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Titan spikers ready to defend Mesa League crown John Philip Wyllie | Fri, Sep 17 2010 01:17 AM

A year ago, the Eastlake Titans girls volleyball team enjoyed one of its most successful seasons in school history. Recording a 24-10 overall record and capturing the Mesa League title by going 9-1 in league play, the Titans advanced to the second round of the San Diego section playoffs. With many of the same starters back, coach Erwin Macalaguim sees no reason why the Titans’ 2010 edition cannot be every bit as good as last year’s model.

“This is my fourth year coaching here and we have been getting progressively better each year,” Macalaguim said. “Last year marked the first time in six or seven years that we advanced to the second round of the CIF playoffs. I think it’s because the girls are working hard all year long.”

Macalaguim lost two starters from last year’s team, but he has six players returning with varsity experience. That  five sophomores are playing varsity volleyball bodes well for the future.

Senior captain and outside hitter Malia Valdivieso was a second team all-league star a year ago and she has gotten stronger. So has sophomore setter Chelsea Speaks who, like Valdivieso, drew all-league honors in 2009. Macalaguim believes Valdivieso could take her game to the collegiate level. He considers Speaks to be one of the best setters in the league.

“Returning middle blocker Brenna Bailey was a big factor in us winning league last year and (captain) Kelsey Reyes, our senior setter, has been working with me for the last three years,” Macalaguim said.

Five-foot-nine senior Mandy Sohacki will join Valdivieso, newcomer Rachel Cuizon, an outsider hitter, and 5-11 opposite Lauren Gomez on the front line. Another major contributor is senior libero Cindy Fifield.

Macalaguim believes that Eastlake’s recent success is directly related to his players’ involvement in club volleyball during the prep off-season. That has been the primary reason that North County schools have dominated the sport for years. He sees the South Bay emerging as another hotbed of volleyball.

“The culture of volleyball is changing in this area,” the EHS coach said. “The girls are taking it more seriously. Now, instead of playing it three months out of the year they are playing 12 months a year. I have seen how they run things in the North County and what clubs their players are in. Bonita Vista has a lot of club players and so does Hilltop and Otay Ranch. Slowly but surely, the South Bay is going to start competing well in the CIF playoffs.”

While the Titans are the defending league champions, Macalaguim thinks it is hard to predict who will end up on top this season. “Otay Ranch is always good and Bonita Vista is always good, so it should be competitive again this year,” he said.

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