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By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter
The Artesia High and John Glenn High girls volleyball teams won’t be chasing down a Suburban League title anytime soon. But if either one plays with the same intensity, as was displayed when they faced each other last Thursday, on a consistent basis, then one of those two bottom feeders of the league just might make a charge for a rare fourth place finish.
Artesia, which squandered a six-point lead early in the fifth set, rallied in the end to knock off the visiting Lady Eagles 12-25, 25-20, 25-17, 23-25, 17-15. The win gave the Pioneers their first in league action this season and kept the Lady Eagles winless in the circuit through the first four matches.
“It definitely feels special when the hard work pays off and it translates into a win,” said Artesia head coach Mailelei Penn. “We’ve been working really hard and we haven’t seen, too many times, where it actually translates into a win. You could see how excited the girls are. It’s like we won [a] CIF [championship] to them.”
“They just made their serves,” said Glenn first-year head coach Tan Nguyen. “The first game was kind of an anomaly for them just because they were serving out every time they had a chance to get a run in. But we just have to do a better job of executing our passing.”
It was serving that gave Artesia an 8-2 lead in the fifth set as junior opposite hitter Mika Gebers had a pair of aces and junior outside hitter Ayanna Jimenez added three more aces, The other three points early on came from senior middle blocker Michaela Rotondo, who would have a big match by Artesia standards.
The Pioneers continued to hold the lead and were one point away from victory after senior outside hitter Monica Soklim served one of her eight aces. But Glenn rallied with five straight points to take a 15-14 lead following the second straight kill from sophomore outside hitter Paola Ramirez. But a serve into the net, a kill from Rotondo and an ace from junior middle blocker Skyhler Felise put the hosts into the win column for the second time this season. Artesia also snapped an eight-match losing streak.
“We definitely needed this momentum,” Penn said. “After that close game with La Mirada, we were happy to get that set and we’ve been building on that one set that we won against La Mirada.”
Penn was referring to a 25-20 win in the third set against La Mirada High on Sept. 20 after the team had been swept in every match up to that point except for its four-set win at Buena Park High on Sept. 7.
Glenn completely dominated the first set, racing out to leads of 6-1 and 11-3 and finished with nine aces. Glenn junior outside hitter Gloria De La Cruz also had three kills in the set. It was almost role reversal in the second set as the Pioneers scored the first five points and although Glenn tied the set once, Artesia would never trail as it was getting a solid performance from Rotondo (five kills). Glenn would trail by a point five times but couldn’t get over the hump.
“This past week we’ve been focusing with the girls on positivity,” Penn said. “We’ve been going over [with them] getting over our mistakes fast, because this team likes to get down on themselves and they get weaker and weaker and weaker throughout the match. So, I just talked to them about staying positive and learning from their mistakes.”
The pendulum appeared to have swung back in Glenn’s favor in the third set as it turned a 9-8 deficit into a 13-9 lead when Ramirez served to begin the second rotation. Later on, a kill from De La Cruz put the Lady Eagles up 17-14 before a serving error allowed Soklim to serve 10 straight points, including four aces.
“We just gave up; that’s plain and simple,” Nguyen said. “They had a good server at the line and she was real consistent and we just gave up.”
The fourth set went back and forth as there were seven ties and six lead changes and neither team held a lead of more than four points. Artesia’s last lead came at 15-14 when Gebers served an ace. But Glenn would post five consecutive points and despite the teams trading side outs, was able to hang on to force the fifth set.
“This is what I expected; competitive, long rallies, good serving, good passing,” Nguyen said. “They’re a well-coached team, we’re a well-coached team.
“We just have to keep fighting for every point in every game and take one game at a time and all of that good stuff,” he later said. “At the end of the day, you can’t really control the future. You can’t really control who is playing who and who gets injured or what not. All you can do is play for the next point.”
De La Cruz led Glenn, which had 31 aces as a team, with 14 kills while Ramirez added another dozen kills and had a team-high eight aces. The Lady Eagles, who would then be swept by Bellflower High 25-17, 25-20, 25-17 this past Tuesday to fall to 1-9 overall, hosted La Mirada on Sept. 29 and will visit Cerritos High on Tuesday.
“She’s got a good amount of athleticism and she makes use of it to get us points,” Nguyen said of Ramirez. “We try to train everybody to be a leader on the court. We have a ton of seniors on the court and they do their jobs so she can do her job, and she does her job well.”
Artesia, which was swept by Norwalk High 25-5, 25-8, 25-17 this past Tuesday, got 15 kills from Rotondo and 14 more from Soklim. For added measure, Felise chipped in with nine kills. The Pioneers (2-10 overall, 1-4 in league), who served 27 aces, will host Mayfair High on Tuesday and Whitney High on Wednesday before visiting Bellflower on Thursday.
“Both Michaela and Monica have really grown as players,” Penn said. “As long as we have really good defense and we give our setter a decent pass, then they can kill those balls. When they’re on, it’s over.”
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