It was a season of unprecedented firsts for the Otay Ranch High School boys volleyball team in 2011. The Mustangs captured the school’s first San Diego Section Division I championship before going on to post two wins in the state playoffs en route to a runner-up finish in the Southern California regionals.
The Mustangs, winners of six consecutive league championship titles (2006-11), will be pressed to repeat that feat in 2012 but look to give it their best shot after opening the season with a 3-0 sweep of defending Division IV champion St. Augustine on Monday. Otay Ranch topped the host Saints 25-18, 25-14, 25-15.
The Mustangs recorded an even more impressive victory by defeating host Poway on Wednesday, winning in the Titans' gym for the first time since 2006.
Otay Ranch won by scores of 25-23, 25-12, 25-14 to once again post a sweep. In fact, all three Mustang teams -- freshman, junior varsity and varsity -- swept to victories for the second consecutive time this season.
ORHS head coach Tony Fajardo said it was only the third time the varsity team had defeated Poway in its history (2006, 2011 and 2012). "They are always a quality program with great coaches and talented players," Fajardo said.
Fajardo is taking a page from the playbook of Duke University men’s basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski in approaching this season.
Krzyzewski said he sees each new season as a new challenge because he has a new team to work with, new opponents to encounter, and often new ideas and theories to test.
That philosophy has made Krzyzewski the winningest coach in NCAA history.
“Although we have several returners from our 2011 program, this is a brand new season and a new program with new dynamics, new strengths, new challenges and new opportunities to be an even better program at all three levels ... and have some fun in the process,” Fajardo said.
Certainly, there’s little doubt Fajardo’s team is shying away from challenges in 2012.
Besides St. Augustine and Poway, on Friday, Otay Ranch hosts Westview, last year's Division II champion.
Fajardo said he expects Westview to be ranked as one of the top 20 teams in the country after posting a ninth-place finish in last weekend’s Best of the West tournament. The Wolverines defeated Manhattan Beach Mira Costa, the nation's No. 1-ranked team in the nation in the preseason, in the high profile tournament.
Friday’s action is slated to begin with the freshman and junior varsity teams at 4 p.m., followed by the varsity game around 5:15 p.m.
The Stampede, the name affectionately given to the Mustangs’ horde of boisterous fans, expects to be out in force to cheer on their team against the high-powered Wolverines. Fajardo noted that in both away games thus far, Otay Ranch fans have out-numbered and out-cheered the home crowds.
Fajardo said Friday's match-up will be "a great early test" for his team.
"I told the varsity players (that) the No. 1 team in the county will be playing at Otay Ranch High School on Friday night; let's make sure it's us," the Mustang bench boss said.
Fajardo said the ORHS program starts with “a very athletic freshman team that is learning the game very fast, a deep and experienced junior varsity squad and a varsity team loaded with returners and a complemented by some very talented newcomers.”
In Wednesday's victory at Poway, Andrew Freiha led the Mustangs with 13 kills while Jorge Reyes contributed seven kills, Nick Alegrado had 26 assists and Reyes made three blocks.
In Monday's win over the Saints, Otay kill leaders included Beto Gonzalez and Freiha, both with eight, and Frank Herrera with six. Alegrado once again led the victors with 26 assists.
The Mustangs coaching staff also includes varsity assistant coach Bowie Haug, JV head coach Janis Redmond, JV assistant Coach Mike Pandaan and novice co-head coaches P.J. Marquez and Kris Bunda.
The Bonita Vista Barons won their opening 26 games last season en route to a final 34-2 record and a runner-up finish in the San Diego Section Division II championship playoffs. There won’t be another hefty winning streak to start this season after the Barons posted a runner-up finish in the Cougar Classic tournament.
Bonita Vista started tourney play 4-0-1 before absorbing a 2-1 setback to Torrey Pines in the tourney final.
The Barons opened the season on an optimistic note by defeating Poway (4-3 on March 7) and University City (7-0 on March 8), playing to a 3-3 standoff against Mira Mesa (on March 9) before topping Westview (3-2 on March 10) and Carlsbad (6-4 Monday) in succession to set up the finale against Torrey Pines (also on Monday).
Hannah Flippen leads Bonita Vista with a .500 hitting average through six games, followed by Natalie Cox (.375) and Tianah Hathaway (.364).
Alex Vargas (0.93 ERA) and Jen Hartmann (2.10 ERA) have split the pitching duties thus far. Vargas has an excellent strikeout-to-walk ratio of 10-1 to get things rolling in 2012.
The Barons have three non-league road games scheduled (Wednesday at Point Loma, March 21 at Poway and March 22 at West Hills) before hosting Scripps Ranch on March 27.
West Hills defeated Bonita Vista, 4-0, in last year’s Division II title contest.
Hilltop, which shared last year’s Mesa League championship with the Barons, is off to a 1-3 start after also participating in the Cougar Classic.
Top performers for the Lancers thus far include Victoria Lopez (.571), Tiffany Salcedo (.500), Victoria Finau (.400), Brianna Conser (.357). Conser has a 2.10 ERA to start the season.
Hilltop hosts Imperial at 3:30 p.m. on Thursday to open play in the annual Hilltop tournament that concludes over the following two Saturdays (March 17 and March 24). The Lancers also have pool games scheduled against Vista Calvary Christian Academy, Clairemont and Mar Vista.