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2012 HS VOLLEYBALL PREVIEWS: Cerritos still the favorites in Suburban League, Gahr experienced with new head coach

By Loren Kopff

0-19 overall last season, 0-12 in the Suburban League, seventh place
16-67 overall last five seasons
Head coach: Micah Burpo (fifth season, 13-58)
Last time made the playoffs: 2010
Key losses: Jhaida Bailey, Paige Culpepper, Kyla Kelly, Kim Lee
The Pioneers went through their second complete winless campaign in the past four seasons and hope to avoid another one with even a less experienced team. Artesia returns only three players-senior opposite hitter Jeshanah Siangio, senior outside hitter Faith Devera and junior middle blocker Daisy Briseno. Last season, Devera split time as a libero and an opposite hitter while Briseno was an outside hitter. Head coach Micah Burpo states that he’ll carry about nine to 10 players on varsity but will play seven for most of the season.
“Unfortunately I have no options,” Burpo said. “I will probably train somebody to block but I don’t even know if there’s a girl who can get her hands over the net.”
This season will remind Burpo of the 2008 winless season that featured some up and coming sophomores. When they were seniors, Artesia advanced to the postseason for the first time in quite some time. Briseno will be the team’s best player, most likely an All-Suburban League participant and will provide the vast majority of points.
“Athletically, she is by far our best athlete,” Burpo said. “She’s also the best volleyball player. She plays club and she plays all year. She’s on a very good team and her team won a gold medal at a very big national tournament. All of that really has brought her game up. We’re going to rely on her quite a bit. She’ll get 75 percent of the sets from the front row and the back row.”
The other five players on varsity will be senior setter Elizabeth Pulido, junior outside hitter Avalee Dawson, sophomore outside hitter Martina Kim, sophomore setter Leaisa Lafo and sophomore middle blocker Jeslynne Roberts, who was the junior varsity setter last season.
Artesia’s non league schedule will consist of home matches against Anaheim, Baldwin Park, Bell Gardens, Cabrillo, Firebaugh, Rosary and Whitney
“I still haven’t decided in my coaching ways [for this season]”, Burpo said. “I can just focus on fundamentals and training a team. But then I kind of have to not necessarily focus or worry about the seniors. But I don’t think we have it. I don’t think that I have enough [talent] to be able to come in fourth.”
21-6 overall last season, 11-1 in the Suburban League, tied for first place, lost to Pasadena Poly in the Division III-AA second round
84-39 overall last five seasons
Head coach: Khanh Vo (sixth season, 84-39)
Last time missed the playoffs: 2002
Key losses: Trisha Justiniano, Michelle Lin, Susan Suski
For someone who wasn’t used to coaching girls volleyball when he became the head coach in 2007, Khanh Vo has all of a sudden become the most successful girls volleyball coach at Cerritos. Under his watch, his teams have won or shared the Suburban League title three straight seasons and have become the team to beat just like Mayfair was everyone’s threat in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
“I thought it was a successful season,” Vo said of last season. “We had a pretty rough draw in the playoffs. We played the number two seed which is why we ended up losing a little bit earlier than I expected. But overall, it was successful.”
Now, Cerritos embarks on a season in which it hopes to win a fourth straight league title. But for that to happen, the Lady Dons will have to get used to a new setter.
The biggest change will see sophomore Lorinet Marquez step into the setter’s role, replacing the graduated Trisha Justiniano. But she’ll have a tremendous amount of talent to get the ball to and it begins with senior middle hitter Bali Leffall-Young and senior outside hitter Arnelle Duru. Expect close to 75 percent of the offense coming from those two.
“It’s their senior year and usually my seniors are expected to take it another notch up in their intensity level,” Vo said. “I thought last year they developed nicely and we had a nice rhythm going into the playoffs. But all of that goes out the door when you add a new setter. Physically, they’re good. But we have to make it work in terms of integrating the offense with my new setter.”
