By Dan Arritt     9/20/2016

That magical season of 2013 remains the high watermark for the Orange Lutheran girls’ volleyball team. That group won the outright Trinity League title with a deep and experienced roster, one that featured 10 juniors and seniors who would continue playing at the college level.

Coming close to that team’s performance level has been a struggle, however. Graduation took its toll following the league championship and run to the CIF-SS Division I-AA semifinals three years ago, and so did season-ending injuries to key players the last two seasons.

This fall, Orange Lutheran coach Andrew Mabry has his most experienced and talented group since that 2013 team, but he’s realistic of their expectations, especially this early in the season.

“[2013] was one of the best teams we’ve had in school history, so I think we’re worried about right now,” Mabry said. “These seniors, especially, have put a lot into this program, been working for a long time, mixed in with some good, young talent, some young returners even, so there’s a lot of motivation in our gym right now. It’s a fun place to be.”

Altogether, the Lancers return four players who are in their third year with the varsity, led by outside hitter Kaylie Milton, a first-team all-league selection as a junior last season.

“Things are coming along very well,” Milton said. “We have a lot of togetherness and we all love playing together.”

The other third-year players are 6-foot-2 middle blocker Olivia Root, setter Bailey Anderson, both seniors, and junior outside hitter Alice Samoylovich.

Root missed a big stretch of her sophomore year with a torn ACL, and last season it was Orange Lutheran’s top player, Brooke Bastien, who broke her foot during the first month of the season and was sidelined the rest of her senior year.

“This group has been through a lot in three years,” Mabry said. “There’s been a lot of togetherness that’s been built out of that, but there’s been a lot of adversity, very legitimate adversity, not dramatic adversity, but physical adversity.”

The Lancers will be tested right from the start of league play, as they open Sept. 22 at Santa Margarita, a team that returns last season’s Trinity League player of the year, Meghan McClure. Santa Margarita opened the season ranked No. 6 in the nation by MaxPreps, four spots behind Mater Dei.

“We know what we’re preparing for in late September and through October, but that’s what you want,” Mabry said. “You want to play good teams and be ready for it.”

One difference this season is the Lancers won’t have to battle it out with Mater Dei and Santa Margarita come playoff time. Competitive equity has taken over as the criteria for placement in the Southern Section playoffs—unlike school enrollment or league affiliation in the past—and Orange Lutheran has been placed in Division 2, a level below Mater Dei and Santa Margarita.

Mabry can think of no better way for Milton and the other seniors to wrap up their careers than with a deep playoff run.

“There’s motivation to capitalize on the opportunities they have on a daily basis,” Mabry said of the seniors. “They’re setting the tone for what’s going on, and the younger kids are feeding off of it.”