All four of the local girls' volleyball teams qualified for the CIF Southern Section playoffs in 2013.
Unfortunately, two of those squads, Burroughs High and Bellarmine-Jefferson, lost their share of impact players to graduation. Burbank, however, retained almost its entire team and will have its starting lineup from a year ago returning, while Providence lost just one key starter.
Two of the programs also have new coaches for the 2014 season. Kyle Roach takes over for the Bulldogs, replacing longtime coach Sarah Bown, and the Guards have a first-year coach in Edwin Salazar, who took over for Brandon Johnson, who was with Bell-Jeff for one season.
With the season on the horizon, here is a closer look at the teams.
The Pioneers are coming off a 2013 season in which they went 16-8 and placed second in the Liberty League (6-2) behind champion Pacifica Christian.
Providence will likely have to contend with another talented Pacifica Christian team again this season. The Seawolves went 24-6 in 2013 and not only captured the league title, but went on to win the Division IV championship, besting Laguna Blanca in four games. Pacifica Christian also advanced two rounds in the state playoffs.
"It is really going to be tough beating Pacifica Christian," Providence Coach James Jimenez said. "They are defending CIF champs and their top players were juniors last year, so we're going to have our hands full. But we are hoping to be able to finish among the top two in league."
A year ago, the Pioneers won their playoff opener against rival Bell-Jeff, 21-25, 19-25, 25-18, 25-23, 15-10, before falling in the second round to Laguna Blanca.
With just two players graduating from last season's squad, Jimenez said he will field an experienced group.
"It's great that we have a lot of experience coming back," said Jimenez, a Providence graduate who returned for his second stint as a coach for the Pioneers in 2013. "Technically we lost just one from the starting rotation and we think we have a pretty good replacement for that spot. Experience is always good, especially in tough situations.
"We will need that experience because we have a pretty tough schedule. We don't want a soft schedule and we want to play the good teams because that is the only way we're going to get better. At this point now, we are ahead of where we were at this time last year."
The Pioneers open their season Sept. 2 with a nonleague match at Alemany.
Providence has a pair in all-league returners in senior setter Jenny Nardoni and junior libero Nikka Adraneda. Also returning to bolster the lineup is senior outside hitter Lorena Ubillus and senior middle Oliva Menke.
"Oliva really holds down the middle and she is a leader for us when she's on the court or when she's on the bench," Jimenez said.
Junior opposite Leila Alskaf should also be a valuable player for the Pioneers. New to the squad is junior transfer Emily Mai from Notre Dame Academy, Her sister, Megan, is a senior opposite for the Pioneers.
The Bulldogs became a competitive force in the Pacific League under the direction of Brown, who stepped down after piloting Burbank for seven seasons. Last season under Brown's direction, the Bulldogs went 16-7 and 11-3 in the Pacific League, tying for second place with rival Burroughs.
Brown had five winning seasons in her seven-year tenure and ended with a 91-44 record. Her teams qualified for the playoffs in six of seven years and the Bulldogs won a league championship in 2012.
"I think Sarah did a great job for this program and she really built it up to where it is today," said Roach, who served as an assistant to Brown. "I am a big fan of Sarah's and I'm just trying to maintain what she built and maintain the reputation for Burbank volleyball."