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NEWS AND NOTES FROM PRESS ROW Valley Christian handles adversity, clinches share of sixth straight league title

By Loren Kopff

Longtime Valley Christian girls soccer head coach Kim Looney hasn’t had too many must-win games in the final week of past regular seasons. But that’s what the Lady Crusaders were facing this past Monday night in a make-up game with Maranatha.
Needing to win its final two games of the regular season to capture at least a share of a sixth straight Olympic League title, V.C. outlasted a scrappy Maranatha team to pull out a 2-0 win. The victory, which avenged a 1-0 loss to the Minutemen on Jan. 31, coupled with a 2-1 home win against Heritage Christian this past Tuesday night in the regular season finale, puts the Lady Crusaders at 16-6-3 overall and 7-1 in the league.
“We were not going to be without [a league championship],” Looney said. “Losing that league game, the first one in three years, was devastating. But it was like we had to regroup a little better.
“We haven’t had to fight like this for a league title since the days of Brentwood,” she continued. “And it’s kind of nice to have to fight for a title. We didn’t want to be in the position we were in tonight. But having played Maranatha the first time around, they’re well-coached. They’re well-organized.”
V.C. was limited to four shots in the first half and three of the four shots could have easily gone in for a goal. In the seventh minute, a shot from junior defender Kendra Peck went to the left of the net. Two minutes later, after a throw-in at the corner flag, senior forward Janae Megorden’s shot from the top of the goal box went above the crossbar.
The Lady Crusaders finally broke through in the 34th minute when senior midfielder Grayce DeGroot took a corner kick that found its way to senior forward Haley Magana who headed in her sixth goal. Peck had a chance to increase the score 10 minutes into the second half but her header off of another corner kick went too high.
“We grow them tall over here,” Looney said. “That’s what we do. If I get the ball up in the air, I have good kids who can serve the ball. I have kids who want to put it in the back of the net with their head. That’s what we’re going to do. We’ve only started to finish in the last four or five games in front of the net. Against Village Christian we had three head balls right off of corners.”
Probably the defining moment of the game came one minute later when senior defender Natalie DeVries made back to back sliding stops inside the penalty box to thwart a pair of golden chances for the Minutemen. Then in the 53rd minute, senior midfielder Janna Jensen iced the game with her 10th goal.
“Natalie is probably the heart and soul of our defense,” Looney said. “She probably has the most passion for the game of soccer out here. She has the most passion for her team. This girl just wants to win. She wants a league championship, she wants to go as far as she can in the playoffs, and she will do everything. She leads by example, and that proved it.”
The Lady Crusaders have gone 37-3-8 during their six-year reign of Olympic League supremacy. But V.C. might just be tested from Maranatha in the near future, which fielded a squad that included six sophomores and five freshmen. V.C. has five sophomores and two freshmen on its team, which is a prelude to what could be the newest rivalry in the league.
“It’s about time, it’s about time,” Looney said. “I don’t like scooting through league. It doesn’t prepare us for playoffs. It was hard last year to play that first playoff game. If [the rivalry with Maranatha] is what it’s going to be like, bring it back because I loved the days of Brentwood fighting to the very end.”
For the first four minutes of its game against Mayfair last Friday night, Artesia was locked in a battle with the Suburban League champions. But the Monsoons went on 15-0 run and routed the Pioneers 61-46 on senior night. Even when the hosts responded with a 9-0 run, Mayfair scored the final five points of the first half and led 26-15 at the break.
“We have a fight in us and we didn’t give in,” said Artesia head coach Ray Walker. “We didn’t play well enough to win, obviously. But they’re very talented.”
Artesia quickly fell behind by 19 points almost two minutes into the second half and never got closer than 12 points. Junior Dontae Smith led Artesia with 20 points and seven rebounds while sophomore Duryea Harris added nine points. One bright spot for Artesia was the fact that it held Mayfair’s leading scorer, Kendall Small, to no points in the first half and only four for the game.
