_____________________________ ST. NORBERT CHURCH           RATES ________________________


CIF-SOUTHERN SECTION DIVISION III-AA GIRLS VOLLEYBALL PLAYOFFS: Norwalk unable to solve Rim of the World’s height advantage

By Loren Kopff

For the second time in three seasons, the Norwalk High girls volleyball team advanced to the second round of the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section divisional playoffs. Unfortunately, the Lady Lancers were staring across at a 6’ 2” middle blocker from Rim of the World High who stole the spotlight.

Norwalk got to see the No. 17 worn by Madison Newcombe more than it wanted to as she torched the Lady Lancers defense to the tune of 27 kills as the Scots eliminated Norwalk 25-17, 27-25, 25-19 last Thursday night in Division III-AA second round match.

Although Norwalk head coach Jessie Gonzalez had seen his team tie for second place in the Suburban League and knock off Pioneer High two days prior, he confessed he didn’t know much about the division’s third-ranked team which entered Norwalk’s gymnasium with a 21-5 mark.

“Not knowing very much about them beside just what was on paper,” Gonzalez admitted when asked what he knew of his opponent. “I tried watching some film on them. I know we had to key in on [Chloe Castillo] and number 17. Basically that was what our defense was based off of. I think this was probably the best team we faced all season and I can easily say, without a doubt, my team played their hearts out.”

In the first set, it was all about Newcombe and junior outside hitter Ashley Whittall with the former accounting for Rim of the World’s first seven kills and the latter pounding down her team’s first five kills. By this point, the Scots were up 13-8 as they also received three aces from Tia MacGuire. Norwalk drew to within four points at 17-13 before a net violation gave the MacGuire the serve again and she added two more aces plus Newcombe’s ninth kill as the Scots opened up a 21-13 advantage.

“It was just a back and forth game,” Gonzalez said. “Ashley wasn’t backing down and Newcombe wasn’t backing down. So I think the competitive nature between both of them didn’t let them let up and just kept both of them aggressive the entire match.”

Norwalk (16-11) showed it wasn’t going to go away that easy in the second set and built an 8-4 lead following Whittall’s seventh kill. But three straight kills from Castillo tied things up at 9-9 and both teams traded points until senior outside hitter Vanessa Cardenas got into the action with three kills of her own to help her team open a 20-17 lead.

The Scots ran off the next four points and after an ace from senior middle blocker Leslie Leanos, the Lady Lancers were at set point. But Newcombe and Kayla Allen responded with kills. Then a kill from Castillo and a lift violation put the San Andreas League champions a set away from the sweep.

Norwalk grabbed a quick 4-2 lead in the third set when senior setter Brenda Hernandez had an ace. Later in the set, an ace from junior libero Paola Nava made it 12-11 in favor of the visitors. But a serving error put the ball in the hands of Castillo, who reeled off eight straight points to put the match away. During that scoring spree, Newcombe added four more kills and a block while Castillo had a pair of aces.

“I think it was a couple of things,” Gonzalez said. “There was a lack of energy. I think there was a lack of intensity on our end. But once I called that timeout [at 19-11], I just told them, ‘this might be the last time you ever play here at Norwalk High School for you seniors’. I just told them to play with their hearts and leave everything on the court.”

Norwalk made one last push as Leanos and Whittall each had a kill and a block after a Cardenas kill. After the Scots called a timeout, Newcombe had her last kill and MacGuire’s kill at the back line ended the match. Whittall led Norwalk with 14 kills while Cardenas added 10 kills. Four other players combined for the other five kills the Lady Lancers would collect.

“She was playing great the entire game,” Gonzalez said of Cardenas. “She was picking her spots and just being smart with the ball instead of making rash decisions and swinging away.”

Although the Lady Lancers graduate eight players, they will return key components to their offense as well as defense and anticipate being a force in the league next season. This was the third straight season that Gonzalez has guided his team to double digit victories after going 9-8 in his first season as Norwalk’s varsity head coach.

“Overall, I think this was probably one of my best seasons I’ve ever had at Norwalk High School,” Gonzalez said. “Being a third place team and being the only upset in our division, having beat a team with a higher seed, it just kind of goes to show that there’s an entire season and it’s not only based off of records. As long as a team is focused and they have a goal in mind, they can accomplish whatever they want.”