1. St. Francis (Mountain View) 31-2 (record in 2001)
With all six starters back, including superb junior setters Christa Conom and Ashley Dutro, only the uncertainty of a new coach could disrupt this formidable Northern California power. Enter former Stanford assistant and two-time Olympian Kim Oden to take over in Lancer land. Problem solved. Jessica Gysin, the fine all-around junior outside hitter, gets most of the attention, but this team is littered with stars. 6-2 junior MB Diane Copenhagen could be as highly recruited as Gysin next year and a healthy Colby Lyman is a force on the right side. Even two middles who don't get any pub - 6-1 Sr. middle Annie Connor and 6-0 Sr. middle Taylor Whittell - are so good that they could star on most other area high school teams. The big debate is whether the Lancers, a Div. III school by enrollment, will move up to Div. I for the season (and possibly face a showdown with Mitty for the right to play in the state final) or stay in Div. II, where they have won the last two titles.
2. Wilson (Long Beach) 25-8
The Bruins finally overcame nemesis Long Beach Poly late last year to win a CIF section title and appear poised to become an elite team this year. And why shouldn't they? They have GREAT players returning. It starts with soph. Cynthia Barboza, the 6-1 middle who has been called the next great one. Then there's superb setter Alli Dillon, who can put the ball where hitters can succeed. Don't forget about Emily Hendrickson, undersized in the middle or right side at 5-11, but who plays like she has a chip on her shoulder and always gets the job done. Loren Barry, Megan Wright and Bret Quirarte give coach Susan Pescar plenty of other options for a team that graduated just one starter and got two quality transfers. The key to this team will be chemistry. Will the personalities mesh and do they have the confidence to play at the highest level?
3. Archbishop Mitty (San Jose) 32-2
The defending Div. I champs are young, but huge, and could give St. Francis a run for NorCal supremacy. Watch for sophs Erin Downey (6-2 and moving to the left side) and KC Walsh (another Walsh, this one a left-handed setter), to emerge as forces this year. But don't stop there. Murphy McClenahan , Emily Allen and Nicole Payne are all returning power players, while newcomers Bethany Johnson (6-3) and Christina Kirk (6-2) give this team immense size in the middle. This team may struggle early as it figures out where all the pieces fit, but by the end of the year, look out! Bret Almazan-Cezar is one of the state's best and always puts a quality product on the court.
4. Buchanan (Clovis) 34-3
When Youth National Team OH Missy Stidham transferred in from Kerman, this very good Bear team became a contender for the state Div. I title. The 6-foot Stidham, who is a terrific all-around player, gives coach Marian Battles an amazing offense with 6-0 RS Cassandra Kolkka, middle Emily Doris and Chantal Paschetta and Cassandra's little sister, Christine. The real question is at setter, where three-year starter Leann Osato has graduated. The answer may be leaper Kathleen Heyne, who's a natural and brings tremendous athleticism to the role. With other setters very green, if Heyne takes to the position, the Bears could be unbeatable.
5. Marymount (Los Angeles) 33-4
The small school power with two straight state titles emerged on the national scene last year when it lost to Torrey Pines in the final of the California Challenge. The Sailors lost three key seniors, including UCLA-bound All-American setter Haley Jorgensborg, but still are prohibitive favorites to three-peat in Div. IV with five key players back and could rule the Los Angeles area in the process. Marymount will be formidable in the middle with 6-3 Virginia Levanas and 6-0 Liz Cvitan. Jenna Dykstra is an emerging standout at the setter position (Rice is looking hard at her), while junior Stesha Selsky has been a star on the outside for two years already. Add Sue Carls, Sandy Barbut and Jamie Kaufmann and coach Cari Klein has seven players who comprise a formidable group.
6. Torrey Pines (Encinitas) 35-2
The Falcons should still rule the roost in San Diego with awesome MB Rachell Johnson and lefty setter Tyler Bowman back to lead the troops, but significant graduation losses and a tough tourney schedule should yield more losses than last year. OH Baylee Hassett, another seasoned veteran, will have to play strong on the outside for the team to challenge California's best.
