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Norwalk hoping to get back to top of Suburban League
By Loren Kopff
In the ever-so-changing of Suburban League champions over the past several seasons, it’s not that easy to make a preseason prediction of who will win the league. Since 2005 when Cerritos ended Mayfair’s long reign as queens of the league, only one team has won consecutive outright league titles (Cerritos 2009-2010). Last season, La Mirada went 12-0 in league action, which followed a title from Norwalk in 2013. In 2012, Mayfair won all 12 league matches and the season before that, Cerritos and Mayfair shared the top honors. This season, it’s anyone’s game as to who will come out on top.
3-15 overall last season, 2-10 in the Suburban League, sixth place
15-81 overall last five seasons
Head coach: Mailelei Penn (second season, 3-15)
Last time made the playoffs: 2010
Key losses: Martina Kim, Jessica Suarez
Despite the dismal record, Artesia High head coach Mailelei Penn saw last season as a success because the Pioneers improved their record from the previous season. Penn says she’s excited for the future and that it’s going to better this year. On paper, the Pioneers should not have any excuses as to why they can’t improve from a 3-15 season as they return eight players from last season’s squad.
“I think it’s going to be a great year,” Penn said. “Most of the girls who are on varsity have played all four years. Some of them have played club a few years.”
One of those club players, who is the team captain, is senior outside hitter Brianna Garcia, who was a middle blocker last season. She will be counted upon to provide a lot of the points for a team that has been searching for a standout player since 2010. Also returning for the Pioneers are senior opposite hitters Britney Alvarado, who was a setter last season and Tamia Rhodes, senior libero Janette Lee and senior outside hitter Julianne Ramos along with junior middle blockers Clarissa Gonzalez and Michaela Rotondo and junior defensive specialist Denise Tuquero.
In addition to Garcia being a major threat for opponents, Penn adds that Lee is “spot on” and a consistent player who already has caught the attention from other league coaches. Penn also thinks that junior outside hitter Monica Soklin, who didn’t play last season but did two seasons ago, will be a surprise to the other teams just because they haven’t seen her yet.
Also new to the varsity squad will be senior defensive specialists Ruby Amor and Ashley Ferrer and senior outside hitter Christina Rivera along with junior setter Chelsea Santos.
“It feels fantastic,” Penn said of her returners. “Even though I’m in my second year as coach of varsity, I coached a lot of these girls their freshman year. They know me; I have a relationship with them. I see them all year long. I’m very happy that they’re returning.”
Penn says that this team has the most potential than the past few seasons because of the experience they possess. She has talked about that several times with her coaching staff of Shanae Brulbelow, Jade Garrett and Eleanor Santos.
“If we’re going to do something great, it’s going to be with this team this year,” she said. “I want to set the bar high, but a success is us beating our record of last year. To me, a success is improvement and if we improve from last year, I’m going to be a happy coach.”
CERRITOS LADY DONS
11-13 overall last season, 8-4 in the Suburban League, third place, lost to St. Margaret’s in the Division III-AA first round playoffs
67-54 overall last five seasons
Head coach: David Cuthbert (third season, 23-24)
Last time missed the playoffs: 2002
Key losses: Crystal Amalu, Kaitlyn Bales, Allison David, Brittney Freeman, Madison Lee, Lorinet Marquez, Jessica Tahata
Midway through last season, Cerritos High was in a position to challenge for a league title. But head coach David Cuthbert attributes the third place finish to the inability to perform in the big games, i.e. against La Mirada and Mayfair.
“I just think we weren’t competitive in the big moments,” he said. “We didn’t rise to the occasion. When I look at the process of the year; when I take into account practice, where we started and where we finished, it was okay. But we just didn’t push for what we could have done.”
Now, the Lady Dons are faced with the reality that they have an inexperienced varsity squad with just four returning players-senior defensive specialist Nicole Medina and senior setter Lauren Oh and junior outside hitters Kristin Londrie and Ifeoma Okoli. Medina and Oh were outside hitters last season while Londrie was a middle blocker. Okoli has been getting some reps in the middle as well as on the right side. Cuthbert considers this as a rebuilding season, especially with varsity rookies who were on the freshman/sophomore team in 2014 in addition to one freshman on the varsity team. Look for Londrie and Oh to have bigger seasons in 2015. Cuthbert said that Oh has done a lot of good things well and is like an all-around player. She does have some experience as a setter from her club days, thus making the transition from an outside hitter easier.
“I think what’s really good for our program is this is the first year in the last three that we’ve had an offseason because of my commitments teaching at another school,” Cuthbert said. “I feel like we’re a little bit ahead. I like where our lower [levels] are at in terms of development. We have some big shoes to fill on varsity and that’s going to be tough.”
New to the varsity team will be middle blocker Kelly Amalu, junior middle blocker Lakshmi Martin, sophomore middle blocker Jacquelyn Kan, junior outside hitter Daisy Segura, sophomore outside hitter Amber Han and freshman outside hitter Samantha Oh, senior setters Rianne Illo and Sydnie Santos. At the defensive specialist position will be seniors Katrina Fukuchi and Audrey Lai.
Cuthbert says that of the newcomers, five of them could potentially start with Amalu and Martin competing for one starting spot, and Han and Segura battling for one starting outside hitter spot with Samantha Oh probably in the starting lineup behind her sister.
