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2014 GIRLS VOLLEYBALL PREVIEW Norwalk ready to accept big target as defending Suburban League champions

By Loren Kopff

NORWALK LADY LANCERS

16-7 overall last season, 11-1 in the Suburban League, co-champions, lost to Valley View in the Division III-AA first round playoffs
36-50 overall last five seasons
Head coach: Jessie Gonzalez (third season, 25-15)
Last time missed the playoffs: 2010
Key losses: Ashley Alatorre, Daniela Lozada, Samantha Lujan, Viviana Gomez, Dayna Moreno
Now that Norwalk has won a Suburban League championship, its first in school history, and has experienced a win in the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section playoffs, the first since 1994, head coach Jessie Gonzalez is focused on building a consistent program. In the past four seasons, the Lady Lancers have gone from last place, to fourth, to third and finally first. Gonzalez said last season was attributed to a building process and that he had to change the program completely. He added that the program had to improve whether it took big steps or little steps and that last season’s success wasn’t something that happened overnight.
“It was amazing; it was a dream season,” Gonzalez said. “I’m glad I was lucky to be a part of it. I really appreciate the hard work that we all put in together. That is something that you can reflect on and use as inspiration for this coming year.”
So, what does Norwalk do for an encore? Well, despite losing probably the best setter in the league in Dayna Moreno, plus one of the league’s top power hitters in Viviana Gomez, the Lady Lancers return eight players, led by senior middle blocker Jazmin Guzman, who complemented Gomez quite well. Senior middle blocker Megan Nolasco, senior setter Elana Auwae and senior defensive specialist Anna Bustos are the other upperclassmen on the squad. Auwae was an opposite hitter and middle blocker last season but was a setter her freshman and sophomore seasons.
The other four returning players are junior middle blocker Leslie Leanos, junior libero Kathleen Perez, sophomore outside hitter and defensive specialist Athena Sio, who dazzled many around the league as a freshman, and sophomore defensive specialist Paola Nava. But, the Lady Lancers added half a dozen new players who had tons of success last season on the junior varsity team.
“For this season, we knew we were very lucky to have a very talented j.v. team,” Gonzalez said. “So the transition for these new girls to varsity isn’t too difficult. But what we also focus on is having these younger girls practice at a higher level, even though they’re playing [on the j.v. team] just to get them prepared for the varsity level. I think you’re going to be a little surprised with what my team looks like this year.”
Junior outside hitter and opposite hitter Vanessa Cardenas, junior right side and opposite hitter Norma Marquez and junior setter Brenda Hernandez along with sophomore middle blocker and opposite hitter Melanie Arias, sophomore outside hitter Ashley Whittall and sophomore defensive specialist Valerie Ortega join the varsity team.
Norwalk may have a lot of experience coming back but Gonzalez isn’t ready to make 2014 Suburban League champions shirts right now. In fact, there has been a different league champion the past three seasons.
“I’m not going to say easier just yet,” Gonzalez said of repeating. “But I do like our odds being in our favor. I have eight returning players but I’m seeing if this team can gel. It’s still going to be a challenging year. It’s going to take a lot of hard work seeing how we won league last year. And it’s always hard to repeat, but I think there’s a good chance we can.
“I think every year when someone wins league, that’s a team that everyone wants to gun for because they know they’re the league champs,” Gonzalez added. “That’s a big statement; being the league champs from the previous year. We may have a bulls-eye, but at the same time we’re going to come in with the same attitude and determination to win every game regardless of who we’re playing or where we’re playing. We plan on being better than we were last year.”