The Mountain Ridge Mountain Lions girls volleyball team doesn't have down years. While last year's team saw a four year run of making it to at least the state semifinals come a close Jon Devenney's club still managed to go 31-11 and advance to the 5A Div-I state quarterfinals. Even in defeat the No. 8 seeded Mountain Lions fought valiantly as they ended up being the only team in the state tournament to push top seed Gilbert, the eventual champion, to a fifth and deciding game. After dominating the Northwest Region where they won four straight region crowns the Mountain Lions will have a new home this year as they join Xavier, St. Mary's and Desert Mountain in the Desert Valley Region. "It's going to be a good league and I'm excited about it," the Mountain Lions coach said. "Playing that caliber of team gets you ready for the playoffs." If they are to continue their run of success the Mountain Lions will do it with a lot of new faces. Five players return from 2006 with middle blocker Sam Schofield being the lone senior on the roster. "We're hoping we'll do similar to last year, but the girls know it will take a lot of work," said Devenney who begins his seventh season at the helm, having taken the Mountain Lions to the state playoff in each of his first six campaigns including a championship run in 2004. "We have athletes with talent, we just don't have experience." While Scofield (6-foot-2-inches) has spent each of her past two varsity seasons as the team's middle blocker Devenney is at least entertaining the idea of moving Schofieldr to the outside to give the team more offensive firepower. "I think we're definitely going to be more of a defensive team," the coach said. "We'll get our share of kills obviously, but if we're going to win a lot of matches we're going to do it by keeping the ball in play and not making mistakes." Running the offense will be sophomore setter Haley Rutherford who steps into the spot left by three year varsity starter Brittany Clark. "As great as Brittany was I think we'll be fine with Haley," the coach said. "She doesn't have the varsity experience, but she has been a setter for a lot of years at the club level. She's a great kid who works real hard." In addition to Scofield junior Katie Peterson (5-foot-11) figures to be an offensive weapon Rutherfold will look for. After focusing mainly on defense in her first varsity season a year ago Devenney said Peterson will figure more prominently in the offense in 2007. "If she can continue to be consistent defensively and then expand her offensive game she'll really be an important piece for us." Devenney also said that the Mountain Lions could look to a freshman to be an offensive contributor, Sam Schofield's younger sister Chelsey (6-foot-1) who not only has some height, but also some serious skills. "It's been a while since we've had a freshman play a lot, but she's very athletic and has well rounded skills both offensively and defensively," he said. All told Devenney said he's keeping five outside hitters on the roster just hoping a couple emerge as consistent weapons. Along with the younger Schofield juniors McKenzie Jensen and Alee Eaton and sophomores Tory Gregory and Shannon Rutherford all will get their chance to emerge on the outside. Defensively juniors Kelly Murphy, Kelsey Brockett and Kyra Loehnis will provide back row coverage. "We've got a number of different options with this team," Devenney said. "There are a lot of versatile players because we're so athletic." The coach said he's looking to see the mental strength of his team. "My question is going to be consistency," he said. "This group hasn't played all that much together which means you have to do the little things well. When the ball is set perfect we can be effective, but when it isn't perfect you've got to be able to keep your wits." DEER VALLEY The Mountain Lions old region rival Deer Valley opens its second season under coach Jackie Wallace looking to build on the experience they gained as a largely young team in 2006 Following an 18-23 season in which they took third in the Northwest Region Wallace expects more this season. "We're definitely better," she said. ?From a maturity standpoint, from a leadership standpoint I think we're much better equipped to deal with adversity. Boulder Creek will be tough. I don't know a lot about some of the new teams in our region, but one of our goals is to win the region." To do that the Skyhawks, who played in the 5A Div-II state championship in 2005, will look to a group of seven returners including five starters to lead the way. On the outside Sarah Davis, at only 5-foot-4 might not intimidate with her size, but opponents quickly come away impressed by her ability to play above the net. And while Davis's offensive skills are eye catching so to are the defensive skills possessed by junior captain Izzy Gaulia the Skyhawks equivalent to the Suns Leandro Barbosa. Deer Valley's Brazilian Blur broke the school record for digs as a sophomore. "She's ridiculous," Wallace said. "You could practically let her take care of the back row by herself. I don't know how many coaches last year came up to me to compliment her game." Joining Gaulia (5-foot-7) as a captain is senior setter Alyssa Rodrigues. "She's got great hands," the coach said. "Even if it's a bad pass she can make something out of nothing. We're going to run a faster offense this year." Middle blocker Kaci Kinnett, a senior, provides the team with some leadership while junior Makayla Higgins, an opposite may be the team's most improved player from a year ago according to their coach. Middle Kaitlynn Ausmus, a sophomore, who will make her varsity debut on Tuesday in the team's season opener, has caught the eye of her coach. "She's going to be one to watch," said the Deer Valley graduate who coached on the junior varsity level for 12 years before taking over last season. "I'm really excited about the season. I love this team. They're a lot of fun to be around and it's exciting to watch them play. You can see the improvement almost every day."