The Citrus Belt League girls’ volleyball race intrigues, with several teams that could claim the top spot.
“This year, I see the race [as being] between Cajon, Yucaipa and Redlands,” Cajon coach Paula Bougie said.
Cajon, under veteran coach Bougie, is skilled and entered this week at 8-1, having won five consecutive matches.
An interesting early season match for Cajon is Sept. 15 at Yucaipa.
Citrus Valley announced a new coach before the season, but he was not guiding the team through the first week of September. April Finazzo, the school’s softball coach, now leads the Blackhawks. Finazzo said she was approached by athletic director Boyd Lium and asked if she would take over the program; she agreed.
Lium said to contact Redlands Unified School District human resources regarding the change. Human resources did not respond to a phone message nor emails.
Finazzo has some talent to work with, led by middle hitter Savannah Toailoa. The Blackhawks were 7-5 through the end of last week.
Veteran Beaumont coach Jessica Granados is blessed with Rancho Valley Premier players Vivian Lisboa and Avery McIntyre. They are supported by a volleyball-loving community, which shows out in force for matches.
The Cougars are 5-1 so far.
At Redlands East Valley, McKenna Fink is in control of the program that was once the domain of the Vansant family – first former Loyola Marymount basketball star Tricia Vansant who led the Wildcats to glory with her daughter Krista as the centerpiece; then with Tricia’s husband Robert taking over as coach (he stepped down from the position last school year).
“We truly want to restore REV’s history of great volleyball,” Fink said. “After COVID, we have been preparing for the future with the goal of getting better every time we touch the court.”
REV was 0-4 through the end of last week.
REV’s rival, Redlands, has a veteran coach in former University of Redlands player Corinne Flowers, now in her 10th year. Redlands started impressively in nonleague play, winning seven of its first eight matches.
Yucaipa is big and athletic, despite a 1-2 record to start the season. The Thunderbirds defeated Oak Hills 3-0, fell to Paloma Valley 3-2 and dropped a 3-0 match to Chaparral. But Yucaipa is in good hands with former Thunderbird player Amber Von Kaenel again coaching.
A closer look at the teams:
CBL TEAMS (in alphabetical order, with 2019 record):
Olivia Lisboa and Avery McIntyre pace the Cougars. Both are 6-1 seniors who play for Rancho Valley Premier. Madeline Brown is another player to watch for the Cougars. Depth won’t be a problem as Beaumont has 20 players on varsity and nearly 60 spread out over three teams.
The Cougars tied Hemet for the league’s best record two years ago before being sent to the CBL.
Cajon returns junior Trinity Gonzales, a first-team all-leaguer as a freshman. Other players to watch for are juniors Mya Dalpiaz and Kylin Hayes and sophomore middle blocker Sarai Ross.
An interesting early season match is Sept. 15 at Yucaipa.
CITRUS VALLEY (22-7)
Among the players to watch are middle hitter Savannah Toailoah, libero Kai Caloca, and setter and floor captain Giselle Coley. Freshmen making an impact are outside hitters Makenna Tillman and Samantha Claus. Ciara Claus is assisting Finazzo on the bench.
Flowers played volleyball and water polo at the University of Redlands. The Terriers were 7-1 following wins last week against Great Oak and La Quinta. Redlands boasts three talented middle hitters in Kylie Flores, Kaley Joye and Olivia Burgess. Outside hitter Julie Tolstava, a sophomore, is a force. Isabella Farrokhi shines at libero and the Terriers boast outstanding setters in Audrey Elias and freshman Lauren Reiter.
REDLANDS EAST VALLEY (17-10)
McKenna Fink, a teacher in Hesperia, replaces longtime coach Robert Vansant. The 2021 Wildcats have three returning players – setter Christina Muller, libero/defensive specialist Gabriella Galvan and OH/OPP Mary Groninger – and a desire to restore the program to prominence.
(Amber Von Kaenel)
The Thunderbirds won CBL titles in 2016, 2017 and 2018 before finishing second to Citrus Valley in 2019. Kaitlyn Busby at setter was a key member of that 2019 Yucaipa team and she returns.
“She’s a leader and distributes the ball well,” Von Kaenel said.
Other standouts are junior libero Sarah Graham, junior outside hitter Phoebe Miller, senior outside hitter Tory Barthouse, junior middle blocker Kylie Proctor, 6-1 middle blocker Saela Wardlow and junior outside hitter Emilia Graham.