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By Loren Kopff
LA HABRA-Every season, the Valley Christian High girls volleyball team knows that it will have to step up their game 10 times more when it reaches Olympic League play. Considering that the Lady Crusaders face powerhouse teams in Maranatha, Village Christian and Whittier Christian high schools, all of whom are always in the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Division II-AA top 10 polls, V.C. can’t afford too many league losses.
As the Lady Crusaders were entering the Leon Davis Event Center at Whittier Christian last Thursday evening, they were already frustrated having been swept at home by Maranatha 48 hours earlier. Unfortunately, V.C. couldn’t heel its feelings as the Heralds swept the Lady Crusaders 25-16, 25-15, 25-15.
“There was a lot of frustration”, said V.C. head coach Melody Nua. “There was a lot of pressure on our seniors. Obviously, they want a great year. There was lots of frustration going into our practice yesterday and then today, it was unfortunate that our setter went down. That just adds to the pressure.”
Whittier Christian jumped out to a 7-3 lead in the first set but the Lady Crusaders came back and tied the set at 10-10 on back to back kills from senior middle blocker Madi Huizar. After an ace from freshman outside hitter Aubrey Schwieger, Huizar and senior outside hitter Katelyn Albani combined on a block and Albani slammed down her third kill to give V.C. its largest lead of the match at 13-10.
But the Heralds scored the next five points and never looked back. There were six ties and five lead changes in the opening set but even more discouraging for V.C. was the fact that the hosts had six of their match-high 20 aces in the first set.
“A lot of unforced errors,” Nua said. “It’s something we’ve been struggling with all season. We can’t find the court sometimes and basically, volleyball is consistency and low error percentage. We haven’t been doing really well with that.”
V.C. (13-10 overall, 1-3 in league) thought it had some momentum in the opening stages of the second set when senior middle blocker Kerryn Harrington had a block followed by two Albani kills and one from junior opposite hitter Chloe De Vries after Whittier Christian had tied it at 1-1. But compounding the issue of being frustrated was the loss of senior setter Chloe Winter after the second of those two kills from Albani when she injured her left ankle and was lost for the rest of the match. As Albani was going up for the kill, Winter slipped on a player’s foot and rolled her left ankle. While Winter proclaimed that she’ll be back for the Oct. 22 road match at Heritage Christian High, the loss of the team’s quarterback impacted the Lady Crusaders the remainder of the way.
“My setter is probably the strongest kid on our team, physically,” Nua said. “There is no pain in her mind. It will just be day by day and we’ll see what she feels like and see what it looks like. Hopefully it’s not too bad.”
Seldom-used sophomore Megan Lim replaced Winter but immediately the Heralds scored four straight points and would not trail the rest of the match. A kill from Huizar brought V.C. to a 6-5 deficit. But Whittier Christian quickly opened up a 17-7 lead thanks to Mandy Sides, who by this point already had 12 kills.
“The mood definitely changed,” Nua said. “Again, it’s our setter that went down and a lot of girls look up to her. The other setter that I had come in is pretty young and…has been in matches but nothing as big as tonight. She still did well.”
V.C. was never in the third set, falling behind 7-0 before scoring four of the next five combined points. The team did make one final push when it was down 20-8. Albani had the last of her team-high 11 kills, then sophomore outside hitter Madison Holmes had three aces along with a net violation called on Whittier Christian. But in the end, it was too much of Sides, who added two aces herself plus a pair of kills from Amanda Ashworth down the stretch. Those two combined for 24 kills.
Huizar would add eight kills but outside of her and Albani, the Lady Crusaders have been searching to get more offense from other players. The rest of the team combined for 10 kills.
“It’s been a little bit of a struggle for Katelyn just because she’s been a middle [blocker] a lot of her career,” Nua said. “It’s her first year actually playing in a different spot and it’s a different role for Kate. She hasn’t had a leadership role. Again, just another kid struggling with the error percentage. Madi Huizar has just been our most consistent hitter all around and has been since last year. Unfortunately she’s only in the front row for three rotations or I would keep her up there the entire time.”
Now, the Lady Crusaders are in a position they had hoped to avoid once again, which is looking up at the rest of the powerhouse teams. Entering its match at Heritage Christian, the Lady Crusaders were in fourth place with Maranatha and Whittier Christian tied for second at 3-2 in the circuit and Village Christian undefeated after five league matches. V.C. will host Village Christian on Tuesday evening before visiting Maranatha on Thursday evening.
“Mentally we need to be stronger, which is now harder to say now that our setter is down and morality is a little low,” Nua said. “We need a little more confidence and I told my girls it’s not volleyball at all. We know how to play volleyball. We just have to be a little smarter in a lot of things we do. I know we can do it.”
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