The Irvine Valley women's volleyball team will try to defend its state title at the 2018 California Community College Athletic Association State Championship Tournament starting Friday at Solano College in Fairfield.
Irvine Valley, the top-ranked team in the state all year and the top-seeded team from Southern California, plays the No. 4 team from Northern California, West Valley, in the first round Friday at 10 a.m.
The Lasers went 27-0 on their way to the second state title in program history last season. This year's team is 20-1 and won its first 18 matches of the season before losing to Orange Empire Conference rival Cypress in five sets on the road in the final match of the regular season.
IVC then swept Pasadena City and Ventura in its first two matches of the regional playoffs to advance to the state event.
Irvine Valley has a deep and talented roster led by freshman outside hitter Lea Kruse, sophomore libero Renata Bath, freshman setter Truth Hafey, sophomore outside hitter Alyssa Vortouni, freshman outside hitter Alaina Gendale, sophomore middle blockers Kylie Miller and Jacqueline Wolfe and freshman middle blocker Kristin Austin.
Kruse and Bath were the co-MVP's of the Orange Empire Conference with Hafey and Vortouni being named first team all-conference and Miller and Austin picked second team.
Bath was also picked as all-state and second team All-American this week.
All have contributed all season long for the Lasers.
This year's state tournament features yet another tweak in the match format, one that many believe will allow for a more level playing field to decide the state champion. While defending state champ Irvine Valley is back at Solano to defend its 2017 title, it is the only college returning from last year's field as the Lasers and seven other new teams will compete for the coveted state trophy.
The South seeds are made up of No. 1 IVC, No. 2 Bakersfield, No. 3 El Camino and No. 4 Cypress while the North Region representatives are No. 1 Gavilan, No. 2 American River, No. 3 Fresno City and No. 4 West Valley.
The format for this year is single elimination but will take place over three days instead of the two days that took place the past several years. For the first time when involving eight squads, no team will play more than one match a day throughout the tournament.
The four quarterfinals on Friday, Nov. 30 are at 10 a.m., 1 p.m., 4 p.m., and 7 p.m. The two semifinals take place Saturday, Dec. 1 at 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. and the championship final is Sunday, Dec. 2 at 2 p.m.
Gavilan head coach Kevin Kramer, the North Region Coach of the Year, talked about the tourney format.
"We have definitely come a long way from the double-elimination format that we had only a few years ago," Kramer said. "Crazy to think back about Irvine Valley having to play back-to-back games on the final day, scarfing down peanut butter and jelly sandwiches just to have enough energy for the next match. Now the depth of a team is definitely less important.
"The preparation that will be allowed with this new format will improve the level of play across the board. From an association standpoint, it's great for our level of the sport to be able to prepare and showcase our players to their top ability. That's the main reason we are here and this format allows us to do it!"
As for the tournament, besides Irvine Valley, other former state champions are in the mix in El Camino (won four titles but not since 2008) and Fresno (won two years ago).
Four teams that made the '16 tourney are here in Fresno, Gavilan, El Camino and Cypress.
All eight teams advanced to the state tourney at one time or another since 2006. The Orange Empire Conference has two participants in Irvine and Cypress while the Coast Conference has two not named Cabrillo, a school that had a streak of five straight state tourney appearances end this year including state titles in 2013 and 2015, in Gavilan and West Valley.
Five of the nine AVCA All-Americans selected for their regular season accomplishments will be in action (including all three First Team choices) and seven of the 12 All-State selections.
In all 10 of the 24 players named All-State or All-Region will lead their teams this weekend.
The following are capsules on the eight state tournament teams:
IRVINE VALLEY, SOUTH NO. 1 SEED, 20-1
Orange Empire Conference Champions
Head Coach: Tom Pestolesi
Final Regular Season State Ranking: No. 1
Road to State: swept #16 seed Pasadena City, swept #9 Ventura
State Tournament Appearance: 9th
State Titles: 2, 2014, 2017
Top Players: So. Libero Renata Bath, All-American 2nd Team; Fr. OH Lea Kruse (Co-OEC MVP with Bath); Fr. Setter Truth Hafey
Lasers Factoids: IVC is 47-1 since the start of 2017. If the Lasers reached the '18 state final, they could be in a collision course to face No. 4 seed and fellow OEC rival Cypress with a chance to avenge their regular season ending loss to the Chargers that stopped their 45-match win streak.
Quarterfinals Opponent: North #4 West Valley, Thursday, 10 am
BAKERSFIELD, SOUTH NO. 2 SEED, 25-1
Western State Conference South Division Champions
Head Coach: Carl Ferreira (Region Coach of Year)
Final Regular Season State Ranking: No. 2
Road to State: swept #15 Mt. San Jacinto, beat #10 San Diego Mesa in 5 sets
State Tournament Appearance: 3rd (first since 2009)
State Titles: None (highest finish was 4th in 1993)
Top Players: Fr. Setter Sarah Armendariz, All-American 1st Team; Fr. OH Lanie Camarillo; Penelope Zepeda, Fr. OH
Renegades Factoids: BC is on a 19-match win streak. They beat two state tourney seeds El Camino and Cypress as part of the streak.