Joining those two in the offensive department will be junior Mariah Gonzalez, who moves to the left side after being the libero last season, junior middle hitter Anne Osuji and junior opposite hitter Jody Suski. The other two returning players are junior libero Rachael Fitterer, who was a defensive specialist last season, and junior DS Jamie Janchoi. Another top newcomer is senior outside hitter Elizabeth Lee, a transfer from Whitney High School.
“Their roles have changed a little bit because Susan and Trisha are gone from the starting lineup,” Vo said.
Vo stated that La Mirada, because of its returning experience, and Mayfair, because it split with Cerritos last season, will continue to give his team the strongest competition in league action. Since Vo took over the Lady Dons program, he has a 52-8 league mark with all eight setbacks coming to La Mirada and Mayfair.
“It doesn’t get easier,” Vo said. “You still come in with an expectation and you still try to go about your business. It’s nice that they think that way about your program. Each and every year you try to rebuild. We’re constantly working to get better. That’s been the theme for my whole coaching career. I don’t really try to settle on where we’re at.”
14-15 overall last season, 7-3 in the San Gabriel Valley League, tied for second place, lost to Fullerton in the Division II-A first round
67-74 overall last five seasons
Head coach: Iris Murray (first season)
Last time missed the playoffs: 2008
Key losses: Anne Esperanzate, Hazel Sebastian, Emily Vargas
There is a changing of the guard that came a few years too early as former Gahr standout Iris Murray replaces the legendary Sonny Okamoto as the new head coach for the Gladiators. Okamoto had been the varsity coach for the past 27 years and coached Murray during the 2001, 2002 and 2003 seasons. Murray is also the Gahr boys volleyball head coach.
“It’s been a difficult transition because there are very big shoes to fill,” Murray said. “He’s also been a mentor and a very close friend. I’m trying to keep a lot of things the same and a lot of the traditions alive. I do have a different personality than he does and I do have different coaching styles. But a lot of the things we believe in are very similar.”
Murray said that she had 25-30 girls try out during the summer. Murray will have five returning players, all of whom will be in the starting lineup, with the senior class providing most, if not all, of the offense Gahr needs. The Gladiators boast one of the best outside hitter tandems in seniors Aaliyah Heckard and Jewelyn Sawyer along with senior outside hitter Dymond Johnson. The other returning players are junior middle blocker Oluoma Okaro, who is a dominant presence at the net, and sophomore setter Frankie Dilorio, who is transitioning into that position for the first time. Last season, Dilorio was a libero.
“It’s a new task for her and it’s a lot of responsibility and I’m asking the older seniors to pick up that slack,” Murray said of her new setter. “Instead of Frankie calling the plays, I want the seniors to tell her, ‘don’t worry, we’ll help you out’. I’m asking the girls to step out of their comfort zone and step up to be leaders, especially the seniors.”
One area that will make Murray’s job even easier is everyone with the exception of Sawyer, who is also a star basketball player, plays club volleyball. That is something that has been missing from Gahr teams in the past. Three of those club players who are new to the team are seniors Tisha Lennon, who is a lefty but plays on the right side, and Bejani Turley, a middle blocker, and sophomore middle blocker Kayla Adiekweh.
As far as the San Gabriel Valley League is concerned, Murray is hoping the talent of her team will be enough to supplant defending champion Downey, which has defeated Gahr 26 straight times. The Gladiators have finished 7-3 in league the past two seasons and three times in the last five seasons. Gahr will also try to advance past the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 2005.
“Of course I want to say my team is better, my team is more prepared and my team is more athletic,” Murray said. “We probably don’t have the same experience [as Downey]. But I hope we’ll be just as prepared and I hope we bring our competitive nature to when we play them twice.”
Unlike past seasons, Gahr will not be going to San Diego to participate in the Scripps Ranch Tournament. Instead, Murray will take her team to the Kennedy Tournament. But the prestigious Gahr Tournament will still go on over Labor Day weekend and the team is going back to the Marlborough Tournament in October.
