In leading up to the start of the 2015-16 athletics campaign at Irvine Valley, which starts on Aug. 24 with women's volleyball competing in the Azusa Pacific scrimmage tournament, the Laser athletic department is counting down the top 10 IVC sports stories from the 2014-15 school year.
At No. 2 on the list is the Irvine Valley women's volleyball team's dominant run to the program's first state title. A year after finishing third at the CCCAA State Championship, the Lasers won it all last December at Cabrillo College. The Lasers defeated defending state champion Cabrillo, the top team from Northern California, in the title match, 3-1 (25-15, 25-19, 22-25, 25-18). The win capped a perfect 27-0 season for the Lasers and head coach Tom Pestolesi. Three teams (Irvine Valley, Grossmont and Cabrillo) went into the state event undefeated, but only the Lasers ended that way.
IVC also won the Orange Empire Conference title behind the leadership of conference player of the year Annie Mitchem and all-conference players Marisa Doran, Hailey Jones, Kobi Pekich and Hannah Matt. Overall, Irvine Valley recorded three-set sweeps in 21 of its 27 matches and dropped just seven sets all season. There were staggering numbers and stats all around. The Lasers hit .344 as a team and averaged 12.38 assists, 2.12 blocks, 1.85 aces and 13.97 digs per set as a team. Mitchem led the state in hitting percentage at .517 and was among the leaders in kills and blocks and Jones was tops in the state in assists per set at 11.43.
Another special part of the year took place early in the playoffs when Pestolesi was honored for winning his 250th match with the program. Pestolesi was also named the conference and region coach of the year for the second year in a row. To top the year off, several IVC players signed to continue their careers at four-year schools, including Mitchem (Hawaii), Doran (New Mexico), Jones (San Diego State), Shaelyn Perez (UC San Diego) and Carleigh Petersen (Gordon College).
Moments after the Irvine Valley women's volleyball team became the fourth straight undefeated state champion Sunday, Lasers' All-American 6-2 sophomore middle blocker Annie Mitchem was signing autographs for a few young fans.
There's a good chance, her celebrity status will get brighter in the future after a dominating MVP performance in leading IVC to its first-ever CCCAA women's volleyball state title.
The Lasers defeated last year's state champ Cabrillo for the second time in two days and completed a perfect season at 27-0. Irvine Valley is the third Orange Empire Conference program to win a state title.
Irvine Valley came out on top, 25-15, 25-19, 22-25, 25-18, at Cabrillo College in Aptos on Sunday night. Irvine Valley had a record of 3-0 in the state event and dropped just one set over the weekend.
Irvine Valley only lost seven sets all season (81 won) in accomplishing the feat and handed previously undefeated Cabrillo its only two defeats while ending the Seahawks' 62-match win streak.
"It feels really good to accomplish this championship after getting to state last year and losing to Cabrillo," said Mitchem, who put on a clinic in the finals match with 24 kills (.488), six solo blocks (seven overall), and seven digs.
Mitchem's numbers overall in three victories were staggering as she totaled 58 kills and 15 blocks in 11 sets while making only five errors in 99 attempts. Her .535 overall attack percentage is unheard of for that many attempts at this level. Mitchem will take her talents to the University of Hawaii on a scholarship.
"One thing I improved at was playing all-around including the back row and passing," she said. "It helped my entire game. What I like about our team is we all get along so well. It was great to win it for Pesto and the rest of the coaching staff."
The Lasers took control of the match, grabbing a 10-5 lead in the first set. They put together a 10-1 run for a 10-point opening game triumph.
In the second set, Cabrillo led, 12-11, and the teams traded 12 ties before Mitchem took over with three kills and a solo block during a 7-2 run that clinched the game.
Cabrillo didn't quit in front of its home crowd in Aptos as the Seahawks won the third set, 25-22.
But in the fourth set, the Lasers led, 8-1, and never were threatened.
"She's the best player I've seen ever at the community college level," Irvine Valley coach Tom Pestolesi said of Mitchem. "She can do everything. As a team, I go back to when we had our bus ride back from Foothill College (after being eliminated at last year's state tourney). It started there. Our four corps players (Mitchem, Hailey Jones, Marisa Doran and Kobi Pekich) were determined to come back and win it this year. And it all came together this weekend."
Doran, one of Irvine Valley's team captains, had high praise for her teammate Mitchem.
"It's an honor for me to have played with a player of Annie's caliber," Doran said. "She did so many things well, and it pushed me and other teammates to be better. We had a great camaraderie as a team. We never got on each other, and we concentrated on our court play."
Also for Irvine Valley, Doran, a sophomore outside hitter, recorded 17 kills (.395) and added 14 digs and three blocks.
Pekich, also a sophomore outside hitter, added six kills and 13 digs while Jones, the team's sophomore setter, added 51 assists and 13 digs.
Freshman libero Kayla Scheevel chipped in 17 digs for IVC.
Cabrillo was paced by last year's MVP and an All-Tourney selection this year in Kelsey Shaver, who hit 15 kills and had 10 digs. Patrice Williams contributed 11 kills and Alex Flores added 10. Madison Borch had eight kills and four blocks.
"The better team won," said Cabrillo Coach Gabby Houston-Neville. "I felt like after we won last year, everyone showed up here with a clean slate. I'm proud that we fought as hard we did and we just came up against a powerful team in Irvine. To finish in second place after the state title win last year is something to be proud about."
Pestolesi said his team's focus, athleticism and fitness were all big keys to the title this year.
"When you have an athletic bunch, you want to coach them to be an exciting team to watch," Pestolesi said. "They did all the work. But they were as fit a team as you'll find. We conditioned them well, and they stayed on task all year. I couldn't be happier for the players and our coaching staff and support staff."
For Irvine Valley, it also returned the state crown back to Southern California after that region's colleges won the first 36 state titles prior to Cabrillo's first-ever North region title in 2013.