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Lady Crusaders scratch and claw their way back for important win

By Loren Kopff

After watching his Valley Christian girls volleyball team lose a disappointing match to Maranatha on Sept. 27 in the Olympic League opener, a change was needed to be made. So, head coach Brett Rinks decided to instill his version of the “Wildcat offense”, volleyball style.
One day after the team worked on the new offense for the first time, the Lady Crusaders went out and rallied from two sets down to knock off visiting Village Christian 20-25, 17-25, 25-13, 25-14, 15-9 this past Tuesday evening. Village Christian entered the match ranked fifth in the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Division II-A poll.
“We’ve had a couple of tough battles this year with who we have played,” Rinks said. “Downey, Warren, Mayfair, Cerritos, St. Joseph’s…and all of them have been four or five games. I don’t know if Village had gone five games yet. So I think we had a little more experience in that so far and that came into play tonight.”
Village Christian had lost only once this season and that came to the division’s top ranked team, Whittier Christian, in the league opener and had played in just one four-set match. The visiting Crusaders were leading 10-8 in the third set when an apparent ace from Aubrey Pyburn was reversed by the officials. Valley Christian took advantage and got a side out before senior opposite hitter Morgan Haner went to work. She served 12 straight points with three aces in that rally. She also received two kills and two solo blocks from junior outside hitter Maggie Streelman and two kills from senior outside hitter Alyx Henry. Rinks called that stretch in the middle of the set the momentum swing of the match.
“Absolutely,” Rinks said. “At the same time, like we’ve said in the past, we don’t give up here at Valley. We fight to the bitter end and I think because we’ve had that mentality going into every single point…once we stepped on the gas pedal a little bit, we just went for it and started working.”
“We needed to pick it up and we needed to come together as a team and needed to fight,” Haner said. “We were really gone and down on ourselves. I just needed to be there and pump up my team.”
Valley Christian (14-3 overall, 1-1 in league) carried that momentum into the fourth set, getting in front 10-4 on a kill from sophomore setter Alexyss Nelson. The big lead early on allowed the hosts to be able to trade points for most of the set as Village Christian never got closer than five points.
In the fifth set, it was Haner again who provided the edge for her team. After Village Christian was called for a net violation, Haner served three important points, the last an ace, as Valley Christian went up 10-3. Although Village Christian scored the next four points, the match was put away when senior defensive specialist Jordan Resner put down consecutive aces, one coming when Emily Rawlings hit the return wide of the court.
“It took a little while to get into play but I think once it clicked, I think it worked and it proved it just by the scores of the [third and fourth] games,” Rinks said of his new offense. “We just took our strengths and amplified them and kind of rearranged our organization of our structure of who’s where.”
Village Christian raced to a 10-3 lead in the first set and led the entire way despite five kills from Haner and four from Henry. But Haner was held in check in the second set with one kill, which came at 4-3. Again, Valley Christian never led in the set and following an ace from Haner, Village Christian scored seven straight points to increase its lead to 14-6.
“They started double teaming [Haner] on the block,” Rinks said. “They were double committing on the right side because we were running Morgan on the outside and both of our middles were running three’s. But at the same time, she didn’t get blocked very much.”
Following the loss to Maranatha, Rinks and his team knew it was crucial to beat Village Christian because falling to 0-2 in league with Whittier Christian still to come on Tuesday would have been tough to overcome if Valley Christian wanted to be league champions. The last time Valley Christian rallied from two sets down to win in five was Oct. 16, 2007 against Whittier Christian.
“It was huge,” Rinks said. “I think it’s going to be an outright battle all league between us Maranatha, Whittier [Christian] and Village [Christian]. I think those four teams are all solid teams this year and it’s going to be a dog fight for sure to see who comes out on top.”
“It was definitely tough,” Haner said of the loss to Maranatha. “And I feel like it gave us more of a drive because we didn’t have any wiggle room to lose or to slack off. This was for real and we needed to do our best every single game.”
Haner finished with 11 kills and six aces while Henry and junior middle blocker Amanda Chamberlain each had nine kills and Streelman eight kills. Senior libero Cayla Palmer had 15 digs and Resner 11 digs while senior setter Ally DeKruyf had 22 assists five aces while Nelson another 13 assists and three aces. Henry and Resner also had three aces each.
Valley Christian visited Heritage Christian on Oct. 4 before its first place battle with Whittier Christian to round out the first half of league play. Valley Christian will then be off until Oct. 16 when it has its rematch with Maranatha.
“We definitely have some tough competition,” Haner said. “It’s not going to be easy. Nothing is going to be easy for anyone, so I guess everybody is just ready to fight. Everybody’s bringing their game and ready to compete.”