“I’ve always known the special traditions we have here,” Murray said. “It’s who I am. I was raised with it and I feel like it was easy for me to come here three years ago and teach here and also coach here. I feel like I was the best person for this.”
5-13 overall last season, 3-9 in the Suburban League, tied for fifth place
33-58 overall last five seasons
Head coach: David Cruz (fifth season, 26-46)
Last time made the playoffs: 2009
Key losses: Kimberly Orozco, Denise Ponce, Victoria Robledo, Ericka Sandoval, Patty Santana, Moshanae Summerise
John Glenn was hoping to make a lot of good things happen last season with a senior-loaded group. Instead, head coach David Cruz endured another disappointing season that was marred with a lack of leadership and enthusiasm. Since last appearing in the postseason, the Lady Eagles have now won only eight matches overall and five in the Suburban League.
“A lot of the seniors let me down,” Cruz said. “At the beginning of the season, I really thought we were going to have quite a few hitters. Surprisingly enough in the first couple of games, they performed. Then it dwindled down from there and we just couldn’t compete after that. Then the chemistry of the team wasn’t very good. There were a lot of problems last year, which seem to be gone.”
This season, Cruz will have a lot of players but the team will be built around the five returning players who will get nearly 100 percent of the playing time. He’ll also have some height from his players for the first time. The leader of that returning pack, and the only captain on the team, will be senior setter Gabby Cruz, the coach’s daughter, who went to the University of Oklahoma and University of California, Santa Barbara volleyball camps over the summer. Also returning is senior libero Jayme Leal and senior opposite hitter Denise Miranda, junior middle blocker Myra Gomez, who stands at 5’ 9” and 5’ 10” sophomore opposite hitter Zahory Ramirez. David Cruz said that Leal, who was an outside hitter last season, is the most improved of the five and that the team went from a below average team at the beginning of the summer to a very good team because of the changes.
“Those five girls are going to have to carry us,” David Cruz said. “I am not going to be the same coach I’ve been in the last couple of years where I play a lot of players. We’re going to limit our rotations. I imagine I’m going to be playing seven to eight players. So those five are not coming out. Zahory is the only one who will probably not go all the way around. I’m just not going to sub because those are my best players.”
The top newcomers will be senior defensive specialist Diana Torres, junior middle blocker Dominique Gomez and sophomore outside hitter Kashmir Davies. David Cruz believes this new system will hopefully produce much better results and so far, the rest of the players haven’t been complaining about the lack of playing time they might be getting.
“We have a lot of ifs,” he said. “If Zahory plays well, if Gabby doesn’t get hurt, if Myra doesn’t get hurt, if people don’t become ineligible…there are a lot of ifs. The difference between this year and last year is I have such a great group of girls this year. They’ve never complained since they’ve been here. They’re just easy-going.”
7-9 overall last season, 6-6 in the Suburban League, fourth place, lost to Santa Ynez in the Division III-AA first round
21-64 overall last five seasons
Head coach: Jesse Gonzalez (first season)
Last time missed the playoffs: 2010
Key losses: Crystall Martinez, Amy Siliezar
After advancing to the playoffs last season for the first time since 2005, there’s a change in the coaching ranks as Jesse Gonzalez becomes the program’s eighth head coach since 2001. He replaces Quoc Nguyen who is still with the program but at the lower levels. The Lady Lancers won seven more matches last season than the previous campaign and is hoping their experience will keep them near the top of the Suburban League.
“I think we’ve barely touched the surface of how good we can be,” Gonzalez said. “I think this year, as far as the coaching staff, we’re a lot more prepared for playoffs. We’re thinking playoffs. Last year we were focusing on just getting some wins.”
