Volunteer coach Fred McLafferty (left) works on blocking and footwork during the Santa Monica High School volleyball pre season practice at the South gym on Monday afternoon. (photo by Brandon Wise)

SAMOHI — With the start of the 2010 high school volleyball season just around the corner, Santa Monica High School girls Head Coach Liane Sato is doing all she can to help prepare her team for the fall schedule.

Over the summer, her players have been working hard for coveted starting positions and said although last year’s team was young, she sees leadership coming from veteran players.

“Most of the players have stayed in shape over the summer training with the help of our conditioning coach, Kermit Cannon. Every day our players are showing improvement and the players that have been competing in the beach tournaments over the summer are the ones who show the most improvement,” Sato said.

“Our team has just one year of varsity experience under our belts and we are still looking to fill some starting positions. The girls are competing every day to earn a starting role,” she said.

But, live action against tough competition is the only way to truly gauge a team’s fitness, which is why Sato admits the team was lucky when they were invited to an annual tournament this summer held in Hawaii. Sato had traveled to Hawaii earlier in the year with the boys varsity team when she learned there was an opening for the girls tournament.

This was the 28th running of the annual Ann Kang Varsity Invitation held at Iolani High school in Honolulu on the island of Oahu. The tournament took place Aug. 12-14.

Samohi ended its run in the tournament as the runner-up in the Copper Division, finishing with 3 wins and 5 losses.

Samohi Junior Dana Ritchie was one of the lucky girls to travel to Hawaii and she said the tournament was a huge benefit for the team’s preparations for this season.

“Playing volleyball almost every day for the past few weeks has been intense but enjoyable, this summer has been so much fun,” said Dana. “We trained hard before we left for Hawaii, knowing how tough the tournament teams typically are. It was a great experience for a young team like us to compete against teams with such different playing styles.”

There were 16 teams competing in total — four teams from California, including Samohi, a team from Texas and the tournament’s overall winner, the Chung Shan Industrial and Commercial Vocational School, who came all the way from Taiwan.

“The Hawaii trip was a great experience for our program and teams,” Sato said. “The teams in the Ann Kang tournament were highly competitive and we also scrimmaged against three top-ranked Hawaii schools during our visit: Mid-Pacific Institute, Maryknoll School and Punahou High School.”

Last season, the team finished second in the Ocean League, trailing Beverly Hills High School. They qualified for the playoffs and advanced to the quarterfinals of the California Interscholastic Federation Southern Section Division 3 championships where their season was ended after a loss to Pasadena-Poly High School.

Sato is a former U.S. national team member who won a bronze medal in the 1992 Olympics. She is also a former Viking, listed as a member of the 1981 girls state championship team whose banner hangs high in Samohi’s north gym.

Sato said her goals for this season include winning the Ocean league and qualifying for the CIF-SS playoffs once again.

“Our fans can look forward to a very competitive team this year,” Sato said. “We are looking to do well in our League and peak for the playoffs.”

After a series of preseason tournaments, Viking fans will have a chance to cheer on their team as they open their season on the road against El Segundo on Sept. 29.


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