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Gahr eyes rare SGVL title while Valley Christian begins new approach

2015 GIRLS VOLLEYBALL PREVIEW

By Loren Kopff

For the past five seasons, the Gahr girls volleyball team has been knocking on the door of first place of the San Gabriel Valley League but just can’t seem to get out of second place. Valley Christian has also been in a league title drought, much longer than Gahr, as the Lady Crusaders last won an Olympic League title in 2001. Both of those teams have experienced, solid squads that are capable of bringing home a league title. Whitney, on the other hand, will be just the opposite with three returning players.

GAHR GLADIATORS

9-15 overall last season, 6-4 in the San Gabriel Valley League, tied for second place, lost to Valley Christian in the Division II-AA first round playoffs

60-67 overall last five seasons

Head coach: Iris Najera (fourth season, 32-39)

Last time missed the playoffs: 2008

Key losses: Sofia Arechiga, Frankie Dilorio, Jor’Dyn Flanagan, Joselyn Govea, Destiny Hayes, Chelsea Marfil, Stephanie Rodriguez, Kassandra Velasquez

Consistency has been a problem that has plagued head coach Iris Najera in her first three seasons as the Gahr girls head coach. But she is hoping that will change this season with the return of seven players from the 2014 varsity squad, most of whom have been playing club volleyball.

“Last season might have looked like a disappointing season on paper,” Najera said. “But it wasn’t at all because we had a very tough preseason schedule and I planned it that way on purpose. This year we also have a tough preseason. We’re returning to the Dave Mohs Tournament in South Orange County to compete against some D-I and D-II schools. That will be a great opportunity for our girls to see where we match up against some of these girls who have been playing volleyball their whole lives.”

The Gladiators will definitely have more offensive weapons, led by senior opposite and outside hitter and middle blocker Tyra Parrish, who spent her first two seasons at Mayfair, then sat out the first 30 days last season due to the transfer rule. This season, she is a more consistent and all-around athlete, according to Najera. Parrish travelled to Colorado Springs in the offseason to train with the United States Junior Olympic team. Junior middle blocker Shantelle Marshall was brought up from the junior varsity team during the middle of last season and will complement Parrish in providing a lot of points. Senior Niahni Moultry, a utility player last season, is now a setter which is her true position. The other returning players are senior defensive specialists Naomi Belgrave and Katherine Pedroza, senior libero Cristal Constantino and junior Lorelei Saleapaga, who can be an opposite hitter, backup setter or a defensive specialist.

The top varsity newcomer will be freshman outside and opposite hitter Jazmyn Parrish, who according to Najera is ‘so strong and competitive and fearless’. She is competing for a starting spot and Najera says one of the best lineups would have Jazmyn on the outside and her older sister Tyra on the right side.

The other new players are: senior defensive specialist and middle blocker Kassandra Govea, senior defensive specialist Corina Hernandez, senior outside hitter Ailaine Tolentino, senior middle blocker and defensive specialist Melanie Torrecarion, junior outside and opposite hitter Alexus Latham, who is a transfer from Buena Park, junior defensive specialist and outside hitter Alyssa Morada, junior middle blocker Zanache Stanton and sophomore setter, defensive specialist Julianna Carvajal.

Gahr is banking on this season as the time to win league with powerhouse Downey having lost some key parts to its success over the past several seasons plus the addition of a new head coach. Warren and Paramount will always give Gahr some good competition in league.

“We’ve been preparing since the end of season last year to dethrone or take them off the top,” Najera said of Downey. “I think it’s possible. They graduated their setter and their best hitter, so it could be a rebuilding year for them. I don’t expect them to be easy at all. They’re always competitive and they’re always really tough.”

VALLEY CHRISTIAN CRUSADERS

20-4 overall last season, 5-3 in the Olympic League, second place, lost to Mayfield in the Division II-AA second round playoffs

88-42 overall last five seasons

Head coach: Melody Nua (second season, 20-4)

Last time missed the playoffs: 2009

Key losses: Karly Dantuma, Caroline Hefley, CariAnn Palmer, Brianna Westra, Samantha Yang

It was the best start that Valley Christian head coach Melody Nua could have asked for when she took over the program last season. The Lady Crusaders won their first nine non-tournament matches and won 40 out of 46 sets played in the month of September. The only four losses that counted came in Olympic League action and the playoffs.