7. Mira Costa (Manhattan Beach) 31-6
The Mustangs surround 5-foot-7 outside hitting dynamo Sydney Donahue with an entirely new cast, including (gasp!) a freshman, something rarely seen in these parts. That freshman, 5-8 lefty setter/RS Taylor Carico, has a chance to be special. Also look for Whitney Turner and Lauren Holland to emerge as top players for Costa after the hitting/blocking duo sat out last year.
8. San Benito (Hollister) 32-9
The Haybalers finally get some respect nationally with Kim Dabo, Kaylie Kortsen and Jacky Denton, but have to knock off big, bad Mitty (and perhaps St. Francis?) in NorCal to make it to the state finals. This is coach Larry Nabzeska's last year, so the team will want to go out with a bang. The first test is the 36-team High Sierra Classic in Reno Sept. 6-7.
9. El Molino (Forestville) 29-5
Coach Bear Grassl is gone for Sonoma State. Will his unique offense go with him? That's a question for new coach Elsa Stegemann to answer. Regardless, there's plenty back for this team to challenge for a return trip to the state Div. III finals, led by All-American outside hitter Amanda Fox, super athletic setter and future star Crystal Mattich and stalwart middle blocker Sally Hanson.
10. Mater Dei (Santa Ana) 33-4
Coach Craig Pazanti graduated a ton of seniors and recently lost Bryn Maurer to a broken leg, but the Monarchs have a ton of young talent that should be ruling by season's end. The big names to watch are sophs Mallorie Croal on the outside and junior Andrea Collins at the setting position. Keep an eye on youngsters Chelsea Pavlik and McCall Miller. They could be making a big impact towards the end of the year.
Rounding out the top 20:
11. Menlo (Atherton) 30-5
Top returning players: Alex Fisher, 6-1 Soph. OH; Kate Fisher, 5-9 Jr. S; Mallory Frye, 5-10 Sr. MB
12. Liberty (Bakersfield) 25-8
Top returning players: Jania Motton, 6-1 Sr. MB; Katie Scott, 5-6 Jr. setter
13. Chaparral (Temecula) 19-8
Top returning players: Kelli Tennant, 6-2 Soph. MB; Savannah Parra, 5-8 Sr. setter
14. Clovis West (Clovis) 19-4
Top returning players: Annie Coleman, 5-10 Sr. OH; Elise Eropkin, 5-9 Sr. setter; Clare Lucich, 5-10 Sr. MB; Amy Read, 6-0 Soph. MB
15. Presentation (San Jose) 27-8
Top returning players: Paris Raissina, 5-11 Sr. RS; Katie Turley-Moloney, 6-0 Sr. MB
16. Campolindo 38-4
Top returning players: Allison Anderson, 5-10 Sr. OH; Shannon Farrell, 6-0 Sr. RS
17. Bishop Montgomery (Torrance) 22-9
Top returning players: Noelle Quinn, 5-11 Sr. MB; Jamie Crawford, 5-6 Sr. OH; Nicole Read, 6-0 Sr. RS
18. Los Alamitos 20-7
Top returning players: Jamie Garbich, 6-0 Sr. OH; Kara Yule, 6-0 Jr. RS
19. St. Francis (Sacramento) 31-10
Top returning players: Alison Pitton, 5-11 Sr. OH; Erin Porter, 6-0 Jr. MB
20. Esperanza (Anaheim) 25-5
Top players: Dyanne Lawlor, 6-1 Sr. Setter/Opposite; Taylor Love, 5-11 Sr. MB; Ashley Engle, 6-2 Fr. MB
The Next 10
21. Los Gatos 20-15
22. Centennial (Bakersfield) 26-7
23. Newport Harbor (Newport Beach) 22-11
24. Harvard-Westlake (North Hollywood) 21-2
25. Marina (Huntington Beach) 14-14
26. The Bishops (La Jolla) 29-6
27. Carondelet (Concord) 32-3
28. Poly (Long Beach) 24-6
29. Stockdale (Bakersfield) 25-9
30. Rio Americano (Sacramento) 33-6