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2022 GIRLS VOLLEYBALL PREVIEW – Norwalk hopes to gain momentum in new league while Cerritos aims for fourth straight title

 

August 25, 2022

By Loren Kopff• @LorenKopff on Twitter

Outside of the 2020 season in which there was no girls volleyball, no one has been able to figure out Cerritos High in the 605 League. Could this be the season that there is a new league champion? La Mirada High and Norwalk High are banking on better days in its new lower league of the Suburban Valley Conference while Valley Christian High continues to stay strong in the tough Olympic League.

ARTESIA PIONEERS

9-11 overall last season, 5-5 in the 605 League, tied for third place, lost to La Mirada High in three sets in the Division 7 wild card playoffs

23-88 overall last five seasons

Head coach: Tommy Dube (third actual season, 16-30)

Last time missed the playoffs: 2019

Division 7

Years of frustration came to an end last season when the Pioneers advanced to the CIF-Southern Section playoffs for the first time since 2010 and finished above fourth place in league play for the first time in over 25 seasons. In two full seasons, head coach Tommy Dube has nearly as many wins as the program had from 2014-2017.

“The team worked very hard to get into the playoffs,” said Dube. “It was a challenge coming out of COVID, but the girls did a fantastic job staying focused on making the playoffs.”

Last season, Artesia High was loaded with all varsity rookies and the team returns only two players-senior Andrea Arzate and sophomore Rylee Asumbrado. The other nine players are a combination of players called up from the junior varsity team and varsity rookies. Dube says the team is working on its chemistry and the void of a seasoned setter, vacated by the graduated Kira Magdaleno.

Of the newcomers to the program, junior transfer outside hitter Shynia West, freshman outside hitter D.J. Gore and junior middle blocker Jocelyn Villarreal are going to bring some confidence with them in terms of offense, according to Dube. As far as staying in the upper half of the 605 League and returning to the playoffs, Dube says, “we are striving for the playoffs again this season. The team’s chemistry and drive to win will be the key to our success being so new.”

CERRITOS DONS

24-5 overall last season, 10-0 in the 605 League, first place, lost to Walnut High in four sets in the Division 4 first round playoffs

105-31 overall last five seasons

Head coach: David Cuthbert (ninth actual season, 143-64)

Last time missed the playoffs: 2002

Division 5

When Cerritos was in the Suburban League until 2017, its biggest rival was Mayfair High and at one point, the Monsoons won 113 straight league matches. In three seasons of 605 League girls volleyball action, the Dons have won all 30 league matches, 28 coming by way of a sweep. During that three-season stretch, head coach David Cuthbert has won 73 matches opposite 15 losses and is possibly the school’s all-time winningest girls volleyball coach. But, for the third time in his eight seasons at the school, his team failed to get to the second round.

“Losing any game is disappointing, but it did sting,” said Cuthbert. We played against a strong team but still felt we left something on the table from last year.”

Even though Cerritos had a stellar season in the wins column, the team was without the services of middle blocker Halyne Buycks, who was injured early in the campaign and never suited up again. Cuthbert said she would have made an impact but losing her afforded some time to younger players which will hopefully help going forward. Buycks graduated, along with seven others and as this season is upon us, senior outside hitter Jordynn Hollins is recovering from a torn left ACL from last spring and is not expected to play. Still, the Dons have enough firepower in senior middle blocker Somto Eze, junior middle blocker and outside hitter Isabella Dantzler and junior outside hitter Leila Tolentino, all returners.

“You can expect to see a lot more from Somto Eze and [senior] Isa Cilloniz in the middle,” said Cuthbert. “Leila Tolentino has also made great strides and will have a bigger role this season.”

Cerritos will have eight varsity newcomers with junior defensive specialist Jasmine Kastner, who brings a lot of ball control into her position, according to Cuthbert, and junior outside hitter Nicole Sales, who brings some athleticism to the outside position, as the top ones to keep an eye on. Cerritos will field eight seniors, including Hollins, six juniors and one sophomore this season.

