Mission Prep’s girls volleyball team is back.
The Royals have made the playoffs for the first time this season since 2009.
Mission Prep (13-4) travels to St. Monica Catholic in Santa Monica for a 7 p.m. first-round match in the Division 4AA playoffs.
The Royals’ last appearance was in the CIF-Central Section postseason, losing to Tri-City Christian in the finals.
In 2010, the Royals moved into the CIF-Southern Section and haven’t been able to crack a playoff spot in volleyball until today.
Their lineup features a talented group of underclassmen led by Noelle Laird.
The 6-foot sophomore, and younger sister of football standout Patrick Laird, tops the team with 179 kills.
Playing on the left side, Laird is a powerful hitter who said Mission Prep has a “lot of chemistry,” and the players communicate well on and off the court.
“We’re really close to each other,” Laird said. “We’re a young team, but we’ve played at a high level, I think because we have a lot of chemistry. Our coaches (Chuck Fox and Dave DeGroot) are really active and make us want to play hard until the end.”
Other young standouts include Laird’s younger sister, freshman Jennifer “Boo” Laird, who some say may be the best of the Laird athletes.
Jennifer Laird has 88 kills and a team-high 42 aces on the season.
Sophomores Samantha Fernandez and Catherine Ikeda handle the sets; Fernandez has racked up 255 assists, averaging 5.5 per set, and Ikeda has tallied 194, averaging 4.4.
Senior middle blocker Rachel Hindmarsh is second on the team with 139 kills.
“We have a nice balance with our attacks,” Hindmarsh said. “We mix it up so other teams don’t know what we’re going to do. As a team, we have a lot of fun playing, but we also want to win.”
Fox said his team’s strengths are in its attacking and serving.
“We do a good job of those things,” Fox said. “For us to be really successful and play well in the playoffs, we’ll have to improve our passing and digging. But we have a good, young team, and we’re excited about the playoffs.”
Mission Prep beat PAC 7 teams St. Joseph and Pioneer Valley this year in straight sets.
But the Royals’ passing and digging cost them in 3-0 losses to Arroyo Grande and San Luis Obispo, two of the top teams in the PAC 7.
Fox chuckled recalling a match this year between the Royals and his daughter’s Arroyo Grande High team.
Mission Prep lost the match 3-0, and several of the Eagles players, including his daughter, Kacee Fox, were familiar faces.
“I know so many of the girls on Arroyo Grande from club volleyball,” Fox said. “They came over and chatted after. They definitely wanted to beat us.”
Next year, the two teams will be in the same league as Mission Prep moves in the new PAC 8 with league re-alignment.
“We’re well aware of the challenges ahead,” Fox said. “But we’ve been putting things together well. We’re getting better every practice.”