University (San Francisco) 30-6 vs. Santa Fe Christian (Solana Beach) 25-7
Two newcomers to the state tournament should provide an exciting opener Saturday morning. Many assume that University will get worked because the Red Devils are from San Francisco, which historically doesn't boast outstanding volleyball.
In fact, no San Francisco team will ever have played for a state title before Saturday. But since coach Karin Wallenstein arrived two years ago, UHS is 63-22 playing a competitive schedule. This year, the team, paced by junior setter Hannah Hunt, played at the Presentation Panther Classic, where it lost its three tough matches, to Hollister, Harvard-Westlake and Los Altos, but the event will prepare the Red Devils well for the talent they'll see in Santa Fe Christian.
While UHS has no player on its roster taller than 5-10, Santa Fe Christian runs out two 6-0 hitters and a 5-10 hitter. The Eagles have a 5-11 setter to boot. The team lost in the So Cal regional final last year and has taken the attitude like this year's title belongs to it. The Eagles have a balanced offense, with five players capable of double digit kills; and have played a tough San Diego schedule, which includes a win over a very good The Bishop's team.
Prediction: University will take a game, but Santa Fe Christian wins the title in four.
Menlo (Atherton) 24-6 vs. Marymount (Los Angeles) 30-4
This is a rematch of last year's tilt, which Marymount won in straight sets. Come to think of it, it's also a re-match of the 2000 final, which the Sailors also won in straight sets. Don't look for the result to be any different this year.
Marymount comes into the match ranked No. 21 in the nation and has the talent to play with anybody in the 50 states despite being from a lower division in California. The Sailors have a hammer in the middle in 6-3 Virginia Levanas and a hammer on the outside in 6-0 Jamie Kaufman. Add two superb setters in Jenna Dykstra and do-it-all junior Stesha Selsky, one of the best all-around players in the state, and it's easy to see why a three-peat is likely.
Not to say that Menlo doesn't have its own weapons because the Knights certainly do. Setter Kate Fisher is one of the state's best assist makers and younger sister Alex Fisher is one of the nation's most skilled outside hitters. Menlo might also have an emotional edge going into the finals. Its best passer, senior OH Courtney Rose, was thought to be done for the year with a torn ACL. But on Tuesday, she hobbled onto campus with a doctor's note saying she could play, but not jump. Coach Ryan Cooling inserted her in the back row and she recorded 10 digs and passes great. She'll play Saturday and have surgery six days later.
Prediction: Like the division before it, the NorCal team gets a game, but SoCal, in this case Marymount, gets it done in four.
Presentation (San Jose) 31-8 vs. Bishop Montgomery (Torrance) 28-8
Bishop Montgomery is a team steeped in tradition and talent. This year's team relies on the athleticism of middle blocker Noelle Quinn, one of the nation's best basketball players; and outside hitter Jamie Crawford, she of the wicked jump serve. Setter Kristen Castillo and right side attacker Nicole Read are not spectacular, but they are solid and make few mistakes. The nationally ranked Knights are making their fifth appearance in the state finals in 10 years, but haven't won since 1998.
That's bad news, because Presentation's eight losses on the season have come only against defending state champions, four times to Archbishop Mitty, three times to St. Francis and once to Marymount. The nationally ranked Panthers not only are tournament tough, having played in three very difficult events this year, they are physically tough. Right side Paris Raissina has played all year with a bum wrist and star middle Katie Turley-Molony broke her thumb in an early match, yet hasn't been out of action at all and has thrived in the biggest matches.
Prediction: Both teams are superbly coached. While Bishop Montgomery has the athletes, Presentation has the intangibles. Presentation in five.
Los Gatos 27-6 vs. Liberty (Bakersfield) 34-4
No one's had an easier road to the finals than coach Joe Ripp's Wildcats. After St. Francis defected from Div. II and a Central Coast Section ruling knocked out some other teams from the playoff, Los Gatos needed just two wins to capture the section, and enjoyed a first round breather over Red Bluff in the NorCal regionals before being tested against Vacaville and Pleasant Valley. The Wildcats are a very talented team, but still very young. Their best players are a sophomore, Alexa Anderson, and a junior, Caroline Walters. And while some have been to the big dance, losing two years ago to Harvard-Westlake in the state finals, this will be the first time for many in a spotlight role.
Liberty, by contrast, has never been to a state final. In fact, the nationally ranked Patriots have only played a varsity schedule for three years. But that shouldn't stop them from capturing the state title. Here's why: in consecutive games, Liberty made the three-hour drive south to face national powers Mater Dei and Newport Harbor in their cribs in the SoCal playoffs and came away with victories both times. That's enough to pick them right there. Add the fact that Liberty has MB Jania Motton, one of the nation's best, and that Los Gatos does not appear to have anyone who can stop her and the prediction is clear-cut.
Prediction: Liberty in four.
St. Francis (Mountain View) 33-1 vs. Wilson (Long Beach) 36-3
This should be a war. The match features the No. 1 team in the nation against a Wilson team ranked No. 8. St. Francis has last year's Student Sports National Sophomore of the Year in OH Jessica Gysin, while Wilson boasts last year's Student Sports National Freshman of the Year in OH Cynthia Barboza. Both teams have superb setting, an outstanding middle, terrific role players and good back row defense. St. Francis won the first match up in four games, but the teams looked fairly evenly matched. How to choose between the two?
For help, we went to the head coaches of Archbishop Mitty and Buchanan. Those teams played both Div. I finalists this year. Mitty was 1-4 versus St. Francis and 1-1 versus Wilson, while Buchanan lost once to each team.
Mitty coach Bret Almazan-Cezar said that experience would prove to be the difference. "Every one of the St. Francis kids has been to state two or three times," he said. "Just that alone makes a big difference. If you haven't done it, it's more difficult. Plus, they have Jessica Gysin. She's better on the ground that she is in the air."
His prediction? St. Francis in four.
Buchanan coach Marian Battles predicted a closer match. "Defensively, Wilson is stronger," she said. "And I think this team serves as well if not tougher than St. Francis. St. Francis' offense is a little harder to anticipate. They're a little more sophisticated in their offense and what they run. Wilson is pretty consistent in what they do."
Her prediction? St. Francis in five.