Girls’ volleyball: Mira Costa looks like team to beat

Winning a championship takes talent — and the Manhattan Beach Mira Costa High girls’ volleyball team has that in spades. Just as important, though, is chemistry and the Mustangs are depending on that ingredient to capture their first Southern Section title in 16 years.

Even without setter and Wisconsin-bound senior Charlie Fuerbringer, who was 7,800 miles away in Croatia helping the USA girls’ U19 team win the FIVB World Championship, the Mustangs took first place for the eighth time at the Ann Kang Invitational in Hawaii, rallying to stun the No. 1 team in the nation, Cornerstone Christian of San Antonio in the final on Aug. 12.

“Between matches we were huddled around, we had like three laptops open and watched the end [of the world championships],” said coach Cam Green, a 1992 Mira Costa graduate. “On match point we were all cheering. Everyone was so excited for Charlie!”

Mira Costa won six of seven pool-play matches, its only loss coming against local power Punahou. In the quarterfinals the Mustangs beat Lovejoy of Lucas, Texas, and in the semifinals they swept Chatsworth Sierra Canyon 25-23, 25-21, avenging a defeat in the Southern Section Division 1 final last fall.

“That was big because we had a bad vibe against them in the

finals,” said senior middle blocker Bryn Shankle, a Texas Christian commit who plays club with Fuerbringer for Mizuno Long Beach. “We were favored but we had a cloud over our heads and maybe the pressure got to us. My dad was on a CIF runner-up team in the ‘80s so he can relate.”

Sophomore outside hitter Audrey Flanagan was selected most valuable player and joining her on the all-tournament team were junior defensive specialist Taylor Deckert, who has committed early to USC, and New York University-bound senior opposite hitter Chloe Hynes, whose kill completed the Mustangs’ 16-25, 25-19, 15-11 comeback against Cornerstone Christian.

“I expected us to do well but not to win,” Green acknowledged. “Senior Hayden Lin did a great job filling in for Charlie, and half the time we were playing with three sophomores on the court with Audrey, [setters] Reese Stringer and Milly McGee, and [hitter] Simone Roslon. Everyone played a role.”

Shankle believes dinner parties over the summer were crucial to building team chemistry.

“I had a fun get-together at my house, with food and a trampoline … it was fun,” she said. “We told the freshmen and sophomores it was a dress-up party but it really wasn’t. They show up wearing all these strange outfits and everyone laughed but they had a great sense of humor about it.”

Setter Charlie Fuerbringer in action for Mira Costa's girls' volleyball team.

Mira Costa setter Charlie Fuerbringer helped the USA Girls U19 National team to a gold medal on Aug. 10 at the FIVB World Championships in Croatia.

(Steve Galluzzo / For The Times)

Fuerbringer described upsetting Turkey in the world championships as the thrill of a lifetime, but she was just as overjoyed seeing her high school team prevail.

“I saw it on my TV from home … I’d just gotten back and it was still daytime in Hawaii,” she said. “It was cool because I had all the adrenaline from my game, then to watch my teammates pull it off made me so proud.”

Hynes, a captain along with Fuerbringer and Rachel Moglia, has played every position during her career and is convinced falling short in the section finals fueled the fire for a title run this season.

“Last year we were pretty crushed and we lost some good players, but we have a one-match-at-a-time mind-set and having a target on our back makes us work harder,” Hynes said.

California-bound senior libero Trixie McMillin, who lives five minutes from campus, said the Mustangs have all the pieces to win their first section title since claiming the Division IAA crown in 2007.

“We’re all really good friends,” she said. “The team’s very well-connected.”

Green was a sophomore reserve on the boys’ 1990 squad that won CIF when the starting setter was Canyon Ceman, who went on to be an All-American at Stanford and spent 15 years on the AVP Tour. Ceman’s daughter Cayenne is a sophomore outside hitter.

“When I was 12, I was going to games, so this is part of me,” said Green, who has lived his whole life in the South Bay and was an assistant for the Mustangs’ back-to-back CIF championship boys’ teams in 2001 and 2002. “I knew I wanted to be head coach at my alma mater one day. When the opportunity came six years ago, I couldn’t pass it up.”

Is this girls’ team a juggernaut? Time will tell.

“It has the potential to be that,” said Green, whose team swept Marymount last Thursday to improve to 9-1. “It’s a real tight-knit group. They’re hungry and very determined.”

Also keep track of Temple City, led by Stanford commit and U19 national team member Taylor Yu, who had 35 kills in the Rams’ opener against La Cañada Flintridge Sacred Heart.

Other teams to watch in the Southern Section: Santa Ana Mater Dei, led by San Diego-bound hitter Isabel Clark and Stanford-bound libero Malyssa Cawa; Huntington Beach, a regional semifinalist last season; and reigning Division 1 champion Sierra Canyon, which returns Boston College commit Danica Rach.

In the City Section, Tom Harp stepped down after 15 years as coach at reigning Open Division champion Granada Hills and has been succeeded by Cheyenne Bledsoe. Palisades could be the team to beat with Carly Bloom and Ava Pearce, who led Actyve 17 to gold at the USA Junior National Championships in July.