By Ray Hamill — The Big 5 gets under way in volleyball on Thursday evening, and right now it’s anyone’s guess who might win it all.
Four of the five teams have been very impressive through the pre-league schedule, and all four of them will tip off league play confident they have what it takes to claim the championship.
Topping the list, as usual, is Del Norte.
The Warriors are perennial contenders and as consistently competitive as any other local prep program — in any sport.
They are also defending champions, posting a perfect 8-0 in the Big 5 a year ago, and return a group of seven seniors on a squad of 12.
The Arcata Tigers, meanwhile, have matched the Warriors in recent years, splitting or winning the league crown outright in four of the past five years.
Last season, the Tigers were 5-3 in the Big 5, tying Eureka for second.
And the Arcata girls are off to another impressive start, with a junior-heavy roster of 16 gradually building momentum and posting a pre-league mark of 10-4.
“I think we’re really coming together,” long-time Arcata head coach Laurie Griffith said. “We have 16 players on the team, so it took a while to sort out the pieces.”
The Tigers open league play at McKinleyville on Thursday, facing a Panthers team that has been equally impressive this year.
McKinleyville is 9-2 and had a good showing against tournament champions University Prep at the Arcata Invitational Volleyball Tournament over the weekend.
“They look good,” Griffith said of the Panthers. “They played (University Prep) tough, so we’re definitely in for a tough game.”
The Panthers struggled to a 1-7 mark in league play last season, but appear far better prepared for the challenge this season, having already matched their win total from all of 2017.
Huskies prepare for Loggers
In the other opening matchup on Thursday, Eureka travels to Fortuna.
The Loggers have also impressed in the pre-league schedule, winning six of their eight matches.
“They’re coming together,” Eureka head coach Rachel Evans said of her players. “We’re still tweaking things here and there, but overall we have a pretty strong team.”
Last season, the Loggers were 5-3 in league play, tying Arcata for second.
This year, they feel they have the talent and experience to go one better and win their first league crown in more than a decade.
The Eureka players have impressed over the past few weeks, but the head coach would like to see a little more consistency.
Last week, the Loggers followed a pair of impressive wins over Yreka and Clear Lake with a disappointing close to the Arcata tourney, dropping back-to-back matches to Ukiah and West Valley.
“I was super pleased with how well they did (against Yreka and Clear Lake),” the head coach said. “They were communicating as a team, and playing together as a team.”
At Arcata over the weekend, however, the Loggers didn’t compete with the same team chemistry, something they will have to do on a consistent basis if they are to challenge for a loaded Big 5.
The Loggers open league play against a Fortuna team that is 4-7 on the year, although Evans is expecting a battle.
“They beat Clear Lake (at the AIVT), and they’re a pretty solid team,” Evans said. “So I know that we’ll definitely have a challenge in front of us.”
Del Norte has a bye in league play this week.