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By Loren Kopff
Norwalk High girls volleyball head coach Jessie Gonzalez had somewhat of a positive look on his face after watching his team lose to Mayfair High in a key Suburban League match last Thursday. In fact, he was smiling a little because he already had plans on what to do on Oct. 27 when the two teams will meet again on Mayfair’s court.
Gonzalez said the strategy to beat Mayfair in the second round is to play smart and do basic fundamentals, something the Lady Lancers couldn’t do enough of as the Monsoons knocked off Norwalk 25-23, 25-27, 25-15, 25-19 to take control early in the league season.
“My mindset is taking a look at where we made our mistakes and cleaning that up and just training, training, training my team to be ready for that,” he said. “And also to get that mental training in their head, knowing that they’re capable of beating any team in this league.”
Last Thursday’s match featured some of the tallest players in the league, including 5’ 10” sophomore middle blocker Michelle Herrera and a trio of 5’ 9” hitters in senior middle blocker Leslie Leanos, senior opposite hitter Norma Marquez and junior opposite hitter Anissa Uncapher for Norwalk and Skyler Williams, a 6’ 3” middle blocker standing on the other side of the net.
Back to back aces from senior libero Kathleen Perez put the Lady Lancers (9-8 overall, 3-1 in league) up 5-3 in the first set. Norwalk would maintain its lead until a kill from Sarah Clausen followed by a net violation put the Monsoons up 22-21. But after the second kill from junior outside hitter Ashley Whittall tied the set at 23-23, the Monsoons got the serve back where a block from Williams gave Mayfair the early edge.
Norwalk would jump out to another big lead in the second set, this time at 7-2 after a Mayfair serve went long. But this time the Monsoons stormed back much sooner and took a 19-13 lead on the strength of four more blocks from Williams in the set and four kills each from Clausen and Marilyn Finney. But the hosts weren’t about to be intimidated that easy by the favorites to win the league.
Three kills from Whittall and one from senior setter Brenda Hernandez quickly made it 19-17 before a Mayfair timeout. Then with the Monsoons up 23-20, Whittall had a kill, followed by an ace from Uncapher, a kill from senior outside hitter Vanessa Cardenas and another ace from Uncapher. The set ended with Whittall putting down her 10th kill and Perez serving her third ace of the match.
Through the first two sets, most of the offense was coming near the net with several of the kills from both teams coming in the form of softer slams or tips, something that would not be as evident in the next two sets.
“I felt like it was both teams warming up,” Gonzalez said. “We both had a couple of overpass kills on each end and once the second set came around, we both started warming up and we both were setting up our offense. That’s when both teams started getting more aggressive and started wanting to pound the ball.”
It would be completely different in the third set as Mayfair owned an early 7-3 lead and never looked back. Norwalk would trail by two points three times in the set but Mayfair pulled away on the strength of Monique Awanyai (five kills and a block in the set).
Both teams traded points in the early part of the fourth set before a pair of kills from Cardenas gave the Lady Lancers a 10-6 lead. Later in the set, an ace from Hernandez put the purple and gold up 15-11 before back to back kills from Williams tied everything at 15-15.
With the Monsoons holding a 21-19 lead, a kill from Brooklin Mize, followed by two aces from her and a kill from Awanyai ended the match. Awanyai would lead all players with 17 kills while Marilyn Finney had 11 kills and Williams finished with eight kills.
“You just have to give them credit,” Gonzalez said. “They were working really hard to get to the outside or get to the middle and work with the setters to get the ball where they wanted it to go. It’s just tough to defend them because they’re very athletic. They’re always moving. Sarah is very athletic, Skyler is athletic, and she’s tall. It’s just about us being honest and making sure we’re following our hitters on the defensive end.
“We just made simple ball handling errors,” Gonzalez later added. “That’s what it came down to. It wasn’t anything special. I just think it was partially mental. I think maybe the severity of the game kind of got to my team. But I feel like our strategy worked pretty well and I feel like we know what to do for the second round.”
Whittall would pace Norwalk with 16 kills while Cardenas and Marquez had 12 and nine kills respectively.
“Ashley is amazing,” Gonzalez said. “When she’s on, she’s on and she’s not going to be afraid of any type of ball no matter where the set is. One thing that I can credit to her is that over the past couple of weeks, she’s been a lot smarter when she’s been on the net playing the ball. She’s making smart decisions.
“With those two players, they do the little things that you don’t see on the stat sheet,” Gonzalez said of Cardenas and Marquez. “Yes, nine kills is big for Norma and yes, 12 kills is big for Vanessa. But you don’t see the touches, you don’t see the hustle. You can’t write that down. I think they’re more valuable in the sense that they do their part and they fill in a role where they fit in well and they execute when they have to. They’ve made huge strides since last year.”
Norwalk would improve to 3-1 in league with a 25-17, 25-15, 25-12 sweep over host Artesia this past Tuesday. Uncapher led the Lady Lancers with 10 kills and six while Whittall added nine kills. Hernandez also had five aces as Norwalk visited Cerritos on Oct. 8 and will host Bellflower on Tuesday to close out the first round of league play. Norwalk will then host La Mirada on Thursday.
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