Sarah Krenik from the Santa Monica High School girls volleyball varsity volleyball team bumps the ball the volleyall up to the net to a teammate to set the ball inside the North Gym located on the campus of Santa Monica High School on Tuesday November 9th 2010 as SAMO hosted the San Gorgonio High School girls varsity volleyball team in the first round of the CIF southern section DIV 3A playoffs and won in three straight games by the scores of 25-15, 25-14, and 25-10 (photo by Morgan Genser)

SAMOHI — The season still hasn’t officially started, yet Santa Monica High School’s girls’ volleyball team is already making noise.

The Vikings are fresh off a win at the Ann Kang Invitational in Oahu, Hawaii, this past weekend and were named the No. 2 team in CIF-Southern Section Division 3AA in the preseason poll released on Monday.

“It’s a nice start to the beginning of the season,” Head Coach Liane Sato said. “We’ll see how things unfold throughout the year.”

The coach in her 10th year leading the team is confident that the ranking and the win in Hawaii are anything but flukes.

The win at the Ann Kang Tourney provided the Vikings with a hint to what’s to come. Down 8-0 to Thousand Oaks La Reina High School in the third and deciding game, Sato and her Vikings rallied back to take the match, earning the victory in the bronze division.

“We were getting killed in the third game,” Sato said. “But, we put the pressure on and kept chipping away.

“That was the best part of the whole trip.”

Sato is inclined to think her team has already displayed the grit needed to get through a grueling season and perhaps a better showing than last year’s playoffs when the Vikings were ousted in the second round by Lancaster in five games.

But, she’s also careful to put it in perspective.

“It’s so early in the season, so it’s hard to say how we’ll turn out,” she said. “We’re looking pretty good, though.”

The next order of business for the Vikings is determining the starting lineup. While a few spots are in play, there are a number of returners tabbed to lead the squad.

Middle blockers Greta Schmittdiel and Abby Southam are expected to lead the team, providing a one-two punch at the net. With their leadership, Sato said that her team is shaping up to be a power on offense. It’s the defense that she sees as a project undone.

Joining returners Schmittdiel and Southam are Sarah Krenik, a senior outside hitter and Jordan Levy, the sister of Charles Levy, who helped the Samohi boys’ team win a CIF-SS title last year. Sato coaches both teams.

Of particular interest to Sato is her incoming freshman daughter Blossom Sato, who has never played competitive volleyball in the past. Her DNA should give her a boost there as the Sato family has sent a trio of players to the Olympics, including Coach Sato.

“She’s fighting for a spot,” the elder Sato said of her daughter. “This is her first competitive action, but she’s been around volleyball long enough to know what to do.”

While the makeup of the final lineup and the defense are still in process, Sato is sure of at least one thing. She said that the Vikings’ performance in Hawaii proves that Samohi has the will to win.

Sato was pleased to pieces to see her team display the mental toughness to dig out a win against long odds.

“We were really getting our butts kicked,” she joked. “That showed me something to come back.”


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