Randy Angel

Mira Costa, Redondo girls ready to make run at Bay, CIF volleyball titles

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Two-time All-CIF setter Norene Iosia will spread the ball around to a potent Redondo offense. Photo by Ray Vidal

Two-time All-CIF setter Norene Iosia will spread the ball around to a potent Redondo offense. Photo by Ray Vidal

It comes as no surprise that Mira Costa and Redondo Union are considered the front runners to win the Bay League girls volleyball crown this season, but the road to the CIF Southern Section Division 1AA championship could possibly end with the rivals squaring off for at a third time for all the marbles.

Both teams are expecting deeper postseason runs this season after being eliminated in the quarterfinals last season.

Redondo entered the playoffs as the second seed and finished the season with an impressive 30-6 record. A young, inexperienced Mira Costa continued to improve throughout the year and finished with a 24-9 record while seeded seventh in the division.

Bay League defending champion Redondo returns a strong nucleus from a team that swept Mira Costa last season and with Coach Tommy Chaffins’ “next play focus” credo, the Sea Hawks should only get better.

The Sea Hawks are ranked No. 2 in the prepvolleyball.com preseason poll, the highest a Redondo team has been ranked in a national poll in any sport.

Junior setter Norene Losia begins her third year as a starter and is a two-time All-CIF selection, University of Texas-bound senior Yaasmeen Bedart-Ghani is a 6-foot-4 outside hitter position and senior outside hitter/middle blocker Abril Bustamante enters her third season on the varsity squad. Bustamante has committed to play sand volleyball at USC.

Strong seasons are also expected from UCSB-bound junior outside hitter Megan Rice, senior libero Katie Barkley and senior middle blocker Kristen Hamlin, who Chaffins feels might be the most athletic player he has ever coached.

Redondo senior outside hitter Yasmeen Bedart-Ghani will play a vital role for the Sea Hawks this season. Photo by Ray Vidal

Redondo senior outside hitter Yaasmeen Bedart-Ghani will play a vital role for the Sea Hawks this season. Photo by Ray Vidal

Also contributing will be seniors Dominique Dodd, Hayes Honea, juniors Kacey Baker, Lauren Cordero, Taylor Cottle, Sophia Loiola, Liana Marin, Rhyan Theus, Amanda Tsao, Nicole Yacullo and sophomores Chloe Owens and Maddie Relaz.

“We have a seasoned team with many future college athletes who are used to succeeding in their volleyball careers,” Chaffins said. “When we compete against each other in practice, it helps competing against fellow future college players on both sides. This is will be the most experienced team I have had, as well.  My first 11 years I have always had a freshman make varsity, but not the last two years.”

Chaffins said the depth of his team has helped during training as players recover from injuries. He feels another strength of the Sea Hawks is that opposing teams cannot key on any certain player, crediting his setter Losia.

“Norene sees the court so well and has a tremendous volleyball I.Q.,” Chaffins said. “She is a magician with her touch.”

Redondo will be tested the first week of the season when it plays in the 32-team Molten/Lakewood Invitational Sept. 1-8.

The Sea Hawks will also compete in the prestigious Durango Fall Classic in Las Vegas, NV Sept. 18-20. Other key non-league matches include Mater Dei (Sept. 11), Orange Lutheran (Sept. 16) and Marymount (Sept. 23).

Chaffins realizes Mira Costa will be looking to avenge last year’s two losses to its rival, but also expects to be challenged by the teams on the hill.

All-CIF selection Skylar Caputo returns to the hardwood after representing the U.S. in beach volleyball at the Youth Olympics in Nanjing, China. Photo by Ray Vidal

All-CIF selection Skylar Caputo returns to the hardwood after representing the U.S. in beach volleyball at the Youth Olympics in Nanjing, China. Photo by Ray Vidal

“Palos Verdes has some talent coming back, including some phenomenal freshman coming in,” Chaffins said. “Peninsula has two great setters, along with other pieces, and has always played us tough.”

The storied history of Mira Costa girls volleyball begins a new chapter this season with former Mustang standout Hayley Lawson-Blanchard taking of the reigns of the Mustang program after Lisa Zimmerman stepped down to spend more time with her family.

Lawson-Blanchard enjoyed a successful debut when Mira Costa finished second at the Ann Kang Invitational in Honolulu, HI on Aug. 16.

Playing without starting All-CIF outside hitter Skylar Caputo and starting middle blocker Erin Sagisi, who did not make the trip, Mira Costa went 6-0 in the first two days of competition before losing to national perennial power Punahou of Honolulu, 25-19, 25-19.

In the semifinals, the Mustangs defeated CIF-SS Division 1AA adversary Lakewood 25-19, 25-23 to advance to the championship match where Mira Costa fell to Punahou 27-25, 27-25.

“We had an excellent tournament,” Lawson-Blanchard said. “The girls played incredible and came so close. I’m extremely excited to see what we can do with both of those girls back.

Mira Costa team co-captain Katie Rethmeyer is one of the area’s top middle blockers. Photo by Ray Vidal

Mira Costa team co-captain Katie Rethmeyer is one of the area’s top middle blockers. Photo by Ray Vidal

We played with a lot of heart in Hawaii. It’s no secret that we have a giant roster, and we could not have done it without all 18 girls who traveled. Our bench was so loud and emotional it really threw off the other teams. The girls on the court really thrived on the energy we created for ourselves in the gym, especially when playing against the big name teams – Lakewood, Kingwood from Texas and, of course, Punahou.”

Returning starters Katie Rethmeyer (middle blocker) and Keala Rusher (setter/defensive specialist) join Caputo as team captains. Lawson-Blanchard expects breakout seasons for sophomore outside hitter Hannah Scott, senior outside hitter Phina Leilua and junior libero Emma Smith.

“Hannah has incredible potential to be one of the top players in the Bay League in the upcoming years,” Lawson-Blanchard said. “She is a phenomenal passer and brings a powerful and fast arm to the outside position. Due to a back injury last season, the league did not see much of Phina, but she is 100 percent healthy now and will be a force on either wing with a huge block and the ability to hit over other teams’ blocks. Emma played outstanding in Hawaii, getting digs on balls we thought were down already, and passing with ease every time the ball came to her. She has a very calm demeanor about her on the court and makes her team and coaches feel very confident in her abilities.”

Prior to competing in the prestigious Durango Fall Classic in Las Vegas, NV Sept. 18-20, Mira Costa will host non-league rival Marymount on Tuesday, Sept. 2 at 5:15 p.m.

Traditionally, Marymount’s roster has included many girls who live in, or have strong ties to, the South Bay.

“In Hawaii, we learned what physical aspects of the game we need to work on now, and when we combine that with the mental and emotional aspects that we displayed and are such a huge part of the game, I think it will be hard to stop us,” Lawson-Blanchard said. “Marymount will be a great show of that. The girls have grown up playing together in club and against each other in school, and it’s a big pride issue for everyone involved. While it’s technically a scrimmage, I have no doubt everyone involved will treat it like CIF finals.”

Also expected to contribute to the Mustang’s title quest are seniors Taylor Balen, Lauren Berty, Lindsay Chalmers, Kelly Geiser, Katrina Kernochan, Sam Sestanovich, juniors Milan Agnone, Ashley Anselmo, Erin McCarthy, Sam Snyder and sophomores Britt Bommer, Amanda Montag and Alexa Underwood.

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