“Last season, I didn’t really know what to expect,” Nua said. “It was a program that I didn’t really follow too much. So I kind of came in with the mentality that no matter what kind of team that I get, I have to work them hard. Last year, we had a little more power in our front row. We were able to move and feed off of Karly [Dantuma] up there, which helped big time. So yes, it was definitely better than what I expected last year.”

The 20-4 mark V.C. accomplished last season was the program’s best since going 33-0 in 1998 and becoming USA Today National Champions. It was also the third straight season that the Lady Crusaders have won at least 20 matches and they have become one of the best teams in the Long Beach area.

“They were a lot better than what they thought, and I think last season was the first time they actually had a good summer with the workouts and putting in the time,” Nua said. “They program already had the athletes. I think they just needed a little bit of guidance; a little bit of extra push to let them shine a little bit.”

V.C. will take on a slightly different approach to this season as it will focus more on defense and serve receive. Nua says everyone has gotten better but the team will miss that one big factor that will provide the majority of points as Dantuma did in 2014. Nua added that how the team won last season and how they will win this season will be completely different.

Still, the Lady Crusaders are very well experienced with senior middle blockers Katelyn Albani, Kerryn Harrington and Madison Huizar, senior setter Chloe Winter, senior defensive specialist Emily McLurg, senior libero Allison Sutherlin, junior defensive specialist Kaylee Westra, and sophomore outside hitter Madison Holmes all returning. Albani, who is the most improved player according to Nua, will also play some opposite and be a middle blocker.

”She’s been putting in the work,” Nua said. “She’s been playing on my club team this past season. She didn’t get too much court time but played at a high level. I have some D-I potential kids on my club team and she was fortunate enough to be a part of that which in turn helps her here.”

The newcomers to varsity will be junior opposite hitters Autumn Boulton and Chloe De Vries, junior middle blocker Trisha Howland, junior defensive specialist and libero Abbey Turnbow, sophomore defensive specialist and libero Hannah Buckley, sophomore setter Megan Lim and

freshman outside hitter Aubrey Schwieger, whom Nua has tabbed as the top newcomer to watch out for. Schwieger is consistent with her passing and Nua says opponents will struggle with her offense.

Nua concluded that it will be tough to knock Village Christian for the top spot in league and that serving and the side out game will be key to V.C.’s success

WHITNEY WILDCATS

3-15 overall last season, 1-11 in the Academy League, seventh place

33-56 overall last five seasons

Head coach: Ole Nervik (ninth season, 44-92)

Last time made the playoffs: 2013

Key losses: Lauren Dejoras, Nicki Kim (JR), Nicole Lee (JR), Michelle Ni, Nicole Waldecker

It was a very trying season for Whitney and longtime head coach Ole Nervik as the Wildcats had their worst season since going 1-11 in 2003. The 15 losses were the most since 2008 when the team went 3-13. Adding insult to injury is the fact that Whitney returns just three players. Still, Nervik did find some positives out of last season.

“I know we started midseason last year focusing a lot more on defensive hustle and we’ve carried that through the summer program and preseason program,” Nervik said. “Also, as a coaching staff, we’ve been working really hard on positive attitudes because the more the girls are having fun, the better they’re going to play.”

Senior outside hitter Julia Bok, senior setter Jamee Centeno and junior libero Allison Oh return and will be joined by senior middle blocker Elizabeth Crisologo, senior defensive specialist Sara Chea junior middle blocker Amy Wang, junior opposite and outside hitter Danielle Lee, junior opposite hitter and setter Eunice Shim, junior setter Taylor Watson, junior Karen Kaur and sophomore outside hitter Juliann Chou

“It’s a good three to have,” Nervik chuckled about his returning players. “This is an academic school, so we are never guaranteed that we’re going to be…I can’t tell you what’s happening next year. I can’t tell you what’s happening this month because the parents here…if the grades slip to a 3.8, they yank them or they send them to a different school. We never look far in advance; we just deal with what we have. But I have to say that the returning players we have are awesome players.”

Before last season, Whitney had finished in fourth place in the Academy League but getting to that point with such a young squad, plus the fact that defending Division III-AA champion Sage Hill and runner-up St. Margaret’s are in the league.

“I really hate the term rebuilding year,” Nervik said. “I don’t like that term. Rebuilding year to me says I haven’t done my work on the other teams. We work hard practicing together. I think we’ll do better than that 3-15 year.”

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