The Coyotes are the favorites again until someone can knock off the champs.
Calabasas High’s girls’ tennis team has been the strongest squad since joining the Marmonte League in 2002, but other schools are getting closer to toppling the Coyotes.
“Over the last three or four years, I’ve seen the gap between talent on our team and our league close,” Calabasas head coach Cleo Harper said. “It’s not like one team just will be running off with everything now.
“That gap, it’s getting closer every year. It gets tougher for us at Calabasas to stay on top.”
The top four Marmonte teams earn automatic postseason berths, and a fifth-place squad could squeeze in if it finishes above .500.
Most schools in the league will jockey among each other for playoff positioning, including Calabasas, Westlake, Thousand Oaks, Simi Valley and Moorpark.
Newbury Park, Royal and Agoura have the potential to make upset runs.
Teams will know more about each other beginning Tues., Sept. 22, when league play begins.
The Coyotes will take the good with the bad.
They welcome a strong group of freshmen. At the same time, Calabasas is coping with injuries to several key players.
Junior Emily Weisburg, the league’s reigning player of the year, will alternate at No. 1 singles with another star, senior Florence Hernandez.
Junior Krystal Hansard is another prominent singles player for Calabasas.
Harper is still shuffling his lineup to offset all the injuries.
Senior Ashley Warner, junior Lisa Levin and freshman Moriah Staff provide depth for the Coyotes at singles. Levin and Warner could see some court time in doubles matches.
Alexa Gelbard, Tatyana Goldring and Rachel Blankstein should contribute in doubles.
Harper, in his sixth season overall and third as head coach, said he’s looking forward to developing freshmen to further buttress the program the next two or three seasons.
For now, the Coyotes have a league title to defend.
“My goal is to have them playing as a unit by midseason,” Harper said. “I feel if I can develop a player and get them to understand what they’re doing on the court, then winning will just come.
“We don’t talk about winning and losing. We talk about how we develop them as players.”
Connie Flanderka has coached Westlake girls’ tennis since the school’s inception 32 years ago.
With 16 league championships and four section titles at WHS, Flanderka hopes this is the year the Warriors can seize the Marmonte from Calabasas.
“I’m looking forward to us making the playoffs and hopefully bringing back a league championship to Westlake,” the coach said.
The Warriors embrace one of the strongest singles players in the league, freshman Sivan Krems.
“She’s probably the best player in the league,” Thousand Oaks head coach Dave Assorson said of Krems.
Sarah Contrata, another freshman, will also contribute in singles for Westlake.
Sophomore Chaya Boks and senior Tiffany Loh are Westlake’s top returning singles players. Boks could also help at doubles.
Alexandra Bass, a senior, will likely be part of a top doubles tandem. Seniors Roseann Zhong and Noelle Starr are quality athletes.
Flanderka is optimistic because the Warriors have depth, and last season’s junior varsity squad shared a Marmonte crown with Calabasas.
“I’d like to see us at the No. 1 spot with a league championship,” the coach said. “I feel like it’s time for Westlake to be up there.
“Calabasas will still be a tough team. But I feel like we can compete with them this year.”
Simi Valley Pioneers
Simi does more with less.
Under 13-year head coach Rob Wickwire, SVHS prides itself on playing unconventional tennis.
“We base everything on consistency,” Wickwire said. “Our goal is to make the other team make the first mistake.”
The Pioneers are feeling good, especially since the Wilson sisters are healthy.
Tianna and Linsey Wilson are among the top players in the Marmonte. Linsey, a sophomore, endured a myriad of injuries throughout 2008. Tianna, the team’s No. 1 singles player, is a senior at the top of her class in grade-point average, Wickwire said.
Junior Katie Crilley and senior Ashley Hayes form Simi Valley’s No. 1 doubles twosome.
Thousand Oaks Lancers
The Lancers graduated several solid players, but they remain competitive and playoff-hungry.
“I think we have a chance,” Assorson said. “I would like to see us be very competitive. We definitely want to make the playoffs.”
Senior Tara Erb has been an All-Marmonte singles player since she was a freshman, and she figures to anchor TOHS again.
Junior Veronica Lin is an outstanding contributor at singles or doubles.
Kathryn Stueckle was part of a first-team All-Marmonte doubles squad last year with Hilary Koenig, who graduated. Stueckle and Lin will likely join forces at No. 1 doubles.
Katy Scheck and Christina Hempill will be T.O.’s No. 2 doubles pairing. As a freshman, Scheck was a singles standout.
Alysse King and Jenni Jacobs currently form the third doubles team, but four other Lancers could get the job done, Assorson said.
The coach said a pair of freshmen will bolster the lineup. Alison Ho and Melissa Baker are expected to contribute at singles.
“I think we have a pretty decent team,” Assorson said.
The Musketeers made the playoffs last year. They hope to join the party again.
Moorpark welcomes back sophomore Kristina Eisenbrand at No. 1 singles. As a freshman, Eisenbrand reached the Marmonte League tournament finals at singles.
Senior captains Keiko McNamara and Chrissy Jacobs will likely form a No. 1 doubles tandem. McNamara could also contribute at singles.
Head coach Sandy Jacobs hopes her captains will relish stepping up this season.
“It will be fun to see how they develop as leaders,” the coach said.
Freshman Alyssa Bird will also contribute for MHS.
Coach Jacobs said Moorpark is balanced with seniors and underclassmen, although she isn’t sure where Moorpark fits into the final league standings.
Newbury Park Panthers
The Panthers hope a balanced roster led by a strong No. 1 singles player will net a postseason berth.
“My goals are to keep improving and get these girls thinking the right way, worrying more about their improvement and shot selection than the outcome,” head coach Harvey Mardyks said.
“The focal point of the program focuses on the process.”
