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By Loren Kopff
To say that the serving from the Cerritos High girls volleyball team was dominant in its California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Division III-AA first round playoff match would be a huge understatement. The Lady Dons confused eighth-ranked Crean Lutheran High throughout the match and set down 25 aces in their 25-17, 25-15, 25-17 home victory this past Tuesday night.
It was the first playoff victory for the Lady Dons since 2011 but early on, it looked as if the Saints would give Cerritos a run for its money. The Academy League’s third place representatives led throughout most of the first rotation of the match, holding leads of 7-4, 9-5 and 10-7. But a kill from freshman outside hitter Samantha Oh gave the serve to senior libero Nicole Medina where her two consecutive aces put Cerritos up 11-10.
With the Lady Dons (14-8 overall) clinging to a 14-13 lead, sophomore outside hitter Jackie Kan had a pair of aces to increase the lead to 18-13. Later on, a block from junior middle blocker Ifeoma Okoli put the ball in the hands of sophomore outside hitter Amber Han, who served the final four points of the set, including three aces.
“That’s where we won this game,” said Cerritos head coach David Cuthbert. “We served so tough and it clicked for all of us today. I can’t single out people because everybody served tough.”
Cerritos had 11 kills from six different players plus nine aces and three blocks in the set. Again, it was tight in the opening moments of the second set until Okoli’s fourth kill broke a 5-5 tie and from there, junior outside hitter Kristin Londrie reeled off six straight points with half of those being aces.
The Saints would trail by three points at 14-11 but Oh had two kills, Londrie another kill and the first ace from senior setter Lauren Oh as part of a five-point scoring spree that made the score 19-11. While Cerritos picked up half a dozen aces in the set, it pounded down 13 kills from five different players.
“If we want to be successful, we have to share around,” Cuthbert said. “We have to rely on a lot of people and that’s what is good for us. We have some depth up there and we have some different weapons who can perform for us on different nights. Today it all kind of clicked and everyone played well.”
In the final set, an 8-8 tie turned into a 13-8 Cerritos advantage thanks to three more aces from Han. Crean Lutheran, which never put together more than three straight points at any time, chipped away at its deficit and trailed 14-12 before the Lady Dons pulled away. And it would only be fitting that on a night where serving was paramount, Londrie finished off the Saints with three straight aces following two kills from Okoli and a Crean Lutheran timeout.
“When we got the draw, we saw where we’re playing a third place team but they’re ranked eighth overall and we knew it was going to be a tough game,” Cuthbert said. “I think this is what we really needed. We needed that challenge; something to step up against. Once we believed that we could win, we were a different team today.”
While Okoli led everyone with 10 kills and two blocks, it was Londrie who continued to progress towards the end of the season despite missing the first part of the season with an injury. Londrie finished with nine kills, eight aces and a block. She and Okoli combined for eight of the nine kills in the third set.
“We made the decision to put [Londrie] on the right side and she just looked like a different player out there,” Cuthbert said. “It kind of fits what she does well. Where we’re at now is to play well and hopefully she can continue to play well for us.”
Han added six kills and eight aces while Samantha Oh chipped in with five kills and Kan four aces. The Lady Dons, who finished in a tie for second place in the Suburban League, travelled to Inland Valley League champion Valley View High on Oct. 12.
“We’re trying to peak at the right time and we certainly did serve well today,” Cuthbert said. “We served tough and it put them under pressure. And then we let our block defense deal with the rest.”
In other girls volleyball playoff action, Norwalk High advanced with a four-set victory over host Pioneer High this past Tuesday. The Lady Lancers (16-10), who tied Cerritos for second place in the Suburban League, hosted Division III-AA third ranked Rim of the World on Nov. 12.
In Division II-AA action, Gahr High was swept by Maranatha High 25-20, 25-15, 25-22 to see its season end at 16-10 while Valley Christian High’s season also concluded following a 25-4, 25-17, 25-17 setback to Laguna Beach High. The Lady Crusaders wrapped up the season at 14-14.
Valley Christian, the Olympic League champions who finished the regular season at 8-2, host Templeton High tonight at Crusader Field in a CIF-SS Northwest Division first round game. The Northern League at-large representatives enter the playoffs with a 6-4 mark. A victory by V.C. would most likely set up a rematch against third ranked Linfield Christian High in the second round. Those two teams met in the first round last season with Linfield Christian escaping with a 28-27 victory.
The Whitney High boys and girls cross country teams advanced to the CIF-SS preliminaries to be held at the Riverside Golf Club on Saturday. Although both teams are young, they managed to win their respective ABC Unified School District races back on Sept. 15 at Cerritos Regional Park. The Whitney girls team then finished in third place at the Academy League finals at Irvine Regional Park on Oct. 30 while the boys came in fourth place. The Wildcats are coached by Tim Jang and Milan Mali.
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