City Section Girls’ Volleyball Enters its Rookie Year

Anabelle Redaelli leapt and swung again, the match hanging on her right arm. After she fell back to the hardwood with another kill, her Palisades bench burst into a serenade.

“That’s-a-fresh-man!” they chanted.

Freshman, yes. Correct, but only in name. Redaelli was an offensive lynchpin beyond her years in Palisades’ 25-17, 25-18, 5-25, 27-25, 15-12 rivalry win over Venice on Thursday night, raining shots from all angles, skying from the back for the match-clinching kill.

She wasn’t alone. Three freshmen manned a court featuring two of the top teams in the City. Six, total, were on rosters. Across the City, the rich are only building more generational wealth, with freshmen making significant contributions on four of the undisputed top five teams in the section.

“They always come in waves, and it seems right now the freshman wave that’s taking place at a lot of these schools,” Chatsworth coach Sina Aghassy said.

Granada Hills (18-6) has Alexis Cuan, an outside hitter with impressive athleticism. Cuan has been receiving heavy minutes since summer exhibitions, and notched 10 kills in a big win over Woodland Hills Taft on Tuesday.

Woodland Hills El Camino Real (17-9) has Anika Bernardo, who’s stepped into the All-City void at setter left by the graduated Larissa Dakoske and has an “aggressive serve that can shift the tides of close matches,” said head coach Alyssa Lee.

Venice (36-7) has Samantha Lortie, a beach player who’s transitioned to setter and delivered some nice plays on Thursday against Palisades.

And Palisades (28-9) has, in addition to three other freshmen, an outside hitter in Redaelli that Venice coach Raul Aviles declared was already “one of the best all-around players in the section.”

Around five years ago, Lee said, she’d have one or two incoming freshmen with solid volleyball experience. Now, she’s got four or five. It’s a trend echoed by coaches around the section — mainly because girls’ volleyball, many believe is starting to evolve to the elitist level of competitiveness seen with football and basketball.

“I equate it to the 11- and 12-year-old kid that’s got the quarterback coach,” Palisades coach Carlos Gray said. “Younger and younger kids are specializing. And it’s a blessing and a curse.”

When he was coaching at Malibu High a decade ago, Gray said, half of his players were multisport athletes. Now, he estimated he had three in the entire Palisades program. The expansion of club volleyball, which can demand winter and spring commitments, is fueling that volleyball-only focus.

“Even a lot of people that I’ve played against in club in my age group, I’ve noticed, have been making teams better,” Redaelli said.

A shadow lurks on the horizon of the boom in young talent. Some top-level teams — take Venice and Palisades — have built the programs to attract club talent while also being bolstered by feeder programs. Redaelli played middle-school volleyball at Paul Revere Charter, and said most of that team is now at Palisades at the JV level.

Other schools in the City aren’t as lucky, faced with shrinking enrollment, Venice assistant coach Allen Hunt said. It’s already a hotly discussed topic in football: once-touted programs crashing without an influx of talent. The reckoning could follow in volleyball.

“Some of the programs that don’t have these club kids,” Hunt said, “are getting left behind.”

Mira Costa reigns

Kill any doubt. Eliminate any uncertainty. After beating Redondo Union 25-10, 25-20 in the championship of the Molten Power Classic on Saturday, Manhattan Beach Mira Costa is the clear top seed entering Division 1 playoffs’ pool play.

Birmingham in an upset

Before the season, Lake Balboa Birmingham head coach LeAnne Bennett-Riley expressed hope this was the year her program climbed out of the cellar in the City’s stacked West Valley League.

On Tuesday, the Patriots upset Chatsworth in five sets and now sit at fourth in league play, at 14-9 overall. Not impressive until you consider Birmingham’s history: the Patriots haven’t had a winning season in more than a decade.

“It’s kind of always like, ‘Eh, Birmingham, we don’t have to worry about them,’” Bennett-Riley said. “And then we get better and better and better.”

They’ve certainly earned consideration for an Open Division slot — except with that stiff top five, Bennett-Riley doesn’t want to be moved up, preferring to battle for a Division I championship.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button