The Irvine Valley women's volleyball team lost six players, including five that earned four-year scholarships, from its 2017 team that went 27-0, captured an Orange Empire Conference title won the second CCCAA State Championship in program history.
Gone are standouts Megan Ramseyer (Butler), Oliva Aguilar (Cal State San Marcos), Taira Ka'awaloa (Hawaii-Hilo), Gabi Lau (Western New Mexico) and Diamond Brogan (Cumberland).
But the conference's sports information directors still favor the Lasers to claim the OEC crown.
IVC received every first-place ballot in the voting.
The Lasers did look solid in their opening match of the season last week, sweeping a tough Long Beach City team behind 11 kills by freshman outside hitter Gabriela Griego, nine kills and 10 digs by freshman outside hitter Lea Kruse, 12 digs and four aces by sophomore libero Renata Bath and 31 assists by freshman setter Truth Hafey. Sophomore middle blocker Kylie Miller and sophomore outside hitter Alyssa Vortouni are two more strong players for Irvine Valley.
"You don't ever really know until you get going," Irvine Valley coach Tom Pestolesi said. "I think we have a nice balance and that has kind of been our trademark. And we have some pretty athletic players that are good at multiple skills. The team vibe has been really good so far and we hope that continues."
Cypress, which finished second in the conference last season at 13-3 and captured the title in 2016, was selected to take second in this year's standings.
The Chargers are off to a 2-0 start behind returning second team all-conference outside hitters Khamis Berneker and Kayla Owens. Owens has averaged 3.71 kills and Berneker has averaged 3.00 kills per set so far. Cypress also features 5-10 freshman setter Holly Cabrajac along with sophomore middle blocker Jane Woodward.
Orange Coast, Saddleback and Golden West were the next three teams selected and each were separated by just a point in the voting.
Orange Coast is off to a 3-0 start and has received solid performances from freshman outside hitters Hally Herder and Bailey Coffin, freshman middle blocker Lily Johnson, sophomore libero Rylee Adair and sophomore setter Camryn Kaina. Adair, who is averaging 10.33 digs per set, was a second team all-conference performer last season. Herder is averaging 4.00 kills per set and Kaina is averaging 11.67 assists per set so far.
Saddleback has a 0-2 mark, but has played two tough teams in Pasadena City and MiraCosta.
Freshman outside hitters Julia Brown and Shay Savoie have led the way thus far. Brown is averaging 4.63 kills per set. The Gauchos should also get key contributions from sophomore setter Kiana Camargo and sophomore outside hitter Mackenzie Alexander among others.
Golden West won its first match of the season last week, knocking off Santa Monica in five sets. Freshman Abigail Botana had 11 kills, freshman Madison Holmes added eight kills and 11 digs, freshman setter Sophia Peterson finished with 22 assists and freshman libero Mia Lara contributed 16 digs.
Riverside was picked sixth. The Tigers are 1-1 heading into this week and are paced by returning first team all-conference libero Natalie Escher and second team all-conference outside hitter Marcella Rodriguez along with sophomore outside hitter Kiara Oregon and sophomore setter Taylor Gardner.
Santa Ana, Fullerton and Santiago Canyon rounded out the voting.
Santa Ana is off to an 0-2 start, but has seen big numbers put up so far by sophomore outside hitter Stephanie Ozokwo.
Fullerton has won its first three matches of the season under new head coach Megan Glenie. Sophomore setter Kailyn Case returns after earning second team all-conference honors a year ago. And sophomore middle blocker Lauren Schaefer has shined so far, averaging 4.08 kills per set.
Santiago Canyon, which was a new program in 2017, has dropped its first three matches of the year. Alex Griffiths is the new head coach for the Hawks.
OEC SPORTS INFORMATION POLL RESULTS:
1) Irvine Valley (8)
3) Orange Coast
5) Golden West
7) Santa Ana
9) Santiago Canyon