But the big question will be if the Dons can make it four straight undefeated seasons. Cuthbert believes the league will be tough in 2022 and expects some competitive matches. As always, the goal is to win league no matter how many wins it takes to accomplish the feat.

GAHR GLADIATORS

11-14 overall last season, 5-5 in the San Gabriel Valley League, tied for third place, lost to Oaks Christian High in three sets in the Division 4 second round playoffs

72-48 overall last five seasons

Head coach: Charity Dennis (second season, 11-14)

Last time missed the playoffs: 2008

Division 5

Even though Gahr High finished with 11 victories, the third straight season of double digit victories, and advanced to the playoffs for the 12thstraight season, the only thing Charity Dennis wanted in her first season as head coach was to go farther in the postseason. The Gladiators have not reached the quarterfinals since 2002 and have played a second round match twice since then. Now, the Gladiators are hoping for better results.

“There were some breakdowns in team chemistry that we needed to work through that didn’t push us as far as we should have gone,” said Dennis. “But I think we could have gotten further.”

Last season, Gahr had seven seniors on a team of 12 and this season, it’s nearly the same as the team is made up of five seniors, four juniors and three sophomores. However, there are just three returning players-senior opposite hitter Simone Johnson, senior defensive specialist/libero Analyn Baculod and junior setter Cassie Zoellers. Dennis says that Baculod is a great athlete who is a very caring individual on and off the court and brings a lot of leadership to the team while Johnson has that physicality that the second-year coach is looking forward to seeing over the next few months. In Zoellers, Dennis added that she is a great leader and understands the emotions on the court and is able to pull things out of players that not everyone can do.

“They had a huge impact on the team,” said Dennis of her seniors last season. “It was an interesting turnover to see them go, but we were able to have a lot more opportunities for our younger levels. We brought kids up from j.v. and they have had significant growths over the last couple of months.”

Of the nine newcomers to the high level Dennis projects junior outside hitter Leilani Choe and sophomore setter/libero Minerva Rodriguez as the one to look out for throughout the season. As for the season, Gahr’s path to the program’s fourth title in the past six seasons just got a bit tougher as Mayfair joins Downey High and Warren High as the teams to beat. With the merger of the San Gabriel Valley League and Suburban Leagues, who formed the new Suburban Valley Conference, it will be more of a battle for the top spot.

“I’m looking forward to it,” said Dennis. “I expect [my team] to give their full effort always. Of course, the goal is to win. But as long as they’re giving their full effort and they’re working hard, that’s the goal.

“There are no breaks in this schedule,” she continued. “It’s go, go, go…go, go. We were looking forward to the challenge and the opportunity to play such good teams.”

JOHN GLENN EAGLES

1-16 overall last season, 0-10 in the 605 League, sixth place

30-79 overall last five seasons

Head coach: Daniel Reyes (third actual season, 12-28)

Last time made the playoffs: 2009

Division 7

Very little went right for Glenn High as the program had its worst season since 2016 when that team posted a 2-22 season. Before that, only the 2010 team (3-15) and the 2012 team (2-12) had won fewer than five matches since at least 1998. Last season’s performance comes off the heels of an 11-12 mark in the first season for head coach Daniel Reyes.

“Last season was a very tough one,” he said. “No one enjoys going through a season like the one we went through last year. As tough as it was, we had to constantly remind ourselves we were lacking not only varsity experience, but volleyball experience altogether.”

Reyes went on to say that last season left a bad taste in a lot of the players’ mouths and that they realized that when they don’t show up until the last minute before the season begins, it puts them far behind compared to other programs. With that said, he added that the commitment has improved tremendously, and he has a group of girls who are anxious to improve day in and day out.

Glenn returns five players-senior opposite hitter Joey Abugotal, senior outside hitter Kaylani Moncada, junior libero Heaven Lee, junior middle blocker Janessa Leal and junior setter Abbey Zavala, all of whom figure to make huge impacts in the offensive department.

“Heaven Lee and Janessa Leal have improved so much from last year,” said Reyes. “They are a perfect example of how much you can improve when you put the time in the offseason. Janessa, being a softball player and being part of a program that has had success, understands what it takes to become successful and is using that mentality with volleyball. Heaven, being around the program all year, has pushed herself to get better day by day and constantly holds herself accountable and never settles for anything less than her best.”

