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CIF-SOUTHERN SECTION DIVISION 5 BOYS VOLLEYBALL FINALS Cerritos unable to break through in first trip to finals, falls to La Serna in four sets

By Loren Kopff

@LorenKopff on Twitter

A couple of points here and there or maybe a flurry of points every now and then and Cerritos High could have been celebrating its first California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section boys volley championship. Instead, it was La Serna High that came away with a hard fought 25-21, 26-24, 20-25, 25-23 last Saturday morning in the Division 5 finals at Cerritos College.

The top-seeded Dons were making their first trip to the title game in boys history and to say that this one was a close match would be a huge understatement. The first set featured five ties and three lead changes while the third set saw 10 ties and five lead changes.

“You’re going to have your ups and downs but at the end of the day, they’re a group that’s willing to fight for each other and for the school,” said Cerritos head coach Khanh Vo. “I can’t be more proud of them.”

Cerritos (27-10) reeled off three straight points early in the opening set on kills from senior setter Paolo Bautista and senior opposite hitter Matthew Nagata plus an ace from sophomore libero Dylan Wong. But after that, the Dons would only get consecutive points four times the remainder of the set. They did get to within a point twice late in the match, but a serving error gave the ball to Matthew Aldana where he served an ace followed by a net violation.

La Serna had leads of 13-8, 17-12 and 20-16 in the second set before the Dons made a valiant effort to get back. Senior outside hitter Joshua Reyes had a kill, followed by consecutive aces from Bautista. Moments later, senior middle blocker Nathaniel Andres had a pair of kills sandwiched around an ace from senior outside hitter Vance Ishishara to tie the set. Another kill from Andres stopped the Lancers at set point, but a kill and ace from Brandon Lugo ended that threat.

“They gave us balls at the net and they’re very well-coached,” Vo said. “They knew their blocking assignments and we had problems in transition.”

In the third set, the Lancers were up 4-1 early and later at 13-11. But Cerritos rallied and began to put points together, something it hadn’t done much of in the first two sets. Down 14-13, Nagata had a kill, then an ace from sophomore outside hitter Vincente Louise Bautista and a Reyes kill. From that point on, Cerritos wouldn’t trail the remainder of the set. After being held to two kills and a hitting percentage of negative .167 in the first two sets, Reyes had five kills in the third set and one error in 12 attempts.

“Josh is one of the few players who is one of the big hitters,” Vo said. “When he’s on fire, we look good. When [opponents] slow him down, we don’t look as good. I don’t have the biggest team. But he is one of my big hitters and as far as he goes, that’s as far as we go.”

Cerritos thought it had the momentum but the Lancers ruined any thought of that when it bolted out to a 6-1 lead in the fourth set. Vo called a timeout at 4-1 but it wasn’t the middle of the set that the Dons began to give La Serna a run for its money.

Cerritos got to within two points three times until La Serna built a 20-14 advantage. A Reyes kill, an ace from Bautista and a net violation would make the score 21-19 and later, a kill from senior outside hitter Effdhavis Amores brought the Dons to within a point. But Brian Marquez had a cross-court kill that landed at the far left corner to end the match.

“I just saw a drop in energy,” Vo said of calling his first timeout. “I thought for taking the third game, we were the ones who were flat when we should be continuing the momentum. We kind of lost the momentum at that point. I just tried to get them to refocus.”

Andres led Cerritos with 13 kills while Ishishara and Reyes each had a dozen kills, followed by 10 from Amores. Wong had 22 digs, Reyes 19, Ishishara 17 and Bautista 14. Cerritos would visit Katella High this past Tuesday night in the first round of the Southern California Division III Regionals and came away with a 25-18, 25-17, 28-30, 25-22. The Dons faced top-seeded Kennedy High on May 25 in the regional semifinals with a chance to play for the finals which will be played Saturday afternoon at Edison High. Cerritos could have an opportunity for a rematch with La Serna in the regional finals.

“It’s a process,” Vo said of being the top-ranked team. “It’s not like Cerritos is number one all the time in any sport, really. I always tell the kids to continue to get better, continue to fight. And I’m proud of them. That’s what they continue to do. We came up two points short in two of the games we lost. We’re almost there.”