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2014 GIRLS VOLLEYBALL PREVIEW Cerritos eager to move higher in Suburban League standings

By Loren Kopff

12-11 overall last season, 8-4 in the Suburban League, tied for third place, lost to Victor Valley in the Division III-AA first round playoffs
81-45 overall last five seasons
Head coach: David Cuthbert (second season, 12-11)
Last time missed the playoffs: 2002
Key losses: Brittany Diaz, Rachel Fitterer, Mariah Gonzalez, Jody Suski
It was a learning experience for Cerritos as David Cuthbert replaced Khanh Vo, who had been the varsity coach the previous six seasons. The Lady Dons lost four of their first five matches to begin 2013 but upset San Gabriel Valley League champion Downey on the road before a decent Suburban League campaign. Ironically, Cuthbert’s record was the same as Vo’s record in his first season at Cerritos in 2007. Two seasons later, Cerritos went 25-4.
“I think every coach feels [they] could have squeaked out one more win,” Cuthbert said. “I thought there were a couple that we let go, and then particularly in the playoffs, we just didn’t play well. That was really a missed opportunity. But there were a lot of positives from last year.”
He added that he learned the other things that go along with being a high school volleyball coach, like monitoring class schedules, eligibility and finding that line of flexibility.
Returning for Cerritos will be senior middle blockers Crystal Amalu, Kaitlyn Bales and Brittney Freeman, senior outside hitter Madison Lee, senior setters Lorinet Marquez and Jessica Tahata and junior defensive specialist Nicole Medina, who can also be an outside hitter. If needed, Bales can also be a setter, as she has been in the past, and play on the right side. However, she will be sidelined for at least the next month with an injury.
“We do return a nucleus but we lost the bulk of our offense with [Mariah and Jodi] moving on,” Cuthbert said. “But that just means we have new people to fill the offense.”
With Bales out of action for a while, the veteran Marquez and Tahata will have to find other options to go to. Amalu and sophomore middle blocker Ioefoma Okoli, whom Cuthbert said are the most improved players as well as Marquez, will be among those go-to players. Lee is an up and coming outsider hitter and she’ll be joined in that position by junior Lauren Oh, a transfer from Whitney High School.
“It’s nice to have two players that know the team well,” Cuthbert said of Marquez and Tahata. “It keeps the competition at this time of the year firm. I don’t make any decisions about who is starting when. I make that decision on game day, or the day before. The players know that. It keeps the competition firm at practice. I don’t like players to get comfortable as the, ‘I am the outside hitter regardless of what happens’. So it’s good to have that uncertainty in their minds.”
Senior outside hitters Yusa Liu, Marissa Pacheco and Justina Peko, senior defensive specialist and outside hitter Judimae Angcaco, senior defensive specialist Allison David and sophomore middle blocker Kristin Londrie are the other newcomers.
With a squad that’s top heavy with seniors, Cerritos has the makings of supplanting Norwalk as the league champs and claiming first place for the first time since 2011. Cerritos did beat Norwalk at home in five games. But two days earlier, it had lost to La Mirada, also at home. Later in the season, the Lady Dons earned a five-set victory at La Mirada, but then fell to Norwalk on the road five days later. But can Cerritos get back to the top spot in league?
“That’s why we play; we play to win,” Cuthbert said. “I think because we have had a lot of changes, we don’t really quite know what we have yet. We’ll have better idea in a couple of weeks. But our goal is always to use our out of league games to get us as ready as we can, and then we’ll be in top form when we get ready for league. I think we were in contention all the way up until we lost the second to the last [match]. I’m sure it’s going to be tight again this year. It just takes one team to make that little difference and step forward to win league. I hope that’s us.”