Quarterfinals Opponent: North #3 Fresno City, Friday, 4 pm
EL CAMINO, SOUTH NO. 3 SEED, 23-3
South Coast Conference Co-South Division Champions
Head Coach: Liz Hazell
Final Regular Season State Ranking: No. 5
Road to State: beat #14 Fullerton in 5, swept #6 MiraCosta
State Tournament Appearance: 19th (first since 2016)
State Titles: 4, 1981, 1983, 2007, 2008
Top Players: So. OH Phina Leilua, All-American 1st Team, SCC South MVP; Fr. Libero Kelly Donatucci, All-Region, Fr. MB Meris Ewell
Warriors Factoids: ECC only trails Golden West (24) for the most state tournament appearances at now 19. Coach Hazell played at the state tournament in 2001 for El Camino and was a member of the All-State Team as an opposite. Her younger sister Bev Hazell set the state tournament record for kills in a match with 33 at the 2005 tourney. Their head coach Le Valley Pattison, who retired from indoor coaching after her team tied for 3rd place at the 2016 tourney, was the MVP of the 1983 tourney when she led ECC to the state title. Liz Hazell then was an assistant coach under Pattison as they guided El Camino to back-to-back state titles in 2007 and 2008.
Quarterfinals Opponent: North #2 American River, Friday, 1 pm
CYPRESS, SOUTH NO. 4 SEED, 19-8
Orange Empire Conference 2nd Place
Head Coach: Nancy Welliver
Final Regular Season State Ranking: No. 7
Road to State: swept #12 San Diego City, upset #4 Long Beach City in 5 sets
State Tournament Appearance: 5th (first since 2016)
State Titles: None (highest finish was state runner-up in 2009)
Top Players: So. OH Kayla Owens, All-State, So. MB Jane Woodward, Fr. Libero Ashley Corona
Chargers Factoids: Cypress is the only team to solve Irvine Valley in the past two years, winning in 5 in the OEC finale on Nov. 14. They overcame a 4-match losing streak in September to reach the state quarterfinals.
Quarterfinals Opponent: North #1 Gavilan, Friday, 7 pm
GAVILAN, NORTH NO. 1 SEED, 29-1
Coast Conference South Division Champions
Head Coach: Kevin Kramer (Region Coach of Year)
Final Regular Season State Ranking: No. 4
Road to State: swept #15 Ohlone, beat #10 Feather River in 5 sets
State Tournament Appearance: 2nd (also 2016)
State Titles: None (highest finish was tied for 5th in 2016)
Top Players: Evelyn Clonts, So. MB, All-State and Coast South MVP, Mikeila Banda, So. Libero, All-Region, So. MB Camille Finley
Rams Factoids: Gavilan has the most wins in the state with 29, is on a 16-match win streak, and held the state's No. 2 ranking for 9 straight weeks.
Quarterfinals Opponent: South #4 Cypress, Friday, 7 pm
AMERICAN RIVER, NORTH NO. 2 SEED, 22-7
Big 8 Conference 2nd Place
Head Coach: Carson Lowden
Final Regular Season State Ranking: No. 10
Road to State: swept #12 Foothill, beat #4 Sierra in 5 sets
State Tournament Appearance: 8th (first since 2013)
State Titles: None (highest finish was third in 1993)
Top Players: So. OH Savanah Smith, All-Region, So. OH Lily Johnson, So. Libero Maddie Adams
Beavers Factoids: Little did ARC know that when it hosted a 3-team classic on opening day of the '18 season, its two wins would be against fellow state participants Fresno and West Valley. This year, ARC defeated conference champions in Sierra, Fresno, Feather River, and Cabrillo.
Quarterfinals Opponent: South #4 Cypress, Friday, 7 pm
FRESNO CITY, NORTH NO. 3 SEED, 27-3
Central Valley Conference Champions
Head Coach: Kieran Roblee
Final Regular Season State Ranking: No. 11
Road to State: swept #11 San Mateo, swept #3 Hartnell
State Tournament Appearance: 6th (first since 2016)
State Titles: 1, 2016
Top Players: So. MB Keri Leake, All-American 2nd Team, Fr. OH Marina Gonzalez, So. Setter Katie Emmerling
Rams Factoids: On a remarkable 25-match win streak, Fresno played the other three North state tourney participants in its opening four matches, and was 2-3 overall before it started its streak. FCC was rated as high as No. 6 in the Nov. 5 state rankings but was seeded sixth in the North.
Quarterfinals Opponent: South #2 Bakersfield, Friday, 4 pm
WEST VALLEY, NORTH NO. 4 SEED, 17-9
Coast Conference North Division 3rd Place
Head Coach: Armen Zakarian
Final Regular Season State Ranking: No. 17
Road to State: swept #9 San Joaquin Delta, upset #1 Cabrillo in 5 sets
State Tournament Appearance: 5th (first since 2006)
State Titles: None (highest finish tied for 3rd in 2003)
Top Players: So. OH Mapuhola Sekona, All-American 1st Team, So. OH Kaylin Henderson, Fr. Libero Kayla Keller
Vikings Factoids: WVC played and lost to all three other NorCal state tourney teams in a row in a 3-day span Aug. 29-31. As a surprising No. 8 seed, they became the first Coast Conf. team to beat Cabrillo since Gavilan in 2009.
Quarterfinals Opponent: South #1 Irvine Valley, Friday, 10 am
Thank you to Robert Lewis - SID at Pasadena City College and sport representative for the California Community College Women's Volleyball Coaches Association for the Team capsule previews and information.