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2013 Volleyball Preview: Cerritos, Gahr, Norwalk, Valley Christian have hopes of respective league titles

By Loren Kopff
Volleyball preview

1-17 overall last season, 1-11 in the Suburban League, tied for sixth place
14-75 overall last five seasons
Head coach: Micah Burpo (sixth season, 14-75)
Last time made the playoffs: 2010
Key losses: Jessica Corona, Faith Devera, Kyla Kelly, Leaisa Lafo (JR), Elizabeth Pulido, Jeshanah Siangio

There’s no downplaying the current state of affairs for the Artesia program from head coach Micah Burpo. Simply put, the Pioneers will be starting over as they have 37 freshmen, 20 sophomores, six juniors and one senior in the entire program.
“It’s going to be probably the same [as last season],” Burpo said. “We have four returning junior varsity players who are on varsity and seven new [players] who have never played volleyball before.”

The leader of the pack who will generate at least 95 percent of the offense is senior middle blocker Daisy Briseno, whom Burpo said will have to take a lot of first and third balls. Burpo added that Briseno is the team and everyone else needs to follow her. The only other returning player is junior outside hitter Martina Kim.
Getting the ball to Briseno relies on the hands of sophomore setter Britney Alvarado. The squad rounds out with sophomore middle blockers Brianna Garcia, who will play behind Briseno and Keina Harris, sophomore outside hitter Julianne Ramos, sophomore opposite hitter Jessica Suarez, sophomore libero Janette Lee and freshman outside hitter Clarissa Gonzalez.

“This team has great athletic ability; great potential, but no skill set yet,” Burpo said. “Unfortunately it’s not going to be a ‘this year’ team. It’s a team two years from now. Not that we’re going to anticipate the same result as last year, but that’s probably going to be the [same] as last year.”

10-13 overall last season, 7-5 in the Suburban League, fourth place, lost to Victor Valley in the Division III-AA first round playoffs
82-41 overall last five seasons
Head coach: David Cuthbert (first season)
Last time missed the playoffs: 2002
Key losses: Arnelle Duru, Bali Leffall Young

For the first time since 2006, Cerritos will have a new head coach as David Cuthbert, who hails from the United Kingdom, replaces Khanh Vo, who had six successful seasons. Cuthbert, who moved to the United States six years ago, recently has been a volunteer assistant at St. Anthony High School and at Loyola Marymount University. This is his first head coaching job.

“It has been a successful program and I’m really excited to work with student athletes,” Cuthbert said. “I have a good understanding of the type of players we have at Cerritos and I think we can be really successful. Yet, it’s my first head coaching gig, so it’s nice to branch out and apply some of the things that I want to into a program. We’re looking to build a whole program, not just to be successful on varsity this year.”

Cuthbert inherits a program that had finished first or second in the Suburban League four straight seasons and five times in the last eight seasons before winding up in fourth place in 2012. Since 2005, Cerritos is 78-18 in league action.

The Lady Dons return eight players led by senior libero Rachel Fitterer, who could also be a defensive specialist, senior outside hitter Mariah Gonzalez and senior right side hitter Jody Suski. Cerritos has a solid core of returning junior players in setter Lorinet Marquez, who missed all of last season due to a broken arm, middle blockers Kaitlyn Bales, who was the setter last season, and Brittany Freeman and outside hitter Madison Lee. Sophomore defensive specialist Nicole Medina also returns.

New to the team will be senior outside hitter/defensive specialist Brittany Diaz, senior Abigail Ligon, junior middle blocker Crystal Amalu and junior setter Jessica Tahata.

“My expectations are for us to get better and be a team,” Cuthbert said. “I really want us to focus on us. Winning and playoffs will take care of itself. If we do what we’re supposed to do in practice, then the rest will care of itself.”

12-10 overall last season, 7-3 in the San Gabriel Valley League, second place, lost to La Reina in the Division II-AA first round playoffs
68-65 overall last five seasons
Head coach: Iris Murray (second season, 12-10)
Last time missed the playoffs: 2008
Key losses: Aaliyah Heckard, Dymond Johnson, Tisha Lenon, Joelle Miller, Jewelyn Sawyer, Bejani Turley

The transition from assistant to head coach was somewhat smooth for Iris Murray, who replaced the longtime and legendary mentor Sonny Okamoto last season. Even though the Gladiators return three everyday players, plus one more that was called up late in the season, Murray feels her team can seriously challenge Downey for the top spot in the San Gabriel Valley League.

