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CIF-SOUTHERN SECTION DIVISION 4 GIRLS VOLLEYBALL PLAYOFFS Valley Christian plays no tricks but gets a treat, sweeps Gahr in first round

By Loren Kopff

@LorenKopff on Twitter

When the Valley Christian High girls volleyball team met Gahr High before the regular season began, it was a time for both teams to get acclimated with their respective squads to see what they have for the upcoming season. It would only be fitting that the two schools, located a half mile from each other, would be reacquainted in the first round of the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Division 4 playoffs this past Tuesday night.

This time, it was for real and the host Lady Crusaders had little problems in sweeping the Lady Gladiators 25-11, 25-18, 25-15. V.C., which visited third seeded Santa Monica High on Nov. 2, improved to 21-7 overall while Gahr concludes the season at 8-13. In fact, from what V.C. head coach Jeff Ornee remembered back in August, he was worried about Gahr’s athleticism.

“We knew Gahr was a pretty good offensive team, so our game plan going in was to try to serve them off the court,” Ornee said. “If they couldn’t get a good pass, they weren’t going to be able to run their good offense. So, I really think we accomplished that in the first game.

“We kind of just saw each other for a little bit of what we had starting, and it’s nice to meet them at the end of the season to see how far they’ve come,” he later added. “They’ve come a long way as a team and I think we have as well.”

It was serving that would propel V.C. to the easy win in the first set as junior opposite hitter Candice Palmer served six straight points to make it a 10-2 contest. Later in the set, senior setter Megan Lim served four straight points with an ace at the back line after three straight kills from junior outside hitter Aubrey Schwieger to make it 19-5. Gahr head coach Iris Najera must have known it was going to be a long night as she called her second and last timeout of the set when it was 10-2.

“The second timeout was to refocus on our fundamentals and game plan,” Najera said. “At that early in the game, I believed we could regain momentum and control of the game if we executed the small plays and kept our errors to a minimum.”

The Lady Gladiators would gain some momentum in the second set rallying from a 4-0 deficit to take a 12-9 lead after an ace from sophomore middle blocker Mariah Iosua. Gahr was still up by two points before V.C. senior libero Hannah Buckley had her first kill, then served four consecutive points to put her team in front to stay. Later in the set and up 20-17, the Lady Crusaders made sure Gahr wouldn’t have a late surge as Lim served two straight points to make it a six-point lead.

In the third set, the Lady Gladiators would gain another three-point lead, their largest of the match, at 9-6. But V.C. senior outside hitter Madison Holmes, who led everyone with 19 kills, had one of them, giving the serving chores to Lim. From there, Lim had three straight aces and would serve five more points as the hosts rebuilt the momentum it had from the very beginning. Following a kill from senior opposite hitter Jackie Dixon, Schwieger put the set and match away with her 13th kill, plus three straight aces and four more points. V.C. would serve 15 aces as opposed to five from Gahr.

“That’s been our game plan all year long,” Ornee said. “We want to be the best serving team in our league. That’s been my motto all year, that’s been the girl’s motto. We don’t have the tallest team, we don’t have the most athletic team. But we’ve been working on our serve every day in practice and I think it showed out there tonight that we’re a really tough serving team.”

“We had control in set two and three, then Valley Christian dis an excellent job serving tough,” Najera said. “My team did their best to move quickly and adjust to fast paced serves, but it was difficult for our team to run our offense.”

V.C. would collect 13 kills in the third set, all by Holmes or Schwieger, and the two of them combined for all but 10 kills the team would get.

“They’ve carried the offensive load for us all year and I think every team coming in against us knows that and they still can’t really stop us,” Ornee said.

Gahr was led by junior middle blocker Olanna Olumba and Dixon (six kills each) and junior middle blocker Nneoma Izima and Iosua (five kills each). The rest of the team combined for five kills. The Lady Gladiators figure to be back stronger next season as Ayala, Dixon and setter Julianna Carvajal are the only seniors.

“Our three seniors will be missed, and they left their mark at Gahr,” Najera said. “Carissa with her consistency, Jackie with her versatility and Julie with her leadership. I am sad that the season is over so soon, but I am confident we learned so much from this season, and the seniors will apply their lessons to their next step and the underclassmen will be stronger because of the lessons from this season. We will be working this offseason.”

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