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2019 GIRLS VOLLEYBALL PREVIEWS: Cerritos still the team to beat in 605 League while four new coaches invade area

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

Last season, the inaugural 605 League was a welcome site for the Cerritos High girls volleyball team, which had been in the shadow of Mayfair High for the better part of two decades. The Lady Dons won all 10 league matches without losing a set and figure to be the favorites to win the league again. Artesia High, Gahr High, John Glenn High and Whitney High usher in new head coaches with half of those teams looking to turn around dismal campaigns. 

ARTESIA LADY PIONEERS

0-24 overall last season, 0-10 in the 605 League, sixth place

17-90 overall last five seasons

Head coach: Tommy Dube (first season)

Last time made the playoffs: 2010

Division 7

Key losses: Elizabeth Bryson, Yulissa Sosa

Key returning players: Senior libero/defensive specialist Arely De Avila, junior middle blocker Sei Oriana Monis, junior outside hitter Tiffany Ramos

Tommy Dube, who previously coached boys volleyball at Lakewood High and worked at St. Pius-St. Matthias Academy with the girls program, was hired a few months ago to take over a struggling Artesia varsity team that has now seen seven head coaches since 1998. The Lady Pioneers, who had their first winless campaign since 2011 and fifth since 1998, has had just one double-digit win season in over two decades (10-14 in 2010).

“The biggest challenge is just getting the ladies to think about the next play and really focusing on it’s over and where is that one percent we could get better every single day at practice,” Dube said. “So, we’re really working hard with them. Also, we have a new team, so there’s new players that we brought in. I’m not familiar with who played last year to some extent and bringing the players into the fold.”

In the short amount of time that Dube has been with the team, he has been impressed with a pair of returning players-senior libero Arely De Avila, whom he says is extremely positive and is the team firecracker, and junior outside hitter Tiffany Ramos. Dube has also been impressed with senior middle blocker Jeanette Panuco, junior outside hitter Danae Green and junior right side hitter Yunehe Rodriguez.

Artesia returns a total of nine players with four others called up from the junior varsity team and one freshman-opposite hitter/middle blocker Simone Johnson. Dube is hoping that the experience from the returners will help the team to better results. After losing the first two matches of the season, the Lady Pioneers finally got into the win column by sweeping Rancho Dominguez Prep on Aug. 21.

“I think the energy on the court is awesome,” Dube said. “I think out of all the schools I’ve worked at, this is one of those schools that has school spirit. The girls are on fire; they’re ready to work together. Now, it’s just putting their skill sets together so they can show the results of that effort.”

CERRITOS LADY DONS

24-4 overall last season, 10-0 in the 605 League, league champions, lost to St. Anthony High in four sets in the Division 5 second round playoffs

82-42 overall last five seasons

Head coach: David Cuthbert (seventh season, 94-53)

Last time missed the playoffs: 2002

Division 4

Key losses: Tiana Agabon, Samantha Oh, Sidney Pasion

Key returning players: Senior setter Emily Pasion, senior outside hitter/middle blocker Nicole Blue, senior outside hitter Alyssa Sarigumba, junior outside hitter/middle blocker Karina Gatewood, junior defensive specialist Maile Tabon

Cerritos had one of the program’s best seasons ever, coming one win short of tying the mark set in 2009 when the Lady Dons went 12-0 in the Suburban League and advanced to the CIF-Southern Section Division III-A finals. It marked the third 20-win season since 2009 and was also the fourth straight season of less than 10 losses. So, what does head coach David Cuthbert do for an encore? For starters, Cerritos returns nine players from last season’s team and if Cerritos didn’t add another player, those nine would be good enough for a deeper run in the CIF-Southern Section playoffs.

“Historically, I don’t know as records are not great,” Cuthbert said of last season. “It was the fewest losses in a season but there have been more successful seasons in terms of playoffs. The 2016 team went further in the CIF playoffs. I look at last year as a remarkably successful team based on the journey the players individually and collectively took, though I think there was disappointment amongst players and coaches alike going out in the second round.”

The Lady Dons graduated four players with the biggest loss being outside hitter Samantha Oh, whom Cuthbert said was ‘a present for a renaissance in the program that led to a league title’. He added that she certainly set the tone skill wise for the group over the last couple of years and will be missed. This season, Cuthbert says all his returning players are better and is expecting a breakout year from senior middle blocker Chi Agaranna. Senior outside hitter Nicole Blue and junior outside hitter Karina Gatewood figure to provide most of the offense while senior setter and right side hitter Emily Pasion is one to not overlook.as she was ready to go as a freshman and has not stopped since.

Cerritos brings in four varsity rookies with junior middle blocker and right side hitter Madison Agabon and sophomore middle blocker Halyne Buycks competing for a starting spot. Sophomore Leanna Tolentino is a transfer and will not be available until middle of the season. When she becomes eligible, Cuthbert says she will see some time at just about any position except middle blocker.

Cerritos swept 16 of 17 non-tournament opponents and went the distance twice, both times coming within the first four matches of the season. Could this team break the school record for most wins, or fewest losses in school history? Time will tell.

