ALBANY -- Two points.
The Albany High girls volleyball team came up two points short of winning a California Interscholastic Federation Division III title a year ago, losing in five tough games to Cathedral Catholic-San Diego.
It was a match the Cougars felt they should have won. But it's serving as motivation for this season as they aim to get back to the Division III state playoffs and make another run at a CIF title,
"That's the driving force," Albany coach Roger Worsley said. "This season they're completely focused on the task at hand.
"We have the personnel, and we feel strongly that we can make it back. Falling two points short will be tough to deal with for a long time if we don't."
Albany is once again led by senior outside hitter Kyra Holt, who has orally committed to play at Washington State in 2013. Coming into this week, Holt had 174 kills, 25 aces and 74 digs in 20 matches as the Cougars raced out to a 19-1 record.
But Holt is just one of many key pieces that return from last year's team that won North Coast Section and Northern California championships Middle Amber Erhahon, middle/opposite Mia Jauregui, libero Brooke Tannahill and middle/outside Marin Gibson all played big roles on last year's team.
"We have a lot of talent that returned this year," Worsley said. "We have the personnel on the floor and the girls are focused and determined to build on what they did last season."
The Cougars have had to deal with the graduation of setter McKenzie Giblin, who was a major factor behind last season's magical run.
Having a setter that can get the ball to all of Albany's great hitters will be the key component to making another run to the state title game. Right now, that responsibility is going to freshman Christine Legasto-Miller, who seems to be getting better with each match.
Worsley said she might even be more athletic than Giblin, and has gained invaluable experience in the team's first 20 matches this season.
She will be relied on heavily if the Cougars want to repeat as NCS and NorCal champs, because Division III is loaded.
To win the section, the Cougars have to get past Bishop O'Dowd and Campolindo -- teams considered among the best in the East Bay.
If they do that, Vista del Lago-Folsom, Christian Brothers-Sacramento and Sacred Heart Cathedral-San Francisco will be waiting in the Northern California playoffs.