Irvine Valley Coach Tom Pestolesi is usually pretty optimistic about his women's volleyball team's chances heading into every season.
This year he has even more reason to be confident.
Pestolesi, whose team made the Southern California Regional playoffs and was ranked ninth in the state in the final poll last year, has a solid group of returners to go along with a bright class of freshman to help the Lasers chase an Orange Empire Conference title in 2013.
The team starts the season this Friday with a 6 p.m. home match against Ventura.
"Every year our goal is to finish in the top three in the conference, be playing out best volleyball at the end of the year and go as far as we can in the playoffs," Pestolesi said. "That is every year. Part of it is that we don't really know what anyone else has. But we have some players this year. We have some new faces. We like our athleticism and we like our ball control. This can be a very good team."
Irvine Valley lost all-conference and all-region sophomore outside hitter Allison Cook and all-conference sophomore outside hitter Avae Masaniai to graduation last season.
Cook is headed to play collegiate sand volleyball on a scholarship at the University of Arizona.
But Pestolesi has a number of returning players, including sophomore libero Becky Moodie, sophomore opposite Alexis Radecki, sophomore outside hitter Amanda Kaae, sophomore defensive specialist and outside hitter Emily Daily, sophomore setter Christine Connolly, sophomore opposite Kiley Bowen, sophomore defensive specialist Amanda Trimble and sophomore middle blocker Haley Whyte.
Moodie was a first team all-conference player last year as a freshman after leading the conference in digs with 340 and dig average at 4.47 per set.
"We are looking to Becky for a lot of leadership," Pestolesi said. "She has been great."
Kaae saw some action and averaged 1.70 kills per set, Radecki averaged 1.62 digs and 1.00 blocks, Daily contributed 1.52 digs per set, Connolly was the starting setter for most of conference play and averaged 8.77 assists per set and Whyte led Irvine Valley in blocks with 61 for a 1.21 per set average.
"Haley will play as hard as anyone we have and she will block some balls, Among the freshman class that should star for Irvine Valley include middle blocker Annie Mitchem (Friendswood High, Texas), setter Hailey Jones (Rim of the World High), outside hitter Marissa Doran (Villa Park high), outside hitter Kobi Pekich (Calvary Chapel High) and outside hitter Shaelyn Perez (Great Oak High).
The 6-2 Mitchem was a standout for the Irvine Valley women's sand volleyball team this past spring. She played with Cook as the Lasers' No. 1 team and helped Irvine Valley win the state tournament in sand volleyball.
"Annie is going to have a lot of kills and should control the middle," Pestolesi said.
Jones was her league's player of the year last season and helped Rim of the World to a CIF Division 3AA title. She led her team to CIF runner-up plaques in 2010 and 2011.
"She is a really, really good setter," Pestolesi said.
Doran and Pekich were each all-league players and team MVPs last year for their high school teams.
"We are very excited about both of them," Pestolesi said.
Other freshmen that Pestolesi expects to contribute are defensive specialist Erica Tsujimoto (Beckman High), outside hitter Carleigh Petersen (Grace Brethren High) and defensive specialist Ciara Mueller (Villa Park High).
Petersen was an all-league player at Grace Brethren last year.
"We like all of the pieces we have a lot," Pestolesi said. "We are excited about the opportunity to do well this year because of the personnel that we have. It is a very dynamic group."