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By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter
If the Norwalk High girls volleyball team was looking for a good tune-up heading into its biggest match of the season with Suburban League-leading Mayfair High, then it picked a bad time to have one of its worst performances of the season. Yes, the Lady Lancers swept city rival and last place John Glenn High this past Tuesday, but it was definitely a struggle.
Norwalk escaped with a 25-21, 25-12, 25-19 win to post its fifth straight sweep, all in league action, and improved to 14-8 overall, 8-1 in league. All eight league wins have been sweeps.
“What I noticed is not a good thing,” said Norwalk first-year head coach Hector Guevera. “Whenever we play teams that we feel…are not going to put up a fight, we kind of stoop down to their level and forget that every single match, every single team we have to go all out and execute the plays that we’ve been practicing during practice.”
Now sitting at 2-18 overall and winless in eight league matches, the Lady Eagles are primed to have their worst season in recent memory. Glenn won two matches in 2012 and lost 20 matches the next season. But in the first set, the Lady Eagles came out like a team that’s in contention for a postseason berth. The hosts were leading by either one or two points throughout the first half of the set until a kill from Norwalk senior outside hitter Ashley Whittall tied the score at 15-15. She then served two points, the second coming on an ace, and the Lady Lancers never looked back.
Whittall, the team’s leading hitter, had four kills in the set while senior outside hitter Valerie Ortega was pacing the team with half a dozen kills. Norwalk’s biggest lead was five points, but that didn’t come until it was 22-17.
“I saw them actually perform as a team,” Guevera said of Glenn. “They wanted it and we weren’t performing and they saw that. They said we’re going to take advantage of this no matter what, and they did. Even though we did come out on top, I think they were the team that was actually playing volleyball on the court.”
Glenn recorded 10 kills in the set from five different players and the performance the team showed was stark contrast from the showing it had the previous week against Cerritos High. Against the Lady Dons, Glenn scored four points in the first and third sets, marking the fifth and sixth times it has scored less than 10 points in a league set.
“I think we just came ready to play,” said John Glenn first-year head coach Tan Nguyen. All of the credit goes to the girls. They came out, they showed up and they came ready to play. There were some minor tweaks that we did as far as the lineup and what not. But for the most part, we knew what Norwalk was all about. We knew how to play against them. We just need a couple of more things to work on.”
The second set was more to Norwalk’s liking as Ortega served five straight points early on as the Lady Lancers forged out to an 8-1 lead. After the first rotation, Norwalk was up 13-8 but Ortega’s eighth kill gave the serve to junior setter Danielle Gomez, who immediately reeled off six straight points to put the set away.
But Glenn wasn’t ready to go away just yet in the third set, leading 12-9 after three straight aces from junior outside hitter Gloria De La Cruz. However, Ortega came up big again with a kill that allowed senior libero Paola Nava to string together five consecutive points. Later on, Glenn sophomore outside hitter Paola Ramirez put down her team-leading ninth kill to pull the Lady Eagles within one point. A serving error would then lead to Norwalk senior setter Annissa Uncapher serving the final five points of the set.
“I think, and they were thinking, that yes, they were doing that,” Guevera said of his team looking ahead to Mayfair. “But in my thinking, I would say no because if we’re going up against a team that we know we can win, then why perform like this? Why show Mayfair, ‘oh look, we won by five points or they won by five points’.”
Whittall, who was sluggish in the early going, ended with a match-high 17 kills, including the final three of the match, while Ortega and Uncapher added 12 and seven kills respectively. Four other players combined for eight kills.
Now, the league title will be on the line when the Lady Lancers host Mayfair on Tuesday, the final regular season home match. Guevera said in order to knock off the Monsoons, his team needs to focus on blocking, serving and the mental aspect. Mayfair knocked off Norwalk 25-16, 25-10, 23-25, 23-25, 15-8 on Sept. 22. The Monsoons are the top ranked team in the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Division 5 poll. Norwalk will then visit Artesia High on Thursday.
“We’re going to practice hard,” Guevera said. “We’re going to fix every little mistake that we showed here against Glenn and not let that happen. Things that we’re going to focus on are our blocking. We have a couple of people who were out of the country for a little bit who are new. We moved them up from j.v. and we want them to be comfortable and confident going into that game to go up and put up those blocks.”
As for the Lady Eagles, De La Cruz added five kills while senior libero Leslie Barajas and senior setter Christina Dominguez each added three kills. Glenn visited Mayfair on Oct. 13 and will host Artesia on Tuesday for its final home match of the season before travelling to Bellflower High on Thursday. Nguyen says that even though the team has been losing, it just keeps playing for the future. The Lady Eagles have six seniors on a team of 15 players.
“We have a couple of young players on our team that we’re excited about,” Nguyen said. “Next year is going to be a turning point for us, in my mind, because we’re going to be returning a lot of girls.”
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