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NEWS AND NOTES FROM PRESS ROW: New attitude helping Gahr girls volleyball inch closer to San Gabriel Valley League title

By Loren Kopff

@LorenKopff on Twitter

 

The Gahr High girls volleyball program hasn’t seen a season like the one it’s having right now since 1998. In that season, with former longtime head coach Sonny Okamoto at the helm, the Lady Gladiators went 17-5, won all 10 San Gabriel Valley League matches and went to the semifinals of the CIF-Southern Section playoffs.

Since then, Gahr has advanced to the semifinals once, and has gone 9-1 in league action once, which came two seasons ago. But after the Lady Gladiators swept struggling Warren High 25-14, 25-19, 25-16 this past Tuesday, it looks as if the team can be better than that 1998 squad. Gahr, winners of seven straight matches, took an overall record of 17-6 into its road match with Paramount High on Oct. 4. A win there would clinch at least a share of the program’s third league title in 21 seasons. Last season, Gahr went 8-13 overall, but 7-3 in league play.

“I think in the offseason, our team got really serious and we met every day for conditioning,” said Gahr head coach Iris Najera. “We did a lot of team bonding and we set goals early in the preseason. The attitude from the girls is one of the best I’ve ever seen. They really care for each other, they enjoy each other’s company and I think because they have a mutual respect for one another, they’re playing really well.”

Gahr jumped out of the gates in the first set with junior setter Louisa Black serving the first four points. Minutes later, junior setter Afioga Tone reeled off six consecutive points, including four aces. Later in the set, senior libero Yaneli Guzman served three aces to bring Gahr’s total to 10 in the set. The Lady Gladiators would add five more aces in each of the next two sets, just one area of Gahr’s success against the Bears.

“I can give credit to my assistant coach, Gerryn Claxton, who has been helping the girls to practice their serving,” Najera said. “The girls have really stepped up in that component of their game.”

Another area that propelled Gahr’s win came from the play of junior middle blocker Mariah Uini, who was virtually silent in the first set, but turned in on in the second and third. Uini pounded down a match-high 14 kills with half of those coming in the third set. In addition, she served three straight aces in the third set to put Gahr in front for good at 9-7. With Gahr trailing 7-5, she had a kill before serving the aces. Junior outside hitter Hunter Thomas (nine kills) and senior middle blocker Nneoma Izima (seven kills) ended the rally with kills as Gahr never looked back.

“She is one of our all-around players, and I like that she brings the team together and she inspires others to play better,” Najera said of Uini.

Gahr will wrap up the regular season at home against Downey High on Tuesday. The Lady Gladiators knocked off the Vikings in four sets on Sept. 20.

In other girls volleyball action, three other area teams have punched their tickets to the playoffs with a fourth possibly claiming a berth. Cerritos High cliched at least a share of the first 605 League championship after sweeping Pioneer High 25-10, 25-13, 25-19 this past Tuesday. The Lady Dons, ranked seventh in the CIF Southern Section Division 5 poll, improved to 20-3 overall and 8-0 in league. They will host second place Whitney High today with a chance to win the league outright, then travel to Oxford Academy on Tuesday before hosting Paramount High on Thursday. Whitney, which will finish in second place in the 605 League, swept Oxford Academy this past Tuesday to improve to 13-6, 6-2. The Lady Wildcats, who won six matches last season, will host John Glenn High (5-15, 3-5) on Tuesday. This is Whitney’s best record since going 15-8 in 2001.

Norwalk High was swept by Mayfair High 25-18, 25-16, 25-19 this past Tuesday to drop to 5-8, 3-3 in the Suburban League and for all purposes, will battle Bellflower High second place. The Lady Lancers, who hosted last place La Mirada High on Oct. 4, will travel to Bellflower on Tuesday before hosting Mayfair on Thursday.

Valley Christian High got past Heritage Christian High 25-19, 25-14, 25-18 this past Tuesday evening to improve to 17-11, 3-3 in the Olympic League. The Lady Defenders, who hosted second place Whittier Christian High on Oct. 4, will wrap up the regular season with a home encounter against last place Maranatha High on Thursday. Most likely, the Lady Defenders will finish in third place in the league.

FOOTBALL

Western High (5-1) @ Artesia (4-2)-Artesia had its four-game winning streak snapped by Segerstrom High last Friday night in a 54-13 setback. It marked the first time Artesia has been held to under 20 points this season while the 54 points are a season-high allowed. The ‘other’ Pioneers come in hot, winning four in a row and having scored over 40 points four times. Two of those came against teams Artesia will see in 605 League competition-Cerritos, a 69-33 win on Aug. 17, and Glenn, a 42-28 conquest on Sept. 14.

Western, the top-ranked team in Division 11, thrives on the passing game as Anthony Munoz has passed for over 2,100 yards and 29 touchdowns opposite just four interceptions. He is completing nearly 71 percent of his passes. In addition, Western is effective on the ground with just over 800 yards and another 10 touchdowns. Artesia senior quarterback Heder Gladden has already rushed for over 1,000 yards for Artesia and has found the end zone 17 times. Senior running back Travys Davis and senior wide receiver Marcel Bowman are also key offensive threats.

Cerritos (3-3) @ Ocean View High (6-0)-The Dons should be well-rested after having their bye last week. But what is greeting them is a team that has scored no fewer than 35 points in any game and shutout Dana Hills High 38-0 on Sept. 21 and yielded one touchdown in each of its other five games. The Seahawks, ranked second in Division 11, love to run and is led by Dezmond Doxey (443 yards, four touchdowns) and Noah Hickman (423 yards, 11 touchdowns).

Cerritos will look to either junior quarterbacks Stacy King or Nick Lightell, both of whom have combined to throw for over 1,400 yards and 19 touchdowns. Senior running back Tye Anderson is still the main force on the ground with 643 yards, 11 touchdowns.

Lynwood High (0-4-1, 0-1 in the San Gabriel Valley League) @ Gahr (2-4, 1-0)-Records were shattered last Friday night when Gahr began SGVL action against Dominguez High. The Gladiators roughed up the Dons 72-40 to not only stop a four-game losing streak but score the most points since blasting Cerritos 63-8 on Sept. 9, 2016. Also, in that season, the Gladiators blanked Dominguez 48-0 and has won three straight over the Dons. It’s the third league game in which Gahr has scored over 50 points, having done it at Lynwood on Nov. 4, 2011 (57-32) and at Warren High on Nov. 2, 2012 (54-21). In addition, it’s also the fifth time since 1998 Gahr has eclipsed the 60-point mark in a game. Lynwood has scored 42 points, but 28 came in a tie against Los Angeles Jordan High. The Knights have allowed 200 points, which means the Gladiators should feast on their defense as Gahr has scored 218 points.

Valley Christian (2-5, 0-1 in the Olympic League) @ Maranatha High (3-3, 0-0)-The Defenders found it tough going against league favorite Heritage Christian High last Friday night in a 25-10 loss. V.C. has allowed at least 19 points this season. On offense, the Defenders have been limited to five touchdowns and five field goals in their five losses. The Minutemen are coming off their bye but have been an up and down team thus far and have shutout a pair of opponents while losing twice by a combined 12 points and getting blown out in the other. Enrique Garza has thrown for 1,151 yards and 17 touchdowns with one interception while the Defenders have been paced all season long by senior quarterback Hayden Ericks and senior running back Curtis Walhof.

 

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