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Norwalk brings the energy in upset over La Mirada, finishes in third place


By Loren Kopff

When Norwalk senior opposite hitter Ronawell Touch hit a cross court kill to end the home match with La Mirada this past Monday, the Lady Lancers immediately went into a frenzy. The team knew it had beaten the Matadores for the first time since they’ve been in high school, but that was just part of it.
Norwalk knocked off La Mirada 15-25, 25-21, 28-26, 24-26, 15-8 to snap a string of 21 straight losses to the Matadores. The last time Norwalk beat La Mirada was Oct. 24, 2001. Norwalk also claimed third place outright in the Suburban League following its three-set sweep at Bellflower this past Wednesday, the first time since that 2001 season that the program has finished in third place.
“We finally did it; we beat La Mirada,” said senior middle blocker Michelle Macias. “We did all we could. We brought the energy. We worked hard for everything. We really wanted it. We brought it 110 percent to the court. La Mirada wasn’t expecting it.”
Norwalk raced out to a 6-1 lead in the opening set and was clinging to an 11-10 lead when La Mirada’s Nicole Springer put down a kill, then served three straight points. Moments later, Kyli Watkins reeled off seven consecutive points to put the set away for the league’s second place representatives.
The Lady Lancers (9-7 overall, 8-4 in league) again got out strong in the second set with another 6-1 lead via two kills and a block from sophomore middle blocker Jazmin Guzman and three aces from junior setter Dayna Moreno. But this time, Norwalk held the lead throughout the set despite La Mirada getting within a point three times and rallying from a 22-14 deficit to trail 22-20. But kills from Macias and Moreno tied the match at 1-1.
Moreno had four aces to start the third set and Norwalk jumped out to a 5-0 lead, the largest advantage by either team in the set. La Mirada took its first lead at 11-10 on an ace from Springer and from that point on, the teams traded leads three times, the last when Macias pounded down her eighth kill to make it 27-26. Macias, who was very emotional after the match, would lead Norwalk with 16 kills and four aces, three coming in the fourth set.
“We’re going to miss her,” said Norwalk first-year head coach Jesse Gonzalez. “She’s a big part of our team on offense and defense. She’s a leader. There’s going to be a big hole to fill [next season] but I’m sure with what we’ve done with the program as of late, I’m sure we’re going to find someone to replace that spot. But nobody can replace Michelle at all. I hope she goes far and does well in college.”
“The momentum of the game changed in the second set,” Macias said. “We brought a lot more energy to it. I just thought to myself this was the last time I’m playing at home and I really wanted it.”
The fourth set was played to 10 ties and seven lead changes with the biggest lead coming at 19-15 after La Mirada’s Sara Hickman had three kills and the Lady Lancers were called for a net violation. A kill from Touch put Norwalk in front 23-22 but an ace from Watkins left La Mirada at set point. Guzman’s 12th kill tied it up but a kill and ace from Selena Cartznes sent the match to a fifth set, the fifth time that has happened between these two schools since 1998.
There, it was all Norwalk, which got back to back aces from junior defensive specialist Samantha Lujan to give the hosts a 5-3 lead. Then Macias later had consecutive kills to make it a 12-5 advantage after a La Mirada serve was wide. Touch and junior outside hitter Viviana Gomez each had 13 kills while senior outside hitter Brenae Brown added half a dozen kills to give Norwalk a formidable offensive attack that plans to make more surprises in the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section playoffs next week.
“A lot of these girls have gone through the training with me,” Gonzalez said. “I’ve had them as freshmen, I’ve had them at the j.v. level and finally now at the varsity level. We’ve built that chemistry; we’ve built that fight and that mentality that we’re better. We’re better than we were a couple of years back.”
“It’s just mind blowing,” Macias said. “So much hard work was put into this team and we just wanted it. That’s all I can say. It’s just teamwork and dedication.”
Not to be forgotten is the stellar job by Moreno, a varsity rookie who had to fill the shoes left by Crystall Martinez who graduated last season. Moreno led Norwalk with 10 aces, all but one coming at the very beginning of the first four sets.
“Dayna has taken her role as a setter,” Gonzalez said. “She is basically the quarterback of our team. She knows what it takes for us to be successful. I put a lot of weight on her shoulders this season telling her that the entire team rests in her hands.”
Norwalk will advance to the playoffs for the 10th time in school history but the second time in consecutive seasons. Just two seasons ago, Norwalk hit rock bottom, going 1-13 overall and finishing in last place for just the second time since 2002. The program has also gone through eight coaches since 2000. But current freshmen/sophomore head coach Quoc Nguyen coached the team to a 7-9 campaign last season and finished in fourth place in league.
“It’s just something that all of the coaches have had an input in as far as efforts to change the mentality of our program,” Gonzalez said. “Myself, Quoc and the j.v. coach Alec Martinez…we’ve all put in work at every level. We have more experience as coaches and these girls have better experience with better coaches.”
“Coach Jesse definitely brought a lot of work with plays and he really worked on our fundamentals,” Macias said. “He’s just an amazing coach and I’m proud to call him my coach.”