Emily Turner wrinkled her nose and didn't seem too excited when discussing last year's Southern Section title won by the girls' volleyball team from Newport Harbor High.

"There wasn't that much competition," said Turner, a senior outside hitter. "We just cruised by."

That shouldn't be the case this season.

Newport Harbor, which has won eight section and four state titles in 18 seasons under Coach Dan Glenn, will be hard pressed to repeat as Division II-AA champion with the likes of Manhattan Beach Mira Costa, always potent Huntington Beach, resurgent Huntington Beach Edison and pesky Westlake Village Westlake on its heels.

Mira Costa, which has won 11 section titles in Dae Lea Aldrich's 21 seasons as coach, served notice last month by besting Newport Harbor twice, including winning the title game of the Ann Kang Invitational in Honolulu.

Upset by Huntington Beach Marina in the 2002 Division I-A title game, Mira Costa has dropped down a division and is young, but the Mustangs have the tallest front line in Aldrich's career. They also play a tough schedule that includes top-notch showcase tournaments in Las Vegas, Chicago and Santa Barbara.

Huntington Beach has a successful history behind it and a proven coach in Rocky Ciarelli, and Edison is considered the division's sleeper after it defeated Newport Harbor during summer-league play.

"You can't take them lightly," Glenn said of the Chargers.

Westlake, which lost to Newport Harbor in last year's section championship game as well as in the 2001 semifinals, begins the season with four key players injured but expects to be ready to make a title run by season's end.

Newport Harbor also limped through the start of fall practice with four of its top players sidelined. Turner, middle blocker Bryana Carey and outside hitter Lauren Miller have missed time because of tendinitis in their knees. Turner has been limited to playing only back row. A couple of weeks ago, outside hitter Elizabeth Clayton damaged her left hand in an off-court accident.

Naturally, the Sailors, who open their season with a big test Friday at Huntington Beach, figure to start slowly.

"Definitely we're not where we want to be now," senior setter Kellie King said. "But we hope to be playing at a high level at the end of the season."

The Sailors must also make up for the production lost when 6-foot-3 middle blocker Kristine McClune, the Division II co-player of the year with an average of 31 kills per game, graduated. She is playing at Pepperdine.

Glenn, who doesn't have a player taller than 6 feet, said replacing McClune will be difficult, but the Sailors have eight seniors and appear to be more balanced.

"This team has heart," 5-7 senior setter Alyson Jennings said. "We lost 30 kills a game, but we'll win rallies and outlast people. We have no size, so we're all about ball control."

Mira Costa's Aldrich said it would be folly to discount Newport Harbor based solely on what happened in Hawaii. While championing her team's cause -- "Never in a billion years of coaching have I had this kind of team," she said -- Aldrich said she won't take the Sailors lightly if they meet in the playoffs.

"They will be prepared better than they were when we played them in Hawaii," she said.

Both of Newport Harbor's losses to Mira Costa at the Kang Invitational were in three games. In the final, the Sailors took the first game thanks to six kills and two blocks by Jennings, who was moved to the outside by Glenn. There, she'll most likely be used as an outside hitter too, with King, a four-year varsity player, sliding into the setter's position.

Glenn says that kind of flexibility is necessary to succeed.

"We will be a better team than we were a year ago when we get the health issues taken care of because all the girls are better," he said. "Physically we have improved over last year. But we could have trouble putting the ball away."

As tournaments go, the Kang proved worthwhile to Mira Costa and Newport Harbor. Aldrich liked the fact that her young Mira Costa players had a chance to bond and play as a team.

Turner said she and the Newport Harbor seniors learned a hard lesson.

"It was rough losing to them in Hawaii," she said. "We have a lot of improving to do."



The Times' Rankings

A preseason look at the top girls' volleyball teams in the Southland:

Rank School (Section-Division)

1. Mater Dei (SS-Div. II-A)

Two-time defending section champion is experienced, deep and should contend for state title.

2. Mira Costa (SS-Div. II-AA)

Look for good start in Hawaii last month to carry over on mainland.

3. Long Beach Wilson (SS-Div. I-AA)

Barboza burnout is only thing that could keep Bruins from title rematch with Los Alamitos.

4. Los Alamitos (SS-Div. I-AA)

Defending section title will be no small task, but Griffins should be in the hunt.

5. Newport Harbor (SS-Div. II-AA)

Lofty ranking is probably more suitable for this senior-laden team at season's end, not beginning.

6. Marymount (SS-Div. IV-AA)

Perennial section finalist figures to find championship form again this season.

7. Long Beach Poly (SS-Div. I-AA)

Jackrabbits will give Moore League rival Wilson another run for its money.

8. Westlake (SS-Div. II-AA)

Vying for third section title appearance in seven seasons.

9. Murrieta Valley (SS-Div. I-AA)

Emerging power to showcase wares at Orange County Championships.

10. Esperanza (SS-Div. I-AA)

6-3 sophomore Ashley Angle from National Youth team is one of several talented Aztecs.

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