By Dan Arritt     8/15/2016

Those who operate stellar high school sports programs will tell anyone who’ll bend an ear: Their teams don’t reorganize or rebuild, they just replace and reload.

The Mater Dei girls’ volleyball team certainly fits that mold lately, having posted a 39-9 combined record while finishing first or second in the ultra-talented Trinity League in each of the last six seasons.

The Monarchs will feature several new faces in the starting lineup this season, and maybe even a different identity, but coach Dan O’Dell believes Mater Dei can keep producing the same old results.

And if playoff performances are any indication, the Monarchs seem to be getting stronger.

They won the most competitive division in girls’ volleyball last season after losing in the CIF-SS Division I-AA finals each of the previous two years.

A big cause for optimism this fall is the return of senior outside hitter Shannon Scully, an all-Orange County first-team selection by the Orange County Register last season. Scully, who has committed to play at the University of Utah, is a well-rounded player who finished with 320 kills, 382 digs, 43 blocks and 35 aces last season.

“Her best skill is passing, but she’ll probably be our best hitter, and best at a lot of things,” O’Dell says. “It’s hard to ever take her off the court.”

Gone from last season’s team are two key starters, however.

Makena Martin graduated and now plays for TCU, and Rachel Ritchie transferred back to San Juan Hills High School, where she attended her first two years of high school. Martin was a first-team all-league selection last season and third-team all-county. Ritchie was second-team all-league and second-team all-county.

The Monarchs will rely on a handful of young players to pick up the slack.

Mater Dei’s No. 1 setter the second half of last season, Brielle Mullally, returns for her sophomore season, as does Natalie Berty, whom O’Dell will count on to fill some of the offensive void opened up by the departures of Martin and Ritchie.

Siena Secrist returns for her junior season, and her emerging all-around game is drawing comparisons to Scully’s. The Monarchs are also expecting big things from freshman right-side hitter Mia Tuaniga, the sister of Long Beach State men’s star volleyball player Josh Tuaniga.

“We have a lot of returners, but we’ll be a young team again, young with a lot of experience,” O’Dell says. “We’ll be up for the challenge.”

One of the main challenges is expected to come from Santa Margarita, which returns league most valuable player Meghan McClure, a Stanford-bound middle blocker who joined Scully as the only non-seniors on the Register’s all-county first team last season.

“Seems like she’s been there for 10 years,” O’Dell says of McClure.

The Eagles also return their starting setter in junior Devon Chang, a first-team all-league selection, and second-teamers Julianna Reisinger and Haley Carmo.

“Santa Margarita should be the favorite,” O’Dell says. “We’re trying to take the bulls-eye off us and put it on them.”

As usual, the Monarchs won’t wait until league play to test themselves. Mater Dei is scheduled to travel up north over Labor Day weekend to take on four-time defending Division II state champion Archbishop Mitty from San Jose and last season’s Division I state finalist, Menlo-Atherton.