“I think I was the best person for this because I had been coaching junior varsity [at Gahr] for a couple of years and he was my coach many years ago,” Murray said. “It was an easy move because the girls were used to me already and I kept a lot of the same expectations. I think I did the best I could last season.”

The team will be centered around senior outside hitter Olouma Okaro, who was a middle blocker last season, senior defensive specialist Jennifer Diggs, who might be the libero, junior setter Frankie Dilorio, who also could play as a libero and sophomore Naomi Belgrave. Murray says those four bring good leadership with them and they’ve been playing together for a while.

Of the seven varsity rookies, a pair of freshmen could make a quick impact this season-setter Lorilei Saleapaga and outside hitter/middle blocker Miranda Ta’amu. Both of them bring club experience to the Gahr program. Senior defensive specialist Alicia Barron, junior defensive specialist Sophia Archega, who was the junior varsity setter last season, junior middle blockers Joselyn Govea and Stephany Rodriguez and junior outside hitter Destiny Hayes are the other newcomers.
“I’m always impressed with the freshmen players just because they are the bonus players,” Murray said. “Destiny improved herself in the offseason by playing club and she is finding her way to the starting lineup right now.

“If we do our job, we should be on top,” Murray added. “I’m confident of that. But of course anything can happen.”

2-14 overall last season, 1-11 in the Suburban League, tied for sixth place
28-60 overall last five seasons
Head coach: David Cruz (sixth season, 28-60)
Last time made the playoffs: 2009
Key losses: Angie Console, Gabby Cruz, Jayme Leal, Denisse Miranda, Diana Torres

As it relates to last season’s dismal performance, head coach David Cruz said he thought he had more than what he truly had. He was expecting more talent to be productive in the summer and as a result, the team worked on its weaknesses for this season.

“I had quite a few young girls that I was glad that they were on the squad because they got the experience of playing at the varsity level,” Cruz said. “Playing [junior varsity], I really thought that would have hurt our program. They did see what is expected of them.”

Coming back for her senior season and who could be the heart and soul of the team is middle blocker Myra Gomez, who will definitely score a lot of the teams’ points. Also returning and will be a main part of the offense will be junior middle blockers Nicole Cruz and Zahory Ramirez, junior libero Kashmir Davies, who could do some hitting this season and junior outside hitter Leslie Larranaga.

The newcomers will be senior outside hitter Myra Ramirez, junior setter Krysta Diaz, junior opposite hitter Sonia Perez, sophomore opposite hitter Stephanie Lemus, sophomore setter Chanel Villegas and freshman setter Christina Dominguez.

“I’d like to think we’ll be battling for fourth,” Cruz said. “I truly think Norwalk is going to be the team to beat this year. We felt pretty confident [in the summer] that we could battle with teams. Now whether or not we’re going to be able to beat them is something else entirely. But we’re going to go into the season with a lot of confidence.”

9-8 overall last season, 8-4 in the Suburban League, third place, lost to El Rancho in the Division III-AA first round playoffs
25-56 overall last five seasons
Head coach: Jessie Gonzalez (second season, 9-8)
Last time missed the playoffs: 2010
Key losses: Brenae Brown, Michelle Macias, Christy Ortiz, Ronawell Touch

It was a coming out party for head coach Jessie Gonzalez and his squad last season as the Lady Lancers win eight league games for the first time since 1999 and finished above .500 for the first time since 2005.

“It was very special seeing that it was my first year coaching a varsity level team,” Gonzalez said. “It was the confidence in my efforts but also in how well the team got throughout the year and seeing how we broke long streaks that had lasted 12 or 13 years.”

He said picking up just one win outside of league was simply a case of growing pains as well as trying to figure out rotations that would work together. Now, the Lady Lancers return a lot of talent that has the makings of winning the league, or at worst, finish in second place. The team is loaded with returning seniors in middle blocker Darlene Figueroa, opposite hitters Ashley Alatorre and Daniela Lozada, outside hitter Viviana Gomez and setter Dayna Moreno, who people have said is the best setter in the league. Also returning is junior middle blocker Jazmin Guzman, who Gonzalez said could surprise a lot of people, junior defensive specialist Annaliza Bustos and sophomore defensive specialist/libero Kathleen Perez. Gonzalez added that it will be the seniors who will lead Norwalk to more victories this season.

“I don’t think everyone knows how extremely smart she is on the court as far as controlling the game and the tempo,” Gonzalez said of Moreno. “She reads the other team’s defense well while she’s on the net setting the ball.”

