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OLYMPIC LEAGUE GIRLS VOLLEYBALL: Valley Christian put it all together in the last two sets to sweep Heritage Christian

By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter

For a girls volleyball program that has never lost to Heritage Christian High, including when the school was known as Los Angeles Baptist High, in a dozen matches all-time, the last thing Valley Christian High wanted was to get off to a slow start in the Olympic League opener for both teams. That’s what the Lady Crusaders did, trailing by as many as five points in the first set.

But thanks to some stellar serving by junior defensive specialist Hannah Buckley late, the Lady Crusaders were able to rally, then cruise to a 25-21, 25-10, 25-10 sweep over the Warriors this past Tuesday evening. It was exactly what V.C. needed, having split its first 14 matches of the season with a team of eight returning players on a squad of 15 members.

“We’ve been struggling with trying to find our identity as a team,” said V.C. head coach Melody Nua. “We’re not the same team as we were two years ago and we’re definitely not the same team as last year. Pretty much we’re a brand new squad with just our key players returning. So for us, that slow start…that was kind of typical; something that we would always do. The best thing about it is we made that adjustment and were able to come back the next two sets and win how we’re supposed to win.”

V.C. was trailing Heritage Christian 12-7 following the third straight ace from Angela Awad. Following a V.C. timeout, the Lady Crusaders responded with some serving of their own. Senior defensive specialist Abbey Turnbow had a pair of aces as the hosts got to within a point at 12-11. Then trailing by four points, a kill from senior opposite hitter Chloe De Vries plus back to back aces from sophomore outside hitter Aubrey Schwieger made it 17-16.

Heritage Christian would get another four-point lead before consecutive kills from junior outside hitter Madison Holmes, plus a net violation, gave the Lady Crusaders another burst of momentum. Two plays later, a serving error gave the serving advantage back to V.C. and Buckley finished off the set with three straight aces, plus kills from senior libero Kaylee Westra and junior middle blocker Anneka Bakker.

“I think that we were making a lot of mistakes and lots of errors,” Holmes said. “We were definitely able to step it up towards the end, but it was definitely rough from the beginning.”

After posting nine aces in the first set, the Lady Crusaders (8-7 overall, 1-0 in league) didn’t let up in the second or third sets. Schwieger had a pair of aces as part of a five-point scoring spree to put her team up 9-2 in the opening moments of the second set. Then with V.C. holding a 15-9 advantage, Turnbow served six straight points, including three aces in succession. Through the first two sets, V.C. had 16 aces while Holmes and De Vries had seven and five kills respectively.

“We’ve spent a lot of time on serving,” Nua said. “We know we’re not the best offensive team [and] we know we have trouble executing. So the last thing we want to do is make it harder on ourselves by putting up a lollypop and letting the other team kind of give us something hard back. Hopefully we weather the storm a little bit with our tough serves.”

“Clearly our serving was a little bit rough from the beginning,” Holmes said. “But once we were all able to talk about how we needed to improve it, we all mended it. That’s something that we work on in practice.”

It was more of the same in the third set as junior setter Megan Lim continued the serving party with three straight aces as V.C. had a 3-0 lead and never trailed. With the score 6-4, a kill from Holmes was followed by five aces from senior setter Jaonni Riley and three more kills from Holmes. Just in the third set alone, Holmes had six kills while De Vries and junior outside hitter Ashley Bouma each added three kills. V.C. also served seven more aces to finish with 23. Holmes led everyone with 13 kills while De Vries added nine kills. Just those three offensive performances were four more points than the total put up by the Warriors. Lim and Riley each had six aces while Turnbow had five aces.

“If we win the serve and pass game, we’re setting ourselves up for a good postseason,” Nua said. “Also, just constantly working with our offense, helping them find different ways to score [and] throwing up triple blocks during practice just so they can see it and see what it looks like.”

After going undefeated in non league action during her first season at V.C., Nua saw her team finish last season with a 14-14 overall mark, 2-6 in league. The 7-7 start prior to the Heritage Christian match can partly be attributed to the tough opponents the Lady Crusaders have played, plus the new members to the varsity squad. V.C. had swept Artesia High and West Covina High and lost to Elizabeth Learning Center in three sets in pool play action of the Valley Christian/Mayfair Tournament last Saturday before knocking off Central Valley Christian High 25-15. But in the quarterfinals, the Lady Crusaders fell to Elizabeth Learning Center 25-19 as Schwieger had six kills and Holmes another three kills. Westra also had four aces.

“We didn’t do a summer league, we didn’t do too many scrimmages or tournaments over the summer like we normally do,” Nua said. “We kind of took a break on that and trained in [our gym]. Our record isn’t the best. We’ve lost a lot but we’ve lost to some pretty decent teams that we shouldn’t have gone to five [sets] with. But our defense and everybody scrambling and just working their butts off…it will pay off.”

“It was frustrating in the beginning when we were losing,” Holmes said. “We were having a hard time, but now that we’ve had lots of practices and we’ve been trying our best, we’ve been able to start winning.

“We really try to help everyone and definitely help them stay confident because coming in to varsity, it can be a little nerve-wracking,” she later added. “If we help cheer them on, that will definitely help them for next year.”

V.C. will participate in the Ayala Tournament and will face Claremont High and Burroughs High today and Monrovia High Saturday morning in pool play action. The playoffs of the tournament will begin around 10:00 Saturday morning. The Lady Crusaders will then resume league action with a home match against Whittier Christian High on Tuesday and a road match at Village Christian High on Thursday.