As far as the Pioneer Valley girls volleyball team is concerned, it is back in the league it belongs in for the second consecutive year.

After years of competing in the CIF Southern Section's PAC 8 League, against teams with advanced club programs that the Panthers didn't have, Pioneer Valley played in the Ocean League, a league of primarily smaller schools in 2018.

That year was Pioneer Valley's first in the CIF Central Section. The Panthers finished a solid third in the Ocean League, behind Morro Bay and Nipomo, and they are in the Ocean League again.

"I'm very happy we're in the Ocean League again," said veteran Pioneer Valley coach Nikki Doyle as her volleyball squad, along with Pioneer Valley's other fall sports squads, prepped for the upcoming 2019 campaign.

"That's a good fit for us." The Panthers were in contention for the league title until the last week of the regular season. They went out in the first round of the divisional playoffs.

"I really liked it," Pioneer Valley senior libero Rebecca Escobar said of playing in the Ocean League. "I felt we were competing against teams that were at our level."

Escobar is one of six returning Pioneer Valley varsity regulars. The others are senior setter Andrea Nunez-Guido, senior opposite-middle blocker Jennifer Basulto, junior outside hitter Amaya Yebra, senior outside hitter Rachel Ramos and senior opposite Paola Zarate.

Yebra was a top hitter for the Panthers last year.

As for Nunez-Guido, she is a second-year varsity player.

"We run a one-setter offense, and I think I have it down," she said.

"The kinds of sets I do mostly depends on the situation, but I like doing the quick sets. It helps quicken up the offense."

Her team was a strong serving one last year and, with her returners, Doyle thinks the Panthers will be a strong serving squad again this year.

"Plus, our offense is really balanced," said Doyle. 

Besides the returning regulars, Doyle is also counting heavily on junior outside hitter Chariel Cabrera. Cabrera played on the Pioneer Valley junior varsity last year.

"I did club volleyball during the winter and the spring, plus I did summer conditioning that helped me stay in shape," she said. "I think all that has prepared me for the varsity level."

The Panthers lost some of their top players from last year but, "I know what the expectations are, and I think we can meet them," said Escobar.

"And probably even exceed them," Nunez-Guido said.

The Panthers will open at home against Atascadero Aug. 22 at 5:30 p.m. The Panthers have a scrimmage against Santa Maria scheduled for Thursday at 6 p.m. at home. The Panthers start Ocean League play on Sept. 24 with a 6 p.m. match at St. Joseph.

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