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CIF-SOUTHERN SECTION DIVISION 4 GIRLS VOLLEYBALL PLAYOFFS : Valley Christian uses momentum, regular season game experience to sweep Gahr in first round

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

Separated by a quarter of a mile on Artesia Blvd. but situated in different leagues lies Gahr High and Valley Christian High and despite the proximity of the two schools, their girls volleyball teams don’t face each often. In fact, they haven’t met in the regular season since 2011 and only twice since then in the CIF-Southern Section divisional playoffs until last Thursday evening.

That’s when the visiting Lady Defenders rode three key momentum waves during the match and swept the Lady Gladiators 25-16, 25-22, 25-20. V.C. came into the match as the second place representatives out of the Olympic League and were ranked sixth in Division 4 while unranked Gahr (18-6 overall) just capped off a season in which it won the San Gabriel Valley League and posted 13 sweeps, including tournament matches. The Lady Defenders, on the other hand, had gone 3-1 in five-set matches since Sept. 25 and had played in four other four-set matches, giving the theory that maybe they were more experienced than Gahr.

“Yeah, I think we’re the most experienced team,” said V.C. head coach Jeff Ornee. “Obviously, the matches we played matter and the five-set matches we played matter. They crushed their league as far as I know. So, it was important for us, knowing how challenged our league was, knowing we had so many [five-set matches] with those teams, to come out and battle.”

“I think a lot of it was pressure, high emotion, a lot of nerves were out there,” said Gahr first-year head coach Gerryn Moran. “We had two sophomores who were new to varsity on top of that and that have developed wonderfully over the season. But with two young girls and the rest of them seniors and all the emotion and high…they just made a few mistakes at the wrong time and took too long to bounce back.”

Both teams traded the first six points of the match before a serving error led to three straight points from the hosts. Gahr would extend its lead to 11-5 before V.C. went to work. A serve into the net allowed senior libero Mia DeKraker to reel off four straight points. Moments later, senior opposite hitter Megan Bouma served three straight points to give her team a 14-12 lead. V.C. would have scoring streaks of three, two, three and two again the remainder of the way.

The second set would be tight again through the first rotation as there were eight ties, three lead changes and no lead greater than two points. The second rotation began the same with three ties and two more lead changes.

But with Gahr up 22-19, Ornee called a timeout and whatever he said seemed to work. Junior middle blocker Dakota Quinlan, who has been on fire since she became eligible to play midseason, had a kill before junior outside hitter Ashlyn Couch ended the set with five straight points.

“We kind of really focused in on their go-to hitters,” Ornee said of the timeout. “They have two really great outside hitters that I felt like my blockers were getting a little bit lost when it came to tracking where they were running. Because it wasn’t just a simple offense. They were running their hitters all over the place and it was kind of overwhelming my blockers trying to stay in front of them.”

“I think they got a little relaxed,” Moran said. “I hate to say that because they’re a great team and they’re always, 100 percent, in there. I think once you create that lead, it’s easy to take a deep breath and say, ‘alright, we got this’. And it’s hard to remember that you’re playing a team like that, that’s as good as that that has all the capabilities and athleticism.”

The Lady Defenders would use that burst of energy from the end of the second set to come out with a vengeance in the third set, racing to a 7-0 lead thanks to five combined kills from Couch and Quinlan. Gahr would never put together more than three straight points, that coming on three straight kills from senior outside hitter Mariah Uini, making the score 18-15.

“That third set, the way we started was important,” Ornee said. “We’ve played in a lot of fifth sets recently, and I kind of told the team we don’t want go that way, right? We took care of business in the first two sets, so it was important to start that third set strong.”

But in the end, it was too much Quinlan, the University of Nevada, Las Vegas commit, who led everyone with 19 kills. Couch would add a dozen kills while junior outside hitter Rachel Gonzales pitched in with eight kills. 

“She was incredible, and I noticed Gahr was spending a lot of [its] attention, especially blocking-wise, on her, sometimes getting two or even three blockers up in her face, and she always made the right play,” Ornee said of Quinlan. “She never just closed her eyes and swung into a block like that. She found the tips; she found the shots that were open. She’s a very intelligent volleyball player and I think she kind of sees the game at a slower pace.”

“I haven’t seen her play, but in my book, if that’s not her best game, I don’t know what is,” Moran said. “Again, she’s in the middle and my best players are on the outside. So, she’s up against a sophomore and they helped out when they could.”

Senior outside hitter Hunter Bailey Thomas led Gahr with 13 kills and a block while Uini added a dozen kills. For the Lady Gladiators, this was the best season the program has had since going 17-5 in 1998. While Gahr has won two straight league titles and three in the last four seasons, it had not gone 10-0 in league since 1998. Gahr will be losing six seniors and return five for Moran, who got everything she wanted for her first season outside of further advancement in the playoffs.

“I was able to develop two sophomores on the court, both are in the middle that are coming back next year and they’re going to be even stronger,” Moran said. “Both of them are going to be playing club and I’m excited for that. I was able to give these six seniors an undefeated league season, which is very difficult for us to do.”

V.C., which swept Westridge High last Saturday, hosted third ranked St. Anthony High this past Wednesday and upset the third ranked Saints 25-13, 20-25, 25-16. 20-25, 15-7 to improve to 23-8 overall. The Lady Defenders will host 10thranked Saddleback Valley Christian High in Saturday night’s semifinals.

“This is about as good as it gets for an away game,” Ornee said of the Gahr match. “The crowd behind you was incredible; we had so many fans come out and support us. I love this little rivalry we’ve got going across the street. It’s great fun to be a part of, and it doesn’t matter when we play them. We’re going to play them eventually because they’re a good team and we’re going to meet them sometime down the road.”

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