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Valencia Volleyball's New Crew
Ready to Spike
April, 2009 - Issue #54
It would be borderline irresponsible to not kick things off with a warning.
For the sake of their sanity, volleyball coaches, players, parents and well wishers from Saugus, West Ranch, Hart, Canyon and Golden Valley high schools might want to go ahead and skip over this page. Chances are they will not be happy with Valencia High head boys volleyball coach Mark Knudsen's take on this year's Vikings squad.

This is, remember, supposed to be the year the Vikings, winners of eight consecutive Foothill League championships, 72 consecutive Foothill League matches and a hefty four CIF-Southern Section Division II titles in just the past six seasons, finally play nice.

Finally lose every now and again.
Finally give the person in charge of cleaning up the celebratory confetti a break.

The 10 seniors responsible for last year's national championship are scattered across the country now. Six are playing college volleyball in NCAA Division I programs. A seventh would be doing the same if not for academic problems. There are no returning starters.

Only four players with varsity experience remain, the star of which, senior Jon Souisa, says last year he, "only saw the court a couple times and never during the CIF playoffs."
The expectations should be down, right?

Try telling that to the guy running their practices.

"We have the same plans we have every year," Knudsen says. "The goal is still the same. Win league, get to the finals and get into position to win another CIF championship."

Sorry, Foothill League rivals. That's just how the Vikings do it.

Year after year, they've had an incredible ability to reload. In addition to dominating when it comes to league matches, they've sustained a place at the top of their division. Over the past eight seasons, they've played in seven Division II finals. In the other year - two seasons ago - they came just one round short, still managing to reach the semifinals.

The more banners they hoist, the better the next team gets.

"Success brings good athletes," says Knudsen, a former UCLA player and assistant coach before taking over the Viking program in 2003. "People want to be a part of the best. When freshmen come to school here, they search around to figure out what the school does well and they see that volleyball's the way to go. They want to keep it going."

Expect that trend to continue for the foreseeable future.

This year's freshman team, Knudsen says, "has a great chance of never losing a Foothill League match over their entire careers. It's that great of a class we have coming up."

The JV team, a group that won the freshman league title last year, is also strong.

As for the school's top level, they are drooling over the chance to shock some people.

"It's our turn now," Souisa says. "Time to actually play and show what we can do. We can't wait to start filling out those same goals every Valencia team has every year."

Adds junior libero Nick Ferry: "It's an honor to be a part of it."

Not that they minded waiting until this year. Valencia, 36-2 a season ago and the top ranked team in the United States, did not feature the easiest of lineups to crack.

Jamey Ker is now at UCLA and starting at libero. Jim Baughman and Derek Trent are both receiving playing time at Long Beach State, Eric Miyamoto plays for the University of Hawaii, Jake Piva is playing at UC Santa Barbara and Skyler Seymour is at BYU.

Try edging one of those guys out of the starting rotation.

"Jon Souisa is going to be the new franchise guy and he's legit," Knudsen says. "He was legit last year. All of these guys are. We had a lot of great players on our JV team, too. Just because our varsity team was so strong last year and we didn't have any room for them."

Now that there is room, he's confident they can deliver.

Against lower-level competition, they've already proven themselves.

In addition to returners Souisa, Mitchel Morris, Garrett Steadman and Steven Crane, Valencia will rely on a core of juniors who made up last year's junior varsity squad. Like the varsity team, they went unbeaten against Foothill League competition last year. They also claimed the league championship the year before as Valencia's freshman team.

Now they'll see how it translates against the top competition.

"This is a textbook rebuilding year," Knudsen says. "That doesn't mean we have to change what we believe we can do. We're going to work hard and we think we have all of the talent and the ability it takes right now to keep aiming for those same goals."

Not the words the rest of the Foothill League wanted to read.
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