“We were at full strength tonight, so that helped us a little bit,” Walker said. “He was definitely a focal point and he’s a very talented player. If we were going to get beat, we didn’t want him to be the person to beat us.”
Artesia (16-9 overall, 5-6 in the Suburban League) ended the regular season on Feb. 13 at Norwalk and with a win will have locked up fourth place in league as the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section divisional playoffs begin on Wednesday.
In other boys basketball action, Cerritos (14-11 overall, 7-4 in the Suburban League) wrapped up third place despite losing to second place La Mirada, 59-42, last Friday night and Norwalk, 46-42, this past Tuesday night.
Gahr (14-11, 6-3) has been hot as of late, winning four straight games to vault into third place in the San Gabriel Valley League. The Gladiators, who cruised past Downey, 81-58, last Friday night and Dominguez, 78-54, this past Tuesday night, can tie Lynwood for second place with a win over the Knights on Feb. 13.
John Glenn (7-19, 1-11) ended the regular season with a 73-56 loss to La Mirada this past Tuesday night. Despite losing for the 11th straight time, the Eagles will apply for an at-large berth in the playoffs. In a side note to the Glenn’s season, senior Erich Webb had 10 points and 13 rebounds against the Matadores and leaves with 791 points in three seasons on varsity. That ranks just second in the past 17 years in Glenn scoring history. Also high on the Glenn career scoring list is senior Ardale Encabo, third place with 671 points, senior Suni Bedi, eighth place with 514 points and junior Daniel Morales, 10th place with 452 points.
Norwalk (10-16, 4-7) needed to beat Artesia by at least three points on Feb. 13 in order to be the league’s fourth place representative. Valley Christian (10-16, 2-6) concluded its regular season this past Tuesday night by defeating Heritage Christian 52-38. The Crusaders finished in fourth place in the Olympic League. Whitney (7-16, 3-8) will finish in fifth place in the Academy League and was on a four-game losing streak entering its home game against Oxford Academy on Feb. 13.
The Suburban League title was on the line when Cerritos hosted Mayfair on Feb. 13. The Lady Dons (19-4, 10-1) lost to Mayfair 56-54 on Jan. 17 despite a career-high 22 points from sophomore Tatiana Fominyam. Gahr (11-13, 3-5) had won two straight San Gabriel Valley League games entering this week and appears headed for a third place finish and an automatic spot in the playoffs.
Norwalk (9-13, 4-7) fell to Cerritos 55-30 this past Tuesday night and hosted Artesia on Feb. 13 hoping to tie La Mirada for fourth place in the Suburban League. With Valley Christian’s 44-40 win over Heritage Christian this past Tuesday night, the Lady Crusaders finished the regular season at 11-14 overall and 4-4 in the Olympic League. V.C. could either finish in a three-way tie for second place or go into the playoffs in third place all alone.
Whitney (23-3, 10-0) went out of the Academy League last Saturday and dropped a 59-53 decision to Mira Costa. Senior Rachel Nagel poured in a game-high 29 points and hit five three-pointers, including one from midcourt as the first half buzzer sounded. Senior Reyna Ta’amu added 20 points and 14 rebounds but the Lady Wildcats turned the ball over twice in the final 32.3 seconds that led to the final six points of the game, three-pointers from Camille Mills and Haley Tojo.
Entering the final day of the regular season, Artesia (12-7-6, 5-2-4) had sealed third place in the Suburban League while Norwalk (8-9-2, 4-5-2), by virtue of beating Cerritos 1-0 this past Tuesday, moved into fourth place. Norwalk needed at least a tie against Artesia on Feb. 13 or a Mayfair loss or tie against Cerritos to remain in fourth place all alone.
Even though Valley Christian (12-8-1, 6-1-1) lost to Heritage Christian 2-1 this past Tuesday night, the Crusaders clinched at least a share of their second straight Olympic League crown.