“I think the biggest thing is we have to be playing our best at the end of the year,” Cuthbert said. “Last year, some of our best volleyball came in the middle of the season. We have to make sure that we peak at the right time. The coaches have made a couple of alterations to help that happen.”

GAHR LADY GLADIATORS

18-8 overall last season, 9-1 in the San Gabriel Valley League, co-league champions, lost to Bishop Montgomery High in three sets in the Division 4 first round playoffs

68-54 overall last five seasons

Head coach: Gerryn Moran (first season)

Last time missed the playoffs: 2008

Division 4

Key losses: Louisa Black (SR), Yanelli Guzman, Nneoma Izima, Olanna Olumba, Tepora Pili, Julia Stein

Key returning players: Senior setter/opposite hitter Meagan Moreno, senior outside hitter Hunter Thomas, senior setter Afioga Tone, senior middle blocker/outside hitter Mariah Uini

After seven successful seasons from former head coach Iris Najera, who was nine wins shy of 100, former Bishop Montgomery High coach Gerryn Moran takes over the Lady Gladiators, hoping to keep a longstanding tradition of success and good volleyball alive. Moran, who also coached club volleyball at PowerPlay and Long Beach Mizuno, played at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas as well as the University of California, Riverside. She says she did not know anything about the Gahr program prior to taking the job. 

The Lady Gladiators are coming off a banner season that saw them win the San Gabriel Valley League. Only a five-set loss to Downey High prevented Gahr from a perfect league mark. Then the team fell to Moran’s former school in the first round of the CIF-Southern Section Division 4 playoffs. Gahr has gotten out of the first round only twice since 2005 and since 1998, has had three seasons of less than 10 wins.

Last season, the Lady Gladiators had a mixture of seniors and juniors and this season, Gahr will field a team of 11 players, six of them returning. 

“I am excited about the potential I believe we have because of our undoubted talent from outside hitters Hunter Thomas and Mariah Uini,” Moran said. “As co-captains, along with Meagan Moreno, we are fortunate enough to have leaders with fight and determination. Both girls played club volleyball in the offseason to make sure they were well-prepared for this high school season, making them each a threat on the court at all times. As their coach for their senior year, I am truly honored to be responsible for making a lasting impression when they look back on this experience.”

Moran added that this team is full of surprises and have shown that it can come back after being down in a match. She says that this Gahr team has some of the best cohesion she has seen in a long time.

Of the newcomers to varsity, sophomore middle blockers Kiara Davis and Monserrat Rodriguez are two to keep an eye on. They played on the junior varsity team last season and their strength on the court and behind the ball contributes to a team of hitters and they provide a strong block, giving the Lady Gladiators many options in the front court, according to Moran. 

The SGVL has been a talented league for several decades with Downey and Warren High as Gahr’s toughest competition and Paramount High adding some occasional troubles. If the returning players can exceed the success of last season, then Gahr should have no trouble winning a second straight league title.

“With hard, consistent work, I believe we will dominate our league this season and be a threat in CIF,” Moran said.

JOHN GLENN LADY EAGLES

6-16 overall last season, 4-6 in the 605 League, fourth place

32-82 overall last five seasons

Head coach: Daniel Reyes (first season)

Last time made the playoffs: 2009

Division 6

Key losses: Denise Cardenas, Mariah Chavez, Kate Ramirez, Paola Ramirez, Berenice Santana

Key returning players: Senior libero Carla Bautista, senior outside hitter Daisy Moncada, senior middle blocker Ashley Sanchez, senior setter Perla Santana, junior opposite/outside hitter Karina Flores, junior setter Monica Reyes

Daniel Reyes becomes Glenn’s sixth head coach since 2013, hoping to turn around a struggling program that has not had a winning record since 2009 and only four since 1998. It may be another tough season for the Lady Eagles did not participate throughout the summer following the departure as last season’s head coach, Mariel Turner. 

“While other programs have been practicing all year long, we were beginning our practices in July,” Reyes said. “One challenge has been breaking bad habits the players have developed throughout the years. Another is working with girls who do not come from a volleyball background, some never even touching a volleyball before coming into high school. I want them to go into every match with a winning mentality and believe that they belong on the court with anyone.”

Glenn returns half a dozen players with junior opposite and outside hitter Karina Flores making the most improvement. Flores was the team’s libero last season and Reyes believes the move to a new position allows her to become an attacker, which will help give the Lady Eagles a strong option on the right side. Sisters Daisy Moncada, a senior, and freshman Kaylani Moncada, are outside hitters and new to the team. According to Reyes, their volleyball experience growing up will allow them to make big contributions to the team.

If the Lady Eagles are to be better than the previous seasons, Reyes believes it will come from the bond the team has put together so far. He added that if the team plays to its ability, he can see it competing towards the top of the 605 League and fighting for a playoff spot.

“Each day that goes by, they become closer and are building strong chemistry,” he said. “They have bought into what we are trying to do with the program and are playing for one another.”

