_____________________________ ST. NORBERT CHURCH           RATES ________________________


Gahr stays close to Downey but gets swept by league queens

By Loren Kopff

Gahr girls volleyball head coach Iris Murray thought this would be the season that the Gladiators could finally curtail Downey’s chances of another perfect San Gabriel Valley League season. In the past 140 league matches coming into this season, Downey has lost only four times and has gone 10-0 three straight seasons, four of the last five and eight of the last 10.

Last Thursday afternoon, the Gladiators were within striking distance of upsetting the Vikings but ended up on the short end once again. Downey swept Gahr 25-22, 27-25, 25-21 for its 29th straight win over the Gladiators. Gahr dropped to 6-12 overall and 1-2 in league action.

“We were definitely physically capable of winning this last [match] and also winning league,” Murray said. “But we are our own worst enemies. We are learning how to play together and we’re learning how to communicate and we’re learning how to be good teammates. Right now, that is our focus. I just want the girls to play together and play hard.”

Both teams traded points throughout the early portion of the first set and Gahr took a 13-10 following a kill from junior setter Frankie Di Iorio. It would be the largest lead for the hosts in the entire match. But with the Vikings leading 22-17, the Gladiators made one final push to steal the set. Senior outside hitter Oluoma Okaro pounded down her fifth kill, then junior middle blocker Stephany Rodriguez had a kill and a block to pull her team within two points. Both teams were sloppy with their serving as they each picked up five points off of the others’ serving errors and another seven in the second set.

“During practice, we are a great serving team,” Murray said. “During the matches, when we are relaxed and playing together, we are an excellent serving team. Usually we have many, many aces against the other team.”

Again, the teams traded point for point throughout most of the second set with Downey’s largest lead being four points at 9-5. But a pair of aces from senior defensive specialist Alicia Barron tied the set at 10-10. Gahr took its first lead (12-11) moments later on an ace from senior libero Jennifer Diggs and later was serving for the set before Downey’s Bela Gamboa’s 16th kill tied it up at 24-24. A net violation gave Gahr another chance to win, but a serving error, a double hit violation and an ace from Gamboa ended the second set.

Gahr was trailing 21-15 in the third set, its biggest deficit in the match, before Okaro literally brought her team back to the brink of a victory. Her 16th and final kill of the match gave Gahr possession and she served three straight aces before Downey called a timeout. It was the first time that Gahr had reeled off four straight points in the match.

Following the timeout, Okaro served two more aces to tie the set at 21-21. But Gamboa had the last of her match-high 21 kills and Victoria Trejo served two straight aces.

Gahr had entered the match coming off a pair of five-set matches to begin league action. The Gladiators fell to Warren on Oct. 3, losing in the fifth set 15-4 but came back to edge Paramount 19-17 in the fifth set on Oct. 8.

Gahr visited Lynwood on Oct. 17 and will travel to Warren on Tuesday before hosting Paramount on Thursday.

“I didn’t think we were sluggish or tired,” Murray said. “I think we might have other things going on mentally. I don’t question our ability physically, even if we’re physically tired or physically making a mistake. We have to work on our mental game.

“When we lost to Warren last week, I told my girls I want to be yelling and screaming and celebrating in their gym just like they were celebrating in our gym,” she added. “And it’s going to be the same thing when we play Downey in a couple of weeks. We’ll be ready for them in the second round.”

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