Santa Margarita and Mater Dei girls’ volleyball squads lead an ultra-competitive league

By Larry Urish     10/19/2015

You know you’re dealing with a top-notch collection of local teams when the third best squad in the country may not even be the best in the league. Case in point: Trinity League girls’ volleyball, composed of five teams: Santa Margarita, Mater Dei, Orange Lutheran, JSerra and Rosary Academy.

On Oct. 8, Mater Dei defeated Santa Margarita, ranked No. 3 in the nation by MaxPreps, setting the tone for what will be a competitive, entertaining Trinity League season. This year, four of the five teams are more than capable of giving each other a serious run for the money on any given day.

Last year, Santa Margarita and Mater Dei split their matches against one another and shared the Trinity League title. The former made it to the second round of the CIF playoffs. Mater Dei lost to powerhouse Redondo Union in the CIF Finals and was later upended by the same squad in the state tournament.

Despite their recent loss, Santa Margarita remains the team to beat in league play.

Mater Dei head coach Dan O’Dell, last year’s Division 1-AA Coach of the Year, concurs: “It’s just tough to maintain a consistently high level,” he says. “Right now, they’re more consistent.”

The Santa Margarita Eagles lost Claire Archibald, now an outside hitter at Iona College, to graduation. They’re paced by talented junior outside hitter Meghan McClure. Three sophomores – setter Devon Chang, middle blocker Haley Carmo and setter/opposite hitter Sarah Ciczek – are contributing significantly.

“We were young last year, and that hurt us,” says Eagles coach Katy Daly. “This year we are playing with heart and are a lot hungrier for success. So far, we’ve won two big tournaments.” They’re now 20-2.

Although Mater Dei lost three 2014 starters to graduation – including outside hitter Alyse Ford, now at USC – the Monarchs remain a top contender, with two returning starters: junior outside hitter Shannon Scully and senior middle blocker Makena Martin. Junior outside hitter Rachel Ritchie, a transfer from San Juan Hills, adds to the squad’s power. Their record now stands at 10-2.

With a 10-17 record last year, Orange Lutheran tied with JSerra for third in league play. Given the tough competition they faced, these numbers are misleading; this year, the squad now stands at 20-4. This despite losing outside hitter and senior captain Brooke Bastien for the year with a broken foot. They also lost two top players to graduation: Hannah Hirzel, who is now at the U.S. Naval Academy, and Mattea Zeinstra, now at Trinity University.

Winning is not new to the Lancers, having been league champions in 2007, 2008, 2010 and 2013.

“I honestly wasn’t sure what our record would be by now,” says head coach Andrew Mabry. “But we’re really looking good where we are. Losing Brooke was tough, but that’s the reality of sports.

“The margin for error in the Trinity League is really slim,” Mabry adds. “We could be great, or we could be fourth. Anyone who comes out in the top three spots [to make the playoffs] has a great resume.”

With a 17-13 record last year, JSerra now stands at 4-9. Again, however, the numbers are misleading; the Lions took Mater Dei to five sets in a losing effort on Oct. 6.

Top players, says coach Mike Murphy, include co-captain seniors Gigi Hernandez, outside hitter; and Maxine Burke, libero. The squad will take on Santa Margarita on Oct. 20 and Mater Dei two days later.

Although Rosary Academy has been winless in league play, their overall record stands at 11-6, with wins over Brea Olinda, Garden Grove and Fullerton, among others.

“I’m super ecstatic to be leading such an enthusiastic group of athletes, and it will take steady progress to improve the quality of our volleyball program,” says first year head coach Darren Ong. “We’re going to do our best to make a dent in league play.

“We rely on our senior outside hitter, Shae Diaz, senior libero Kara Turtzer and our sophomore setter, Brittney Pinzon, for standout performances from game to game.”

Given the league’s top-notch talent, improvements may be incremental. All eyes remain on Santa Margarita and Mater Dei.

“I’m curious how much better we can get,” says Mater Dei head coach O’Dell. “We’ve already gotten a lot better the last two months. I’m just excited for our team and what I knew we can do.”