The top newcomers will be sophomore middle blocker Leslie Leanos, freshman defensive specialist/outside hitter Athena Sio and freshman defensive specialist/libero Paola Nava.

“I believe it can be but it’s hard to tell,” Gonzalez said of a league championship coming true. “Every year the league kind of changes a little bit. It really depends on how competitive the league gets. It’s kind of a coin toss.”

21-9 overall last season, 4-4 in the Olympic League, tied for second place, lost to Yorba Linda in the Division II-A second round playoffs
69-52 overall last five seasons
Head coach: Jody Garner (first season)
Last time missed the playoffs: 2009
Key losses: Allyson DeKruyf, Taylor Doornbos, Morgan Haner, Alyx Henry, Cayla Palmer, Cierra Trudeau, Jordan Resner

After five straight seasons of hovering around the .500 mark, head coach Brett Rinks guided the Lady Crusaders to a 21-9 mark, the best record since 2006 when V.C. went 20-8. But the team also went 4-4 in what has become a very tough Olympic League. Since 2007, V.C. has gone 24-24 in the circuit despite having at least a share of second place the last three seasons. So, what has Rinks emphasized in the offseason make sure 2013 is even better?

“Learning from the close ones that we won and lost both,” Rinks said. “Moving forward to this year, we need to learn to close games. We kind of played really well or really bad. There was no neutral, middle ground.”

Although the team returns only four players-senior middle blocker Amanda Chamberlain, senior outside hitter Maggie Streelman, junior opposite hitter Karly Dantuma and junior setter Alexyss Nelson, the team is benefiting from a very strong junior varsity squad last season and now, most of those players have moved up to varsity. Streelman had shoulder surgery in the offseason from her club team and will be out of action at least until Oct. 1.

The only other senior is newcomer Casy Parrish, a defensive specialist. The Lady Crusaders hope they can supplant Whittier Christian, the defending California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Division II-A champs, with its strong group of juniors. Joining the varsity team will be outside hitters Caroline Hefley, Madeline Peters and Sam Yang, setter Cariann Palmer and libero Emily Morrow. Sophomore middle blocker Madi Huizar, sophomore defensive specialist Allie Sutherland and freshman defensive specialist Kaylee Westra round out the team. Had V.C. continued on in the playoffs, it would have faced Whittier Christian in the semifinals.

“We absolutely have a strong league and I think it’s going to be stronger again.” Rinks said. “We are way stronger than we were last year. I know Whittier [Christian] has all of their girls returning. Maranatha has a great program and Village [Christian] is putting together some good girls too. It’s going to be a battle again.”

9-9 overall last season, 4-6 in the Academy League, fourth place, lost to San Gabriel in the Division III-A first round playoffs
28-54 overall last five seasons
Head coach: Ole Nervik (seventh season, 32-66)
Last time missed the playoffs: 2011
Key losses: Mylan Jefferson, Sharon Park, Joyce Shin

Being situated in the Academy League, it has been tough for Whitney to crack the top three and earn an automatic spot to the playoffs. But on the strength of a better than .500 overall mark last season, the Lady Wildcats advanced to the playoffs for the first time since 2001 and won more games since that same season when the team went 15-8. Now, with the addition of Downey Calvary Chapel to the league, head coach Ole Nervik believes his team can still finish in the upper echelon of the circuit.

“Our league is so tough,” Nervik said. “Fourth place is almost like our goal every year because St. Margaret’s, Sage Hill and now Crean [Lutheran] are just the perennial one, two and three.”

The team was dealt a big blow when senior outside hitter Rachel Nagel tore her meniscus during a travel basketball game during the summer. Nervik said Nagel gave him all of the flexibility in the world. But the team is still solid without Nagel because of its returning senior group of middle blocker Reyna Ta’amu, opposite hitter Ashley Duru, outside hitter Stephanie Yeh, and setters Alice Choi and Allison Tran, the latter who has to be the leader on the court now that Nagel is gone, according to Nervik.

Junior outside hitter Lauren Dejoras and sophomore libero Lauren Oh, who was a backup setter last season, are the other returning players.
Senior middle blockers Michelle Arechiga and Beah Totetino, senior outside hitter Tristan Eddy and junior defensive specialist Kaili Hamada are the only varsity rookies.

“Programs build on themselves successfully,” Nervik said. “Are we at the point yet where we even think for a second that we can beat one of the better teams? We’re not there yet. That’s going to take more time.”