Norwalk, like Cerritos and La Mirada, return a lot and at the same time bring in some talented players from the junior varsity squad. Senior outside hitters Brenae Brown, Felicia Felix and Ronawell Touch, senior middle blocker Michelle Macias and senior defensive specialist Ana Christy Ortiz along with junior opposite hitter Viviana Gomez all come back. Gonzalez says that he wants to spread the ball out because he knows that Cerritos has a strong middle. He believes his team needs to mix up the offense a little and Brown is the perfect person for going one on one on the outside. Macias may be moved to the outside and Gonzalez says Gomez has the highest volleyball IQ on the team.
“We return a lot of people but we also have a lot of new pieces,” Gonzalez said. “It’s good that we have [the returners] because obviously they have so much more experience and they’re a lot smarter. But there is still a lot of work to be done.”
Some of those new pieces will be juniors Dana Moreno, a setter, and Melissa Orozco along with sophomore middle blockers Annalisa Bustos and Jazmine Guzman, who stands at 5’10” and is a softball star.
For Norwalk to stay competitive in a league that has been dominated by Cerritos, La Mirada and Mayfair for quite some time, it can’t slip after going to the playoffs last season. Norwalk has made four trips to the playoffs in the past 14 seasons and hasn’t finished in third place since 2001. This could be the season the Lady Lancers move at least one step higher.
“We can’t stay stagnant,” Gonzalez said. “We can be better; we should have been better last year. But a lot depends on how we play. We’re not going to worry about how everyone else plays. We’re going to worry about how we play and hopefully we use some of our quickness and athleticism to beat these teams.”
13-11 overall last season, 5-3 in the Olympic League, tied for second place, lost to Oxnard in the Division II-A first round
62-57 overall last five seasons
Head coach: Brett Rinks (second season, 13-11)
Last time missed the playoffs: 2009
Key losses: Carley Berkenkamp, Alexa Chandler, Brooke Coates, Kaleialani Mancia, Janae Megorden, Cassie Palmer
For the second straight season, Valley Christian claimed a piece of second place in the Olympic League. The only team standing in its way was California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Division II-A finalist Whittier Christian. Head coach Brett Rinks is looking forward to this season with the return of six seniors and a junior. Plus, the newcomers to the varsity squad were coached by Rinks at the lower levels, thus making this season’s team extra special for Rinks as he has coached all 10 seniors for four years.
“We were expecting to go a little farther in CIF,” Rinks said. “Whittier Christian, in our league, we know is very, very tough and they had a lot of seniors, especially with the setter they had. I think we fought well for our second place spot. I think this year we’ll give them a run for their money for sure.”
Rinks said this was one of the best summers the program has ever had and he is contemplating the idea of a 6-2 offense. He will have five senior passers and both of his returning outside hitters can play in the middle.
The returning seniors are setter Allyson Dekruyf, opposite hitter Morgan Haner, outside hitter Alyx Henry, liberos Cayla Palmer and Jordan Resner and middle blocker Cierra Trudeau. The returning junior is outside hitter Maggie Streelman, who was a middle blocker last season. The one player who figures to rack up the bulk of the points is Haner, who has been nothing short of spectacular since being called up from the junior varsity team in the very beginning of her sophomore season due to some injuries at that time.
“She’s one of our three captains and she’s kind of like the mama bear,” Rinks said. “All of the girls look to her for a play when we need it. She’s the all-around consistent player that we needed her to be in the past, but she grew into finally this year now that she’s a senior.”
The top newcomers will be junior middle blocker Amanda Chamberlain, sophomore opposite hitter Karly Dantuma and sophomore setter Alexyss Nelson.
“I think we have a rock star group of girls who have finally come up and come together,” Rinks said. “We’re going to give it a good shot this year for sure.”

  • Natasha Lin says:

    I’m excited to see a new setter this year Lorinet Marquez. I have seen her play and she is very dedicated to this sport. Good Job Lorinet!

  • Yvonne says:

    Natasha, I’m not sure if you know but I have been following Cerritos volleyball and Lorinet is off for this season do to an arm injury. Nevertheless, you are right when she does get better she will come back stronger than what she was.