The Eagles have a dozen players on this season’s team with 25 percent being seniors. Some of the top newcomers to varsity are sophomore setter Nathalie Jacobo and sophomore middle blocker Aaliyah Ramirez from the basketball team and sophomore outside hitter Sugey Mancilla. Jacobo will give the Eagles some much needed help as a setter, according to Reyes, and Ramirez brings the height that the team needs to be a better offensive team.

The big question will be if the Eagles have enough to grab at least third place and an automatic berth in the playoffs. It’s been since 2009 when Glenn last experienced life in the playoffs and Reyes believes consistency will be the one component that will end the drought.

“Speaking from a talent standpoint, the team has some pieces that can really get us there,” said Reyes. “The girls know that nothing will come easy. And everything has to be earned by them, but it can’t just come in spurts. They have to stay the course and keep persevering.”

LA MIRADA MATADORES

12-19 overall last season, 6-3 in the Suburban League, second place, lost to Coachella Valley High in four sets in the Division 7 first round playoffs

47-80 overall last five seasons

Head coach: Kimberly Mahan (second season, 12-19)

Last time missed the playoffs: 2018

Division 7

With only the top two teams from the four-member Suburban League advancing to the playoffs last season, La Mirada and Norwalk had to battle for that second spot behind league champion Mayfair. It went to the Matadores under rookie head coach Kimberly Mahan, who admitted it was not what she had expected, but thought a lot of it had to do with all the obstacles during the pandemic. To say that La Mirada had some challenges to overcome is an understatement. While a lot of those were the same as the next team, others were not.

“My players did not have a volleyball season in 2020, so it had been almost two years since many of the girls had played. We had to do COVID testing every week during practices. We didn’t have a gym, which meant no home games and a lot of traveling. Game times were being moved frequently due to a shortage of refs and we started the season late since I wasn’t hired on until the end of July, which didn’t allow much time to get my players ready for the season.”

The Matadores lost their first 11 matches of the season and were swept in six of them before turning around their season late. Senior outside hitter Bailey Mahan (102 kills last season, 135 digs), senior middle blocker Milan Nimeh (77 kills, 118 digs), and junior outside hitter Alyssa Merez, who had a 30 percent kill percentage and led the team in aces, are the top three players from last season’s team and bring with them a lot of varsity experience.

Kimberly Mahan lists senior libero Andrea Rosiles and sophomore middle blocker Natalie Ojeisekhoba as newcomers to keep an eye on.

Now that Mayfair is in a different league, La Mirada and Norwalk should be the favorites to win league with the bottom of the SGVL coming over to see who will claim the last automatic playoff spot.

“I do like the new league we are in,” said Kimberly Mahan. “I think it will help make [us] evenly matched and be a more competitive season for [us]. The only hard thing is that I really do not know what to expect from some of these schools because I have never seen them, and we have never played them before.

“I still have the same expectations for my team this year even though we are not playing Mayfair,” she continued. “We want to be strong, always giving 100 percent, perform well, have fun and produce wins.”

NORWALK LANCERS

8-11 overall last season, 3-6 in the Suburban League, third place

50-67 overall last five seasons

Head coach: Paola Nava (second season, 8-11)

Last time made the playoffs: 2017

Division 8

Another head coach who was in her first season in 2020 was former Norwalk player Paola Nava, who won her first two matches of the season, three of the first four and four of the first six. After that, three of the team’s next four victories came against last place Bellflower High in league. Despite the 8-11 mark, she said the season was everything she expected, and more. She went on to say that she didn’t believe it was a bad season considering the COVID situation and it was a brand new team.

“Our girls definitely had the talent and proved that they were able to compete with the schools,” said Nava. “Unfortunately, we did not get the wins like we had hoped, but they improved tremendously from day one.”

