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Huntington Beach girls volleyball and others trying to catch up to Mater Dei

Mater Dei clearly is the No. 1 team girls volleyball team in Orange County this season.

No. 2 is …

“There is a ton of parity in Orange County girls volleyball this year,” said Mater Dei coach Dan O’Dell.

Huntington Beach returns seven of 10 starters from last season’s team that won the Surf League championship and lost to Aliso Niguel in the CIF Southern Section Division 2 final.

The returning Oilers include outside hitter Haylee LaFontaine, who was All-CIF Division 2 last season. Huntington Beach coach Craig Pazanti said other key players for the team are junior setter Dani Sparks, sophomore opposite hitter Taylor Ponchak and junior middle blocker Kylie Leopard. Libero Tori Hagan is the only senior starter on the team.

Huntington Beach won the championship of last weekend’s Lakewood Tournament.

“We’re not a super-physical team,” Pazanti said. “We are a good ball-control team. The longer a game goes, the better we’ll be.”

Taylor Ponchak (27) of Huntington Beach tips the ball over the net against Ellie Hanson (3) and Lauryn Trainor (8) of Tesoro in a girls volleyball match in the quarterfinals of the CIF-SS Division 2 playoffs at Huntington Beach High in Huntington Beach on Wednesday, October 27, 2021. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Beckman is a team led mostly by juniors including outside/opposite hitter Camryn Hayek. Patritos coach Darin McBain said senior outside hitter Madi Graves is off to an excellent start.

The CIF-SS “watch list” for Division 1 and 2 teams, a list of teams that are contenders to be selected for the Division 1 playoffs, includes Orange County’s Aliso Niguel, Beckman, Cypress, El Toro, Huntington Beach, Laguna Beach, Mater Dei, Mission Viejo, Orange Lutheran, San Clemente and Tesoro.

Aliso Niguel last week defeated JSerra which is not on the Division 1 and 2 watch list but should be one of the county’s better teams.

Mater Dei, which lost to Marymount in last season’s Division 1 final, is led by junior libero Malyssa Cawa, junior outside hitter Isabel Clark, junior opposite hitter Cymarah Gordon, junior outside hitter Babi Gubbins and senior outside hitter Liv Hertzog.

Outside of Orange County, Marymount, Mira Costa, Sierra Canyon and Redondo should have fine seasons. Vista Murrieta senior outside hitter Claire Little is a standout player.

Mater Dei opened its season last week by defeating Mira Costa in four sets.

The preseason Queens of the Court tournament often provides accurate information about which teams will be the better ones in area girls volleyball. Mater Dei won the tournament, defeating JSerra in the final of the top division. The Monarchs beat Beckman in the semifinals.

“I had no expectations for the Queens of the Court tournament,” McBain said. “We just went out there to see what we’ve got and we were successful.”

Among the better early-season tournaments is the Dave Mohs Memorial Tournament on Sept. 9-10 at Edison.

The CIF-SS girls volleyball regular season ends Oct. 15. The playoffs for the nine CIF-SS divisions begin Oct. 17. The CIF Southern California Regional playoffs are Nov. 8-15, and the state championships Nov. 18-19.

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