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By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter
When the Whitney High girls volleyball team travelled to Academy League rival Oxford Academy on Sept. 16, the Lady Wildcats lost a thrilling five-set match with the final four sets being decided by a combined 12 points. When the two teams met again this past Wednesday night inside a Whitney gymnasium where the student body was decked out in its ‘blackout’ attire, it was nearly déjà vu.
Both teams were playing for that coveted fourth place spot that they, along with Brethren Christian High, seek every year and again, the Patriots came out on top, this time 25-14, 22-25, 27-25, 22-25, 15-12. Whitney dropped to 5-11 overall and 2-6 in the league while Oxford Academy improved to 4-5 in the circuit with Brethren Christian sitting at 3-6.
“It was exactly the same thing,” said Whitney head coach Ole Nervik. “What can you say about it? They’re a good team. We are really equal teams.”
Nervik was hoping his team would play much better, considering three players who were out of the lineup the first time-senior outside hitter/libero Alison Oh, senior middle blocker Danielle Lee and sophomore setter Victoria Tran-were available the second time around. But the Patriots turned a slim 11-10 lead into a 17-10 advantage in the first set and it was game on. Whitney posted only four kills in the first set, but turned it around in the second set.
Although the Lady Wildcats trailed throughout most of the set, they were able to bounce back from a six-point deficit thanks to the stellar hitting of junior outside hitter Juliann Chou and Oh, who combined for six kills in the set. Down 20-17, sophomore middle blocker Taylor Genera had her second block of the set, then put her team in front for the first time with her first kill. Whitney would score the final four points of the set on two kills from Chou, one from senior setter Eunice Shim and an ace from junior libero Chloe Tran.
“The difference between the first and second sets is the setters came around,” Nervik said. “They started giving [the hitters] some good looks. In the first game, we didn’t get many good looks. So, we made the defense look good because everything was coming from almost the back row.”
Whitney would not take its first lead of the third set until senior outside hitter Karen Kaur had back to back aces, the second right at the back line, to make it an 18-17 affair. Chou’s eighth kill put Whitney a point away from taking the set before a kill from Lauren Hester, a double hit violation and an ace from Hester down the right sideline ended that burst of momentum by the hosts.
The Lady Wildcats then staved off early elimination, rallying from a 13-10 hole, then a 22-21 deficit when Kaur had two more aces and Lee had a block at the end of the fourth set.
A kill from Lee, her eighth, would put Whitney up 3-2 in the fifth set. But Michele Maniti served three aces to put the Patriots up 6-3. With the score 9-6 heading into the second rotation, Annie Kim reeled off five straight points. A serve into the net, a block by Genera, four straight aces from Oh and a kill from Chou made it interesting. But Hester slammed down her match-high 16th kill to end Whitney’s furious rally.
“Volleyball is a fickle sport,” Nervik said. “If the last game had been [played to] 25, I can’t tell you who is going to win. We just lost a little spurt in the middle of the last game. Obviously we had all of the momentum at the end.
“If we can just be a little stronger in the offense…we just don’t have enough to put it away,” Nervik later added. “They’re doing a good job, but if we can bring it up by two percent, two percent would have won this match.”
Chou led the Lady Wildcats with 13 kills while Oh added nine kills and Genera another five more. Oh also had six aces while Genera added three blocks as Whitney hosts Calvary Chapel Downey this evening and Brethren Christian on Tuesday with a chance to get back to the middle of the pack.
“We still have to take care of business on Friday and next Tuesday,” Nervik said. “The best case scenario for us is we take both of those matches and then we end up with a three-way tie for fourth place. No matter which one of our teams ends up getting into that fourth place spot, the first round [of the playoffs] is going to be murder on us.”
In other key girls volleyball action, Gahr High remained the only undefeated team from the San Gabriel Valley League after sweeping Lynwood High this past Tuesday. The Lady Gladiators (14-6 overall, 6-0) hosted fourth place Warren High on Oct. 13 and will visit third place Paramount High on Tuesday. The league title could be on the line when Gahr hosts second place Downey high on Thursday.
Valley Christian High could also move closer to a league championship as it returned from a nine-day absence with a home match against Village Christian High on Oct. 13. Valley Christian was 13-10 overall and 4-0 in the Olympic League while Village Christian and Maranatha High were sitting at 3-2 in the league.
Should Valley Christian knock off Village Christian, it can win the league title by defeating Whittier Christian High on Tuesday and/or Maranatha at home on Thursday. Valley Christian last won a league crown in 2001.
Artesia High, coming off a 66-15 loss to La Mirada High, will entertain Mayfair High tonight with a chance to improve on its 5-2 overall record and 2-1 in the Suburban League. The last time the Pioneers won at least six games overall and at least three league games in the same season was 2013. Artesia has not defeated the Monsoons in over 18 seasons.
Cerritos High will visit Norwalk High in a battle of teams hoping to end two-game slides. Cerritos (2-3, 0-2) was crushed by Mayfair 48-13 back on Sept. 30 while the Lancers were edged by Mayfair 26-25 last Friday. Norwalk enters the game at 4-3 overall, 1-2 in the circuit and among others receiving votes for the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Division 9 top 10 poll.
Valley Christian High, which had its bye last Friday, will begin Olympic League action tonight at Village Christian. Valley Christian (4-2 overall) is the second ranked team in Division 9 and has won three straight games by scoring at least 42 points in the process.
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