Leading the way this season will be five returning players-senior defensive specialists/liberos Leilani Juan and Kimberly Lopez, junior setter Alyssa Dorado, junior outside hitter/defensive specialist Kendall Nakano and sophomore middle hitter/opposite hitter Samantha Munoz. Nava says they understand the faster paced game compared to the lower levels and they want to be better. Of the remaining nine players on the team, Nava lists senior defensive specialist/libero Tatianna Navarro and junior outside hitter/defensive specialist Marisol Roseboro as the ones who will bring an immediate impact.

“Marisol has really stepped up on the outside and continues to progress every day,” said Nava. “Her arm swing has gotten faster, stronger, and smarter. Tatianna has really stepped up and has now taken the role as one of our captains. She is definitely one of our top defensive specialist players. I am confident that these two student-athletes will help our team strive for our goals this season.”

While Nava shares the same sentiments as Kimberly Mahan does with the new league, her expectations are for her student-athletes to prove themselves that they can be great and that by the end of the season, she expects them to master the mechanics of volleyball and just play.

“Yes, we would love to just win, win, win,” she said. “I learned that as a coach, if I just expect them to win, we will not improve.”

VALLEY CHRISTIAN DEFENDERS

18-13 overall last season, 5-3 in the Olympic League, tied for second place, lost to Orange Lutheran High in three sets in the Division 3 first round playoffs

101-54 overall last five seasons

Head coach: Jeff Ornee (fifth actual season, 83-43)

Last time missed the playoffs: 2009

Division 4

Beside Cerritos, the other consistent girls volleyball program over the years is Valley Christian and the Defenders figure to be in another competitive season. While the Defenders were ousted in the first round last season, head coach Jeff Ornee stated he could not have been prouder of the team, especially with the ‘grit and toughness they showed through a ton of adversity’. The team battled through season-ending injuries, COVID-related absences long with one of the toughest schedules around.

“The team never complained and came to practice with the right attitude every day,” said Ornee. “Losing in the first round to Orange Lutheran was tough, but they proved to be one of the better teams in Division 3 and I believe we battled with them valiantly.:

V.C. has enough returning talent to make a strong bid to win the Olympic League for the first time since 2016 and it begins with senior outside hitter Ari Schmidt and senior opposite hitter Brooklynn Wybenga, both of whom play club volleyball. But Ornee wants to credit the other returning seniors-defensive specialist/libero Anneke DeKraker and Francie Leffler, middle blocker Lauren Thorpe, outside hitter/opposite hitter Chloe Westra and setter Carissa Kamstra.

“It is a calming feeling as a coach knowing you have so many experienced players to help lead the newcomers,” said Ornee. “Many attended my optional camps and clinics over the summer to stay in volleyball shape and get some reps.”

The Defenders will have five new players to varsity and all of them bring something different to the table. According to Ornee, senior middle blocker/opposite hitter Samantha Gerdes brings size and a solid block to the front row, junior middle blocker Abby McGuyre has a quick arm, approach and good speed along the net defensively, junior outside hitter Allison Smith is a good offensive pin hitter with an array of shots and power, junior opposite hitter/setter Samantha Van Duyn has a good arm and block on the right side and can step in as a setter when needed and freshman middle blocker Aubrey Ericks brings great communication, energy and quickness to the experienced squad.

Winning the Olympic League is no easy task for all five members and over the past 30 years, several of them, including V.C., have gone on to win CIF-SS championships. Ornee insists every league match is a battle, but that’s what makes it fun.

“I’m looking forward to seeing how some of our league competition has retooled with various coaching changes and senior classes graduating,” he said. “But I do know that it will always be an incredibly competitive environment to play in.”

WHITNEY WILDCATS

8-19 overall last season, 5-5 in the 605 League, tied for third place

49-69 overall last five seasons

Last time made the playoffs: 2019

Division 7

Whitney High did not provide any information on this season’s team. In 2022, the Wildcats had 10 seniors on a 12-member team. The two returning players, if they are back, are senior middle blockers Samantha Candelaria and Eva Matentsian. Whitney had gone 29-16 in the two seasons prior to last season. Before that the program had gone 16 straight seasons of finishing under .500 and not recording more than nine wins in any season.

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