Loaded Eagles aim high again

Santa Fe Christian’s girls’ volleyball coach Gail Malone isn’t really paranoid. Her view of how Eagles are seen by rivals teams sure sounds like it though.

“We know people are out to get us,” she said.

Considering the Eagles’ track record, it’s hard to argue with Malone’s assertion.

Santa Fe Christian has won three state titles in five years, and is coming its first title in the intensely competitive Div. IV after moving up from Div. V two years ago.

And despite heavy graduation losses - four of the team’s six departing seniors went on to play at four-year colleges - the Eagles return a loaded team that’s aiming to duplicate last year’s lofty accomplishment.

The Eagles polled as high as No. 7 in the state rankings that included all divisions.

“They’ve tasted it, and they wanted to do it again,” Malone said.

The Eagles return four seniors, all of whom have signed with Div. I colleges or are considered collegiate prospects.

University of San Diego-bound outside hitter Kristin Miller, the reigning San Diego Section Div. IV MVP, and Pepperdine University of Malibu-bound senior middle blocker Victoria Adelhelm are considered two of the most dominant players in the San Diego area.

The athletic Miller is a powerful hitter with long arms and exceptional quickness.

The 6-foot-3 Adelhelm is very agile for her size, and is one of the area’s most dominant blockers.

Several Div. I programs are recruiting senior setter Taylor Johnson, a steady if not flashy player with tremendous court-smarts who is known for making her teammates look good.

The Eagles playmaker had a breakout game in last year’s state title match, recording 26 assists in a 25-20, 25-18, 25-17 victory over Harker of San Jose at San Jose State University.

Middle blocker Jenny DeVries figures to emerge on the scouting radar after playing behind a long line of standouts at her position for several years.

Others to watch include senior Emily Robertson, a defensive standout who missed last year due to an injury, and MacKenzie Gilbert, an ultra-intense libero/outside hitter.

With high expectations, though, comes pressure, which is just fine with the Eagles, who’ve done nothing to lessen such pressure, coining a motto for this season: “Two straight in ’08.’”

“It’s a good pressure,” Miller said. “I think our team does a lot better under pressure. We like to take challenges.”

The state champion Eagles of last year lived for challenges, routinely rallying from deficits, including coming from behind to win two playoff matches after falling behind 0-2, and winning seven matches on the season after losing the first game.

The Eagles swept Harker in three games after trailing 8-3 in the first game of last year’s state title match.

The Eagles finished the 2007 season with a 33-4 overall record.

“Last year they really pulled it all together and this year they’re really building to keep that same chemistry,” Malone said. “They realize how important it is.”

Amid arguably the one of the nation’s most competitive volleyball regions, chemistry is what the Eagles believe sets them apart from other elite programs, Miller said.

Miller said the chemistry is the product of school pride and friendships that players carry on and off the court.

“We have a really selfless team,” Miller said. “It’s not just about working for yourself, it’s more about working for the person you’re sitting next to on the bench or the person you’re stand next to blocking.”

But before the Eagles can look too far ahead, they have plenty of fierce competition close to home to concern themselves with.

Although heavily favored to repeat as Coastal League North champions, they are expecting a challenge from league rival San Dieguito Academy.

They’ll also face tough competition in interconference meetings with perennial state powers Francis Parker of San Diego and Bishop’s of La Jolla in the Coastal League South.

The short-term health of one of the Eagles’ star players is also a concern, Malone said. Miller suffered a broken foot earlier this summer playing club volleyball. She’s still hobbling, but is expected to play within a few weeks and should recover fully by the team league play gets going.

They’ll also face stiff competition at several elite-level non-league tournaments throughout the season.

And the Eagles don’t have to be paranoid to know those teams will be out to get them too.

“It definitely seems like that,” Miller said. “We know how badly they want to beat us, but our team has a lot of competitors, and once you get them started they’re unstoppable.”