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Enthusiastic Eagles eye playoffs, 20-plus wins

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Senior Heather Sangster starts at middle blocker and is Los Altos High’s team co-captain.

It’s often an unenviable task to replace a popular coach, but Peter Kim said the girls on the Los Altos High volleyball team have made it rather easy for him.

“They’ve welcomed me with open arms,” said Kim, replacing Jason Kennedy, who left Los Altos after four years to become the University of Southern California’s technical coordinator for volleyball. “This is a high-energy group of girls who enjoy being out there. They’re ready to practice and get the day going.”

That attitude is just one of several positive traits Kim has seen in the team, which helps explain why he has high hopes for this season.

“Our goals are a 20-plus-win season and one of the automatic berths in CCS,” said Kim, whose Eagles must place fourth or better in the Santa Clara Valley Athletic League De Anza Division to guarantee themselves a Central Coast Section playoff bid. “We also really want to improve throughout the year as a team and as individuals.”

Los Altos took its first step toward that first goal Thursday, sweeping Lynbrook to open the season. The visiting Eagles prevailed 25-21, 25-10, 25-16 behind eight kills from middle blocker Natalie Dwulet.

“She’s our rock in the middle,” Kim said of the 6-foot-1 junior. “She’s active and quick. I think she’s going to have a big year.”

The coach expects Dwulet’s partner in the middle – team co-captain Heather Sangster – to have a stellar season as well.

“So far, she’s been great. She’s a very consistent hitter and very coachable,” Kim said of the 5-foot-10 senior. “She’s going to get a lot of kills this year.”

Although the Eagles lack size at outside hitter – senior Taylor McCreery is 5-7 and sophomore Meghan McDermott 5-9 – Kim said they aren’t short on talent.

“They’re strong and smart hitters,” he said of his two starters, among nine returning players on the roster. “We’ll lean on them quite a bit.”

Los Altos also depends heavily on Hanna Koehler, the squad’s standout setter. The sophomore is in her second year as the starter and was selected team co-captain.

“She’s key for us this year,” Kim said. “She’s a solid young player with good hands, and she’s a leader.”

The coach anticipates three more players making major contributions: right-side hitters Meghan Cyron and Michelle Albright; and outside hitter Carmen Annevelink. Returning starter Cyron is a senior, while newcomers Albright and Annevelink are a freshman and sophomore, respectively.

The Eagles could probably use all the help they can get playing in the De Anza Division, which Kim ranks among the toughest leagues in Northern California. Palo Alto is the defending state champion, Mountain View reached the CCS semifinals last season, Los Gatos is a perennial power and Kim said Gunn is an up-and-coming team to watch.

The coach hopes Los Altos – which went 20-15 last year and reached the CCS quarterfinals – will be able to compete in the league by playing up-tempo volleyball.

“We’re not that tall, and we want to play faster and cleaner,” said Kim, whose 18 years of coaching experience includes stops at Mountain View, Westmont and Lynbrook. “We’re going to run a fast offense.”

Los Altos, scheduled to visit Lowell 5:30 p.m. Thursday, opens league Sept. 22 at Homestead.

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