1. Esperanza – Expectations are high for the Aztecs this season and with good reason. Esperanza have a solid senior nucleus, led by Andrew Benz and setter Taylor Christoffers. Motivation shouldn’t be a problem coming off of last year’s first round exit in the CIF-SS playoffs.
2. Corona del Mar – The Sea Kings are the defending CIF-SS Division 2 and SoCal Regional Division II champions. CdM has some key returners, like outside hitter Parker Brown, setter Joe Ctvrtlik and middle Jack Reed. CdM will be counting on some JV players from last year to step in and contribute.
3. Huntington Beach – The Oilers finished third in the Sunset League last year and return a good portion of that team. They should be the favorites by the team league play rolls around. Outsides Kyle Bailey and Edgar Palos are back, along with opposite Zack Gates, middle Andre Tenbrink.
4. Servite – Experience is the key when talking about the Friars. The squad returns a lot, including middles Kyle Palmer and Sam Hunt and outside Madison Hayden. Replacing setter Kevin Kutsura and libero Ryan Windisch will be key for the Friars. Servite will definitely a team to watch this season.
5. Mater Dei – The defending CIF-SS Division 1AA champions, the Monarchs have a solid core returning, led by first-team all-county performer John Zappia (UCLA). Zappia is one of just four seniors on the roster. Grady Zant and Tucker Pikula played key roles last season and will be even more important this year.
6. Dana Hills – Last year’s senior night, the Dolphins honored one senior. This year’s senior night will be a little longer, but unfortunately for opponents, junior middle Bryce Yould and sophomore opposite Christian Hessenauer have some more years left. Karch Smith takes over setting duties for the defending South Coast League champions.
7. San Clemente – The Tritons have a good mix of players returning, led by outside hitter Dillon Hoffman. Hoffman has committed to UC Irvine, making him the sixth Triton to commit to the Anteaters. Jack Yoder is moving from middle to setter. One area of concern will be their lack of size in the middle.
8. Newport Harbor – Steve Astor takes over Dan Glenn as coach. The Sailors are inexperienced on the outside, but have return middles Kevin Rakestraw and Clay Carr. Senior libero Max Richley started last year. The Sailors will need a setter to step up after the graduation of Ian Sequiera.
9. Santa Margarita – New faces are everywhere for the Eagles. Santa Margarita welcomes back just one player (Mitch Vallis) from last year’s team. The Eagles dropped their season opener in four games to Loyola of Los Angeles, who is ranked second in the Division 1. With time, the Eagles will develop into a team nobody will want to face.
10. Laguna Beach – Scott Panaro is the new coach, taking over for Lance Stewart. The Breakers return three starters (Jack Winn, Austin Hillemann and Max McCarter). Laguna Beach teams usually get stronger as the season progresses. They are the three-time CIF Regional champion.