2016-09-16 / Sports

Building steam

Defending league champ Royal, spry Simi Valley will battle in girls’ volleyball
By Jonathan Andrade

PIONEER PRIDE—Simi Valley High girls’ volleyball players, from left, Katee Hurst, Megan Tenney, Isabelle Handberg, Amanda Fernandez and Kate Robinson lead the Pioneers on the court this season. 
Photos by MICHAEL COONS/Acorn Newspapers PIONEER PRIDE—Simi Valley High girls’ volleyball players, from left, Katee Hurst, Megan Tenney, Isabelle Handberg, Amanda Fernandez and Kate Robinson lead the Pioneers on the court this season. Photos by MICHAEL COONS/Acorn Newspapers Last season, the Coastal Canyon League high school girls’ volleyball champion wasn’t decided until the final match of the regular season.

Royal topped Moorpark in four sets to claim its first league crown since 2009. The chaos that ensued will forever be lodged in the mind of third-year head coach Kristine Connolly and the Highlanders.

Will Royal, Moorpark, Simi Valley, Camarillo or Oak Park celebrate a title this fall?

“I think the league, across the board, is better than they were last year,” Connolly said. “It’s going to be even more competitive. It really is anyone’s league.”

Here is a closer look at the Coastal Canyon teams:

FOCUSED—Isabelle Handberg digs the ball at Simi Valley practice. FOCUSED—Isabelle Handberg digs the ball at Simi Valley practice. ROYAL HIGHLANDERS

The Highlanders are the reigning Coastal Canyon champs.

Head coach Kristine Connolly said she believes Royal (4-6 overall) is even better this fall.

“We’re a lot deeper than last year,” she said. “We’re better in each position. Last year, we relied heavily on our middles. This year we have a lot more strength outside. We’re defensively a really strong team. It’s really opened up our offense.”

Lisa Leap, a senior opposite, leads the Highlander attack. Alex Omaszta, a freshman, runs the offense at setter; the versatile rookie also contributes at outside hitter and opposite.

“She’s really starting to be a standout player for us,” Connolly said of Omaszta. “She’s definitely one to watch as the season progresses.”

Lauren Hoffner, a senior, solidifies the defense at libero.

“The girls have been playing pretty well,” Connolly said. “We’re good enough, but we’re just figuring out how to have that consistency.”


First-year head coach Samantha Crane leads the Pioneers, who went winless in league last season.

Crane, a 2003 Simi Valley graduate who played two seasons at setter for the Lipscomb University women’s volleyball team in Nashville, said she’s excited to bring consistency and competitiveness to the program. She also served as an assistant coach at Lipscomb for seven seasons before moving back to Simi Valley last year.

“We’re going to compete this year,” Crane said. “We’re looking a lot better. It’s an improvement, and I’m having fun with them.”

Simi Valley’s started the season 8-5 overall. The Pioneers open Coastal Canyon action against Oak Park at 6 p.m. on Sept. 20 on the road.

Crane said the Pioneers boast a horde of skilled student-athletes.

Juniors Amanda Fernandez and Megan Tenney thrive at outside hitter. Kate Robinson, a junior captain, is a dynamic opposite. Carly Morlan, a senior captain, balances the attack at setter.

Senior Isabelle Handberg and sophomore Alicia Porter patrol the net as starting middle blockers.

McKenzie Gibson is the team’s starting senior libero.

Crane said she expects the Pioneers to come out swinging these next few weeks.

“It’s a matter if they believe they can win or not,” she said. “I’m excited to get into league and see how we do match up against these teams.”


Moorpark was one win away from securing an outright league crown in 2015. The Musketeers settled for second place.

This year, the Musketeers look to first-year head coach Hallie Willard to guide the team to league supremacy.

“I think we have a really good chance at league this year,” said Willard, the daughter of Camarillo football head coach Jack Willard.

Moorpark’s new leader, who served as an assistant coach the past three seasons, is one of the youngest coaches in the area. The Virgo celebrated her 23rd birthday on Thursday.

Moorpark (3-3 overall), which is coming off a five-set win over Rio Mesa on Sept. 13, returns several talented athletes.

Amanda Collet, a senior setter, is healthy after dealing with nagging injuries the past two seasons. Michelle Butman, a junior, is a returning middle blocker.

Three sophomores start. Halle Perkins thrives at opposite. Kari Esseff is an up-and-coming middle blocker. Tessa Tafuri is a dependable libero. Alex Quiles is trying to wrangle a starting outside hitter job from senior Ella Mitchell.

“ We would love to win league,” Willard said. “My goal for them is to have fun and play hard.”


Oak Park has a first-year head coach, but he’s not new to the program.

“I’ve been involved at Oak Park since sixth grade, when my dad took over the program,” said head coach Adam Quinn, the son of longtime boys’ and girls’ coach Patrick Quinn, who retired after leading the boys’ team to back to back section titles. “I’m very familiar with the athletic department, the school system and the faculty. All the administration stuff is very easy.”

The Eagles (6-7 overall) trot out talented players.

“I think this is the best Oak Park girls’ team in the past six years,” Adam Quinn said. “In past years we’ve typically had weak spots in our lineup. Right now, across the board, we have a lot of consistency.”

Oak Park, however, struggled without starting junior setter Lauren Herrera in the lineup. She injured her pinkie before the Eagles took on Ventura on Sept. 6. The Eagles have lost six of seven matches in her absence.

Allyson Hawkins, Danielle Gould and Natasha Rybakova provide the firepower for the Eagles. Junior Amanda Kristensen is a talented libero.

Taylor Hunter, a sophomore with numerous Division I offers, is a dynamo at middle blocker.

Quinn said he’s heard a lot of chatter about his team from his coaching colleagues in the area.

“Other coaches are telling me we’re the team to beat in our league,” he said. “I would agree.”


Camarillo is loaded this season with 16 players on the varsity roster.

Every Scorpion has gotten a chance to contribute while head coach Rob Vandermay has shuffled the starting lineup.

Camarillo (3-6 overall) is starting to find its groove on the court.

“We have a pretty balanced attack,” Vandermay said. “We can attack from the front row, outside, middle or opposite.”

Miranda Poole is a heavy-handed outside hitter. The senior has the ability to take over a game at any moment. Junior middle blocker Megan Wall, a Boston College commit, is another impact player in the lineup. Setters Dani Garcia, a senior, and Kristiana Hardisty, a junior, distribute precise sets to Camarillo attackers.

Camarillo finished last season with four straight wins to close the league slate. The Scorpions hope to stretch that to five straight Coastal Canyon wins when they take on Moorpark at 6:15 p.m. on Sept. 20 at home.

“I think we have the ability to go fairly deep in the playoffs with the right seed and the right matchups,” Vandermay said. “I think we can do a little damage.”

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