Local teams ready to battle in Empire League

This is a new year for the Cypress High School volleyball team. A new season, a new coach and a new attitude. Yorba Linda, which is no longer part of the Empire League, won league title last season and edged runner-up Cypress.Cypress finished the Empire League with a 10-2 mark to once again take second place behind Yorba Linda, which barely escaped with the crown. Cypress qualified for the postseason, as usual, but did not make the final.And that was that…Yet the coaching staff and players claimed they felt satisfied, more than satisfied, with the team’s effort and result. Indeed, all and all, the 2013 campaign turned out to be a success, when one considers a team without a star, and nothing but chemistry, almost upset Yorba Linda for the league crown and made a run to the CIF final.Still, the program suffered its biggest losses during the 2013 offseason.The team’s lineup endured a massive hit with the graduation of five seniors – all of whom went on to play at the collegiate level. That list included four-year varsity players Alyson Utke and Alina Smith, whose departure creates holes at the outside hitter and setter positions. Additionally, hitter/defensive specialist Jasmine Manu and outside Amber Rose, both two year players, and defensive specialist/libero Ashley Collins graduated, too.Players come and go, though. It’s part of high school sports, but the loss of the team’s skipper definitely hurt and left a huge hole to fill prior to the start of 2014.Kim Binder coached at Cypress for four years. She replaced Marcelo Guanes, who, with the team’s last star, captured the school’s last league title in 2009.Binder has been replaced by Aric Anderson, who previously coached at Savanna and the Quest Volleyball Club. Anderson is already having an impact on his team, bringing experience and a tough, mentality to the heavily-laden senior team. The team’s returners include senior blocker Kayley Stephens, senior setter Andrea Pedneault, senior libero Amanda Vongries, senior defensive specialist Angela Gjonovich, senior defensive specialist Miranda Freight, senior defensive specialist Miranda Freight, senior hitter Darya Mehri, senior blocker Skye Young, and junior opposite Katie Ashman.Western HighWestern High always gets stuck behind Cypress and Yorba Linda – almost every year.In 2013, the Pioneers chalked up a 7-5 record in league to snatch third place and a playoff berth. Cypress and Yorba Linda, as expected from the top two teams, swept them.However, the Pioneers graduated four players, which includes standouts McKayla Dole and Kassidy Harrington, but it features seven returners. The group will be strong at the net, where it returns senior middle blockers Rockelle Gholson, Lylybeth Arambula, Sina Amasio, and junior Adrianna Nester. Other returners include opposite Karina Rubalcaba, sophomore defensive specialist Emily Muro and junior hitter Alyssa Conkle.Kennedy HighLast year, Kennedy High didn’t finish at the bottom of the Empire League standings, but it didn’t end that campaign at the top of the pack either. The squad delivered a 3-8 league mark to take fifth, finishing ahead of sixth place Pacifica and winless Valencia.The Irish swept the Mariners and picked up another win against Tustin, which settled for fourth place. They never faced Valencia.The program’s struggles stemmed from inexperience. After all, the squad featured just four seniors. However, it will only lose captain Emily Parker, libero Kiana Story, blocker Ashley Mar and co-captain Heather Huynh.The returning eight Irish players definitely picked up enough experience last season to make a climb up the standings. That group includes senior utility Molly Killen, senior hitter Nicole Mankey, senior blocker Calissa Jones, junior hitter Rachel Poirier, senior setter Sierra Stone, senior blocker Jordan Adamson, and sophomore blockers Breanna Robinson and Cyan Scott.Pacifica HighAs stated earlier, Pacifica High came close to finishing the Empire League in the cellar. However, it managed to pick up a pair of wins with a 2-10 league record. It also produced an overall mark of 9-19.The Mariners only league triumphs came against Valencia. They also lacked senior leadership and lose just four players, but it seemed like every other program lacked seniors.

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