Senior Sabrina Guttierez is Newbury Park’s No. 1 singles standout. After Guttierez, the Panthers have balance with six other seniors, six juniors, four sophomores and six freshmen.
Rebecca Kennedy and Fiona Bush form a top doubles duo. Melinda Weilage and Larisa Owechko are a talented tandem.
Brittany Brown, a potential No. 2 singles starter, fractured a vertebra in her back this offseason and is likely out for the year, the coach said. Mardyks said he hopes Brown can return in 2010. face an uphill battle to win league again.
“It’s a youth movement,” Park said of the nine sophomores on the roster. “I think I have only three legal drivers.”
Katie Deamer is the lone senior. The outside hitter is a good leader, Park said, who will be counted on to keep the team’s emotions steady.
Outside hitter Karis Schneider, libero Rachel Cookus, middle blocker/opposite Summer Esseff and opposite Jillian Johnson are sophomores who must play well.
Junior setters Kayla Frisoli and Ashley Rosenberg will also contribute.
The Warriors will use a balanced attack to try and win a league title.
Without a go-to hitter, Westlake will rely on savvy setter Hannah Schuett, a junior, to bring cohesion to the offense.
“This should be interesting,” Rittenhouse said. “We’ll be looking for a hot hitter night to night. We do have a consistent setter.”
Senior outside hitter Casey Levitt is a top returner, along with senior middle blockers Chloe Yates and Melissa Johnson.
What Westlake lacks in offensive firepower, it makes up for with strong allaround skills like digging, blocking, accurate passing and a desire to chase loose balls.
The Warriors started strong by winning five of eight matches at a Las Vegas tournament at the end of August.
“They’re battle tested,” the coach said. “What I like about this team is that they’re a bunch of hard workers. They give a full effort.”
Newbury Park Panthers
First-year head coach Chip Tarleton has high expectations for the Panthers.
The team’s goals include winning a league title, winning a section title and winning a state title.
“We have lofty goals,” Tarleton said. “You can’t just say it. You have to back it up with preparation.”
The team plans to stay focused on its goals by following a simple motto: Preparation, poise, pride and perfection.
Tarleton wants Newbury Park to master the fundamentals of passing, setting and hitting.
“We have high expectations for the team, definitely,” said Tarleton, who’s coached club squads for 11 seasons and spent 2007 at Buena as a freshman coach.
“But we have to produce.”
Middle blockers Karissa Flack and Veronika Ban, and outside hitters Amber Glaab and Andreya VanBuren are senior leaders.
The Musketeers graduated seven players from the 2008 squad, but they hope to make the playoffs once again.
MHS is focusing on running more defensive sets and a quicker offense than in previous years.
“It’s definitely a lot different in terms of how I’m approaching (this team) as a coach,” said Hanson, who has guided the squad for seven seasons.
Senior setter Taylor Fredrick will be crucial to the Musketeers’ success. Other players to watch out for include outside hitters Lauren Rohach, a senior, and sophomore Kayla Sears.
Seniors Allison Smeck, a middle blocker, and opposite Jessica Page will also contribute. Libero Briana Neatherlin is the only other senior on the roster.
Senior Alicia Carter, a college prospect, was expected to start at outside hitter before tearing her ACL, MCL and meniscus in her left knee this summer.
Simi Valley Pioneers
A Highlander will lead the Pioneers.
Jason Sherman, a 2004 Royal graduate, is the first-year head coach at Simi Valley this season.
Sherman said SVHS has a nice blend of veterans and newcomers.
“We’re shaping up pretty good,” the coach said. “We have good camaraderie and we come out and work hard every day.”
Simi Valley will rely on two seniors to lead the way—setter Corrine Ostrovsky and outside hitter Amber Clemons.
“Both are a little undersized,” the coach said, “but their volleyball I.Q. is far ahead of someone still in high school. What they lack in size, they make up for in work ethic, heart and all those other intangibles.”
Senior libero Christina Flenker will also be a factor.
Head coach Brock Redmond doesn’t use the word “rebuilding” when talking about Agoura.
To Redmond, this is a development season where underclassmen have the chance to step up.
“Realistically, I don’t think playoffs are in the picture,” the second-year coach said.
“But I think we’ll have a better year, whether our record shows it or not.”
Redmond has a track record of improving programs. He led downtrodden Newbury Park to the playoffs in 2007. He’s also coached at Westlake, TOHS, Oak Park and at the club level.
Mackenzie Gromek is Agoura’s top returning player. Gromek is a four-year starter at outside hitter.
Setter Catherine Davis, a senior who has started for three seasons, and senior outside hitter Hannah Teitelbaum will give the Chargers some punch.
Redmond hopes Agoura will improve its serve-receive passing. He wants the younger players to adjust to varsity ball.
“We have a lot of talent,” the coach said, “and we have a lot of kids playing club and working hard in the offseason.”
The Coyotes have struggled since joining the Marmonte.
Marla O’Hara, the eighth-year coach, has good reason to be optimistic for the future.
O’Hara said more Coyotes are playing club volleyball than ever before—about a half dozen at the varsity level and 1214 throughout the program—and the squad has consistent outside hitters and a solid, young core.
“They really want to learn how to win,” the coach said.
“Our goals are to stay positive and play aggressive—and see if we can get some W’s under our belt.”
Libero Emma Gottlieb and outside hitters Marissa Rossi and Lauren Goss are part of a sound sophomore class. Senior Emily Cohen returns to start at middle hitter. Setter Sarah Conley and outside hitter Wendy Cyffka are also expected to chip in.
“We’ll play with a lot more confidence this season,” O’Hara said.
“The girls are talking about winning. That’s something we haven’t had in the past. We’ve kind of been kicked around in league for so many years. We have to get over the hump. They really want to try to turn the program around.”