The Santa Barbara High girls' volleyball team is preparing to defend its Channel League title this season.

The Brick House on the campus of Bishop Diego High served as the location for the 2023 Girls’ Volleyball Media Day presented by the Santa Barbara Volleyball Club.

Representatives from eight Santa Barbara area high schools, including Bishop Diego, Carpinteria, Cate, Dos Pueblos, Laguna Blanca, Providence, San Marcos, and Santa Barbara were invited to take the stage and voice their outlook on the upcoming season.

“These [players] have been working really hard. Unlike Jason [Donnelly] at Laguna Blanca and Jordan [Dyer] at Cate, we’ve been going for a couple weeks,” said Bishop Diego head coach Dillan Bennet, who coordinated the event. “We’ve been practicing pretty hard. The girls have been in the weight room and practicing every day.”

In addition, the eight coaches voted on Santa Barbara Area Preseason Rankings. Channel League rivals San Marcos and Santa Barbara were slotted in the top two spots, respectively.

The Royals are coming off a successful season, in which they finished second in the Channel League and suffered a heartbreaking five-set loss to Oak Christian in the second round of the CIF-SS Division 3 playoffs. 

San Marcos returns junior setter Josie Gamberdella and junior outside hitter Elena Thomas, who were both named to the All-Area team. Libero Katie Kracke will anchor the defense.

“I have been setting Elena [Thomas] since I was 10 years old, so that’s always good to have,” Gamberdella said. “We have some really tall lefties that I am very excited about, and we also have some tall middles, so it’s very promising.”

San Marcos opens its season at home against Hart on Tuesday beginning at 6 p.m.

Santa Barbara High is the defending Channel League Champions in girls’ volleyball and figured to be near the top of the standings again, despite the graduation of key players such as Shae Delany and Gracie Meinzer. 

Nicole Schuetz is back at middle after a dominant sophomore season. She was named to the Preseason All-Area team along with senior Libero Tessa De Albergaria, who provides incredible versatility to the Dons’ lineup. 

Junior setter Gwen Chenoweth is ready to run the show at setter in her junior season. The Dons also have nine seniors.

“Overall our team is super competitive, hardworking, and driven to win,” Chenoweth said. ”We’re all close as a team so hopefully we can get some good wins this year. I’m pretty confident in our skills as a team as well as individuals.”

Santa Barbara opens the regular season at home against defending CIF Champion Saugus on Tuesday.

Dos Pueblos was picked fourth in the Preseason Area Rankings and finished third in the Channel League last season.

The loss of superstar outside hitter Chloe Hoffman, who is off to Stanford, leaves a big hole in the lineup, but setter Halle Rillie returns, and head coach Megan O’Carroll is excited about utilizing a balanced attack this season.

“In previous seasons, we have been really reliant on one or two players, and it’s just fun to know that we’re going to be strong in all areas on our team,” O’Carroll said. “We have been practicing for three weeks now. We were at the Oxnard preseason tournament at the end of July and actually had a really great tournament.”

Sophomore Addison Lowe will be counted on to provide a presence at middle after gaining significant experience as a freshman.

Defending Tri-Valley League Champion Bishop Diego is looking to repeat and make another deep run in the playoffs after being moved up to CIF-SS Division Four. Fortunately for the Cardinals, they have Eliana Urzua, who is a superstar at outside hitter and provides a focal point for the team to build upon. 

Bishop Diego’s returners include Eliana Urzua, Sage Thorne-Thomsen, and Vivi Klentner.

Setter Sage Thorne-Thomsen and middle Vivi Klentner also provide experience to the Bishop Diego lineup.

“As far as the season goes, our goal remains to be league champions,” Bennett said. “We went 9-1 last year. Cate snuck one off of us here on our home court in embarrassing fashion, 15-2 in the fifth game, and that was our one loss.”

The Cardinals have an incredibly tough schedule but hope to reap the benefits when the postseason arrives. 

After going unbeaten in the Frontier league last season, Laguna Blanca is moving up to the Tri-Valley league this season. Senior middle blocker Sarah Woodhouse returns and is excited about the forthcoming uptick in competition. 

“I’m a little nervous; it’s going to be a little scary, but it’s going to be good competition because last year the league was a little too slow for us,” Woodhouse said. “We were itching to play high-level volleyball, so I’m excited for this year to have that competition.”

The Owls are only three practices in, and school doesn’t start for them until September 11, so they will have a few weeks of volleyball before ever attending class. 

“We will have played seven matches and played in a tournament before the first day of school,” said Laguna Blanca coach Jason Donnelly. “It’s unique to us, and I’ve asked our kids to cut their summer pretty short.”

Last season, Cate was a couple of wins away from reaching the playoffs, and this season the Rams are looking to take the next step.

“Definitely one of our goals is to make the playoffs,” said Cate coach Jordan Dyer. “I think we do have the pieces and a lot of the girls have experience in those tough games already and we’ve had that success. We’re hoping to win a couple more games.”

Senior setter/opposite Melanie Davidson is a foundational piece for Cate and will likely take on multiple roles this season depending on what the team needs.

“I’m a setter mostly this season, but if we get another setter this season, I am hoping to hit from the opposite position,” said Davidson, who was a team captain last season as a junior.

Providence girls’ volleyball has a new gym to call their own and a new coach in Taylor Slover, who played at Fresno State. On the court, Providence will benefit immensely from the acquisition of San Marcos High transfer Kate Edgar. 

“Our goal is to start to put up some good competition against some of these other great schools in our area,” said Providence Athletic Director Dan Terry, who will assist with the girls’ volleyball program.


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