“It’s going to be different but honestly, I’m really excited about our group,” Cuthbert said. “I like the group dynamic we have. They’re enjoying practice and they’re enjoying conditioning and they’re really working hard. And with the players that we brought in, I feel like there’s a fair amount of upside. So I think, more than the last two years, I’m not really sure how we’re going to do. But I feel like we can achieve more than we have in the last two years.”
Cuthbert added that he never overly focuses on where his team finishes in the standings but defines success in the process of the team. Still, he wants his team to be in contention to win league within the final three matches of the season.
JOHN GLENN EAGLES
11-12 overall last season, 4-8 in the Suburban League, fifth place
27-74 overall last five seasons
Head coach: Linda Parra (first season)
Last time made the playoffs: 2009
Key losses: Nicole Cruz, Kashmir Davies, Krysta Diaz, Erica Landa, Leslie Larranaga, Magaly Maradiaga, Daisy Nunez, Zahory Ramirez
For the third time in as many seasons, John Glenn High will have a new varsity coach as former freshman/sophomore mentor Linda Parra replaces Davion Jackson. While Parra will be reunited with some of the players she coached in the past, she’s faced with the task of taking over a varsity program with four returning players in senior libero Leslie Barajas, senior middle hitter Erika Espinoza, senior outside hitter Stephanie Lemus and junior setter Christina Dominguez.
“I honestly felt that when we were flying the position for head varsity coach, this would be the perfect year for someone to take over the program because the girls were young and the new coach would build something with the young players,” Parra said. “The lack of varsity experience will hurt us with the fact that they are going to be very nervous on the floor during the preseason. But I am hoping that summer league helped ease some of their nerves.”
The Lady Eagles were dealt a crushing blow when senior Chanel Villegas, who was last year’s setter, injured her tendons in her hand and had surgery in early August. Villegas will be lost for the season, thus forcing Dominguez and sophomore Karina Gomez to step up even more in that position. Parra says that Dominguez and Gomez are coachable and willing to learn the big role they will have.
Joining the varsity squad will be senior opposite hitters Natalie Cardenas and Alyssa Jimenez, senior defensive specialist Monique Ramos, senior outside hitter Melissa Torres, junior defensive specialist Ashley Armas, sophomore middle hitter Gloria De La Cruz and sophomore defensive specialists Karely Perez and Thalia Reyes.
“Gloria Hernandez is a very quiet player but does the little things we need,” Parra said. “She will definitely use this season as a growing opportunity and we do expect her to be much stronger her junior year. Thalia Reyes and Ashley Armas have helped balance out our defense. Karina Gomez is another one who continues to develop in practice.”
Parra added that this seriously might be the nicest group of girls she has ever coached at Glenn and that they have the positive attitude towards one another and are so welcoming to the younger players.
12-12 overall last season, 6-6 in the Suburban League, fourth place, lost to La Serna in the Division III-AA first round playoffs
45-49 overall last five seasons
Head coach: Jessie Gonzalez (fourth season, 37-27)
Last time missed the playoffs: 2010
Key losses: Melanie Arias (JR), Elana Auwae-Ortiz, Anna Bustos, Jazmin Guzman, Megan Nolasco, Athena Sio (JR)
That bulls-eye of entering the 2014 season as the defending Suburban League champions was very evident for Norwalk High. With a junior-heavy team plus big hitters in Jazmin Guzman and Megan Nolasco, the Lady Lancers were primed to bring home another league title. But the rest of the league stepped up and when the season had concluded, Norwalk went from first to fourth, thus making for a very disappointing season for head coach Jessie Gonzalez.
“We fell short a little bit of our own expectations, which is what leads to that disappointment,” Gonzalez said. “But I feel like this year is going to be a bounce back year, a year that will show a lot more improvement as far as what we did last year. And the girls are a lot hungrier this year, too.”
Gonzalez went on to say that the nine returning girls are hungry because they know they are better than a fourth place team. Returning for the Lady Lancers will be senior outside hitter Vanessa Cardenas, senior libero Kathleen Perez, senior middle blockers Leslie Leanos and Norma Marquez, senior setter Brenda Hernandez, senior defensive specialist Alyssa Aguilar, junior defensive specialists Paola Nava and Valerie Ortega and junior outside hitter Ashley Whittall.
Gonzalez said that a few of the returning players know what it feels like to win a league title. Look for Whittall to have even a bigger season than the one she had last season now that Guzman and Nolasco graduated. Hernandez is more mentally and physically stronger. Joining the returning players will be senior opposite hitter/outside hitters Alexis Colon and Sylvia Lopez, junior defensive specialist/setter Mercedes Orozco, junior setter/opposite hitter Anissa Uncapher, sophomore defensive specialist Danielle Gomez and sophomore middle blocker Michelle Herrera. Gonzalez has tabbed Uncapher as one varsity newcomer to keep an eye on.
With nine returning players, the Lady Lancers definitely have the talent and experience to win the league again. But to do so, they’ll have to find a way to knock off defending title holder La Mirada, which went 12-0 in league last season, and a very experienced Mayfair squad.
“It’s tough,” he said. “We have to remember that they are still kids and the mental factor is huge. So when it comes to them, they have confidence that they’re a league contender. But at the same time, other teams want to beat you.”
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