VALLEY CHRISTIAN LADY DEFENDERS

19-13 overall last season, 4-4 in the Olympic League, third place, lost to Xavier Prep in the Division 4 first round playoffs

92-50 overall last five seasons

Head coach: Jeff Ornee (third season, 40-21)

Last time missed the playoffs: 2009

Division 4

Key losses: Hailey Gonzales, Camdyn Hemmersbach, Aubrey Schwieger

Key returning players: Senior opposite hitter Megan Bouma, senior libero Mia DeKraker, senior opposite hitter Candice Palmer, senior middle blocker Olivia Vande Vegte, senior middle blocker Kate Van Kampen, junior outside hitter Rachel Gonzales, junior setter Rachel Lim

If there was a time for Valley Christian High to move into the 20-win season club for the fifth time since 2012, it might be this season. Head coach Jeff Ornee already as more wins in his first two seasons than any other V.C. head coach that has lasted at least three seasons since 2000. The Lady Defenders return eight players with another two who were brought up for the playoffs. 

“I thought we had a decent regular season,” Ornee said. “Our league schedule challenged us, and we definitely had some ups and downs during those matches. I felt like we were as prepared as we could be for CIF. We had a tough play in the game vs. Saddleback Valley Christian where our team showed a lot of grit and toughness in a five-set win. We then traveled out to Xavier Prep and battled our hardest in a four-set loss.”

The Lady Defenders will get a welcome return from senior opposite hitter Candice Palmer, who missed most of last season due to a knee injury. Ornee thinks V.C. has a very talented team and enough to make a deeper run in the playoffs. V.C. has not reached the quarterfinals since 2007, which ended a streak of seven straight seasons of getting that far.

Ornee pointed out three players who have made the most improvement during the offseason, He says junior setter Rachel Lim has shown great progress in her ability to run an offense and had great coaching with her club team, Apex1. He added that junior outside hitter Rachel Gonzales looks even more dynamic and aggressive and will be a big piece of what the team does moving forward. Finally, junior outside hitter Ashlyn Couch has become a great, consistent passer and is a good threat from the outside, according to Ornee.

The Lady Defenders have only two new players with junior middle blocker Dakota Quinlan, a transfer from Bishop Montgomery, and freshman libero/defensive specialist Francie Leffler. Ornee says Quinlan adds size and quickness to a position that the team needs.

The Olympic League has always been one of the most competitive leagues in the Southern Section and Ornee expects his team competing for a league title, something the program has captures once since 2001.

“We have the talent,” he says. “It will just be about becoming a more consistent team and not battling through extreme ups and downs.”

WHITNEY LADY WILDCATS

14-8 overall last season, 7-3 in the 605 League, second place, lost to Heritage in the Division 6 first round playoffs

33-70 overall last five seasons

Head coach: Alonso Ledezma (first season)

Last time missed the playoffs: 2016

Division 7

Key losses: Taylor Genera, Jodie Morada, Victoria Tran, 

Key returning players: Senior outside hitter Skye Garcia, senior middle blocker Ola Ogan, junior setter Nika Fedorova, junior libero Reese Guitche, junior middle blocker Chizaram Izima

For the first time since 2007, Whitney will see a new face on the bench as Alonso Ledezma, who previously coached at Tarbut V’ Torah Community Day for two seasons, replaces Ole Nervik as the school’s new head coach. Ledezma took the job in February and admits replacing someone like Nervik, who won 73 matches and had his season last season, will be hard to do and considers it a challenge.

“A challenge because I am new to the school where I did not know anything about the girls or the girls itself when I first applied,” Ledezma said. “Within the last few months, I have been doing my best to get acclimated with all the girls in the program, the athletic director, the assistant principal and the principal as well. However, I have always been up for challenges and I look forward to having a great first season here at Whitney High School.”

The Lady Wildcats lost a great hitter in Taylor Genera, but have enough firepower amongst their six returning players. Ledezma says he has been impressed with all of them because it is a team effort and all the girls have worked hard in every practice since he took over. Senior outside hitter Skye Garcia, who is going to be a huge threat this season and has established herself as a leader on and off the court, and junior setter/opposite hitter Nika Fedorova have stepped up their game from last season.

“I am impressed with Nika because she has stepped up to the challenge of being the primary setter and is more used to being a hitter,” Ledezma said. “So far, she has done a great job in taking the quarterback position as I like to call it.”

Whitney has half a dozen newcomers to varsity and Ledezma believes all of them can make an impact on the team. He says sophomore Ysabelle Andrion has done a nice job of stepping in as the team’s libero or one of the defensive specialists and is always ready to go when her name is called upon. Look for sophomore Isabela Esteban to step up as a backup setter.

Ledezma is a defensive-minded coach and loves the fact that his teams get to pick up balls that other teams may think are kills. He says all the Lady Wildcats need is some positive feedback and play with more intensity, which he thinks they have already done.

Whitney has not advanced to the playoffs three straight seasons since doing so in the late 1990s into the early 2000s. If it can duplicate, or exceed last season’s output and league finish, then the Lady Wildcats will head back to the postseason.

“The expectation is to be better than we have been in previous years,” Ledezma said. “The main goal and priority is to win league this year and it will be a tough task because Cerritos took the title last year with ease as they ran through everyone. However, I think the team can step up this season and give Cerritos a challenge and earn what this team wants.”

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