_____________________________ ST. NORBERT CHURCH           RATES ________________________         EBOOK


CIF-SOUTHERN SECTION DIVISION 4 GIRLS VOLLEYBALL PLAYOFFS: Gahr outlasts Crescenta Valley in thrilling five-set playoff opener

By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter


The Gahr High girls volleyball team hasn’t been tested a lot throughout the month of October, recording six sweeps and being swept once, all in San Gabriel Valley League action. But as the calendar turned to November, the Lady Gladiators found some tougher competition as the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Division 4 playoffs got under way.

In front of a very loud Whitney High gymnasium (the match was moved due to a previously planned function inside Gahr’s gym), the league champions bounced back from a disastrous fourth set to knock off Crescenta Valley 25-17, 20-25, 25-23, 14-25, 15-12 this past Tuesday night in a first round match. Gahr improved to 17-7, the most wins the program has had since 1998 when it finished 17-5. Gahr also advanced beyond the first round for the first time since 2005.

“We haven’t seen a team that offensive in a while,” said Gahr head coach Iris Najera. “I was happy with how our girls responded to the challenge because the sets that we lost weren’t pretty. But they definitely answered back.”

The first match was relatively close for the most part as there were eight ties and four lead changes. Gahr’s biggest deficit was three points, which came very early. But with the Lady Gladiators leading 18-16, sophomore opposite hitter Kara Green had her fifth kill of the set, then served an ace. Sophomore outside hitter Jazminn Parrish had two kills around a Crescenta Valley timeout and Green’s second ace made it 23-16.

Gahr knew it would be in for a long night as the Falcons reeled off five straight points to take a 7-6 lead in the second set, then opened up a 14-9 advantage after an ace from Elise Boyle. Gahr would tie the set three times but was unable to take the lead down the stretch.

The Lady Gladiators would find themselves down early again in the third set at 8-5. Najera called a timeout and after senior middle blocker Shantele Marshall’s seventh kill, Parrish turned up the heat and spiked nine kills the remainder of the set, including the final four Gahr points. In fact, when senior setter Lorelei Saleapaga had a kill to make it 10-9, the Lady Gladiators wouldn’t trail again until it was 22-21.

With Gahr gaining back the momentum and being up 2-1 in the match, it went backwards in the fourth set as Crescenta Valley jumped out to a 9-1 lead. Najera called her second and last timeout at 14-4 but it wasn’t enough to mount a major comeback.

“I just reminded them that our teamwork has got us this far and love for each other and our teamwork will get us through our challenging points in the match,” Najera said.

Down 2-1 in the fifth set, a serving error allowed Parrish to serve consecutive aces after a kill from senior middle blocker Zanache Stanton. Crescenta Valley would tie the set at 6-6 and 7-7 but when Marshall and Parrish had back to back kills, that was the slight edge that Gahr needed for the rest of the way.

The match was a display of dominating hitters and great defense from both teams with the majority of the kills coming off of touches. Patty Kerman (20 kills), Annamarie Alvarez (14 kills) and Paige Sawicki (11 kills) proved to be a tough challenge for Gahr’s defense. Crescenta Valley would churn out 61 kills.

“Those two are outstanding athletes and very skilled,” Najera said of Kerman and Alvarez. “I was happy that our girls worked our game plan and we stuck to our motto, which is ‘it’s all about us’.”

On the other side Parrish finished with a match-high 22 kills followed by 11 from Marshall and 10 from Green, including the final point of the match. The Lady Gladiators would finish with 65 kills. Stanton and senior outside hitter Alexus Latham each added had a pair of blocks

“I want to compliment [Crescenta Valley’s] defense,” Najera said. “Their blocking was excellent, and I know that coach. He’s an excellent coach.

“[Kara] has been a great addition to our squad,” she later added. “She’s only a sophomore but she plays very maturely. She plays with a lot of enthusiasm and she’s able to do every skill. She’s great.”

This was the fifth time all season that Gahr had played a five-set match and the first since Sept. 29. However, the Lady Gladiators have been on a roll since competing in the Dave Mohs Tournament in the middle of September, winning 14 of their last 16 matches. For Gahr to continue that momentum, they will have had to knock off second seeded Claremont High on Nov. 3. If so, then the Lady Gladiators will host Santa Monica High or travel to Palm Desert High on Saturday in the quarterfinals.

“I’m proud of our [league] record being 9-1,” Najera said. “That one loss that we have, I’m proud of that loss. We’ve learned a lot and it exposed a lot of the things we needed to work on and I think we’ve improved a lot since then.”