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SUBURBAN LEAGUE GIRLS VOLLEYBALL: Cerritos stays close to Mayfair before losing in battle of league’s best

By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter


Last season, the Cerritos High girls volleyball team was swept by Mayfair High in its two meetings with the defending Suburban League champions, scoring a total of 80 points. When the two teams met last Thursday with identical 2-0 league marks, it was Mayfair which came away victorious for the 11th straight time over the Lady Dons.

But this time, Cerritos put up a better fight, winning a set for the first time since 2015 and had a chance to win another set, or two. With the Cerritos side of its gymnasium nearly packed, the energy was flowing on the home side but it the visitors had more energy in a 25-21, 20-25, 25-21, 20-25 victory.

“I think some of the best stuff we’ve played is not consistent enough to get it done today,” said Cerritos head coach David Cuthbert. “But we knew coming in this was going to be a big game for us. We had a nice crowd in here tonight; it was a great atmosphere. We had some players step up, just not quite enough to get the win today.

“This is going to be a pivotal moment to realize what we have to do to be better and what we have to do to win,” he continued. “I think we’re going to learn that lesson. I have a lot of faith in my team going forward.”

Cerritos was either tied or led the Monsoons in the first set until consecutive aces to the back line from Emma Kailiponi put Mayfair in front. After a serve into the net, a kill from Bria Augustine put Mayfair back on top for good. Mayfair, which has always been a thorn in the side of the other six teams in league, was showing off its offensive power as Augustine, Sarah Clausen and Joy Udeh combined for all 15 kills it would get in the set.

Still, Cerritos stayed within a few points, trailing 20-19 after a kill from senior outside hitter Amber Han. But down by two, a net violation and a kill from Augustine ended the set.

“We haven’t seen that a lot because of the schools in our league,” Han said of Mayfair’s potent attack. “So, we definitely have to adjust to that because it’s new to us.”

The Lady Dons grabbed leads of 3-0 and 5-2 in the second set and for the most part, the set would go back and forth until Han’s seventh kill at 18-17 began the final push the hosts needed. Cerritos reeled off four consecutive points, the largest rally of the match, which ended with an ace from Han. Cerritos served five other aces in the set and got timely kills and blocks from senior middle blockers Kelly Amalu and Muna Okoli, junior outside hitter Samantha Oh and sophomore right side hitter Nicole Blue.

“I think when we rack up points like that and we all get a piece of it, it definitely motivates us and drives us all,” Han said. “We all know we’re doing our part.”

“We have to be balanced,” Cuthbert said. “That’s the team we have. Last year we had someone in Ifeoma [Okoli] who could hit over people and put the ball down. We don’t have that this year. We have to be balanced, we have to spread the wealth, we have to get everybody involved for us to be successful.”

Cerritos got out to a better start in the third set, holding leads of 6-1, 9-3 and 13-9. But a kill from Augustine followed by three straight aces from Tiana Vaifanua put the Monsoons up by one at 15-14. Cerritos wouldn’t regain the lead but managed to get within a point three times, the last after Blue’s fifth kill, which made it 22-21. Mayfair put the set away with a net violation called on Cerritos, a block from Udeh and an ace from Augustine.

“We just made some errors at key times,” Cuthbert said. “We had a couple of service errors and some unfortunate hitting errors that kind of took the wind out of our sail. They’re a good serving team, so they put us under some pressure and that led to some easier plays for them. They played well and they earned it today.”

“I feel like we kind of lose faith after a couple of points that we lose,” Han said. “We kind of get into a rut, especially in our passing. We have trouble adjusting quickly; we adjust a little bit too late. It definitely hurts us, but we can fix it. We know what to do the next time we play them.”

It was all Mayfair in the fourth set as Cerritos, which was down by as many as eight points, tried to rally late behind a pair of Han kills and an ace from junior libero Sidney Pasion, which made it a 17-13 affair. But it was simply too much of Clausen (20 kills), Augustine (19 kills, four aces) and Udeh (13 kills, two blocks).

“That’s their team,” Cuthbert said. “They want to get the ball to their best players like we want to get the ball to our best players. We didn’t do a good job stopping them. We made some adjustments going in to the second set. We did a better job slowing them down, taking them out of the system a little bit, and we had some success at that. But when you have good players on the other side, they’re going to get their kills.

“They’re a good team,” he later said. “They’ve won our league the last few years. They have probably some of the best athletes in our division. When they get it right, they’re hard to stop.”

Han led Cerritos with 15 kills, followed by Okoli and Oh, each with eight kills, and Amalu, six kills and two blocks. Pasion led the team with 13 digs while sophomore setter Emily Pasion added 12 digs and Oh pitched in with another eight. The rematch with the Monsoons will be on Oct. 10 and will mark the third match of the second round. That’s how early the league title could be wrapped up should Mayfair win and not be upset by anyone the rest of the way.

“I feel like they’re our biggest competition,” Han said. “We always have really close and good games with them. It’s good to have a healthy competition; to have someone who challenges us a lot.”

Cerritos then competed in the Valley Christian/Bellflower Volleyball Tournament last Saturday, defeating Oaks Christian High 25-18, 20-25, 15-13, falling to El Segundo High 25-19, 25-16 and then beating Trinity Classical High 25-7, 25-13 in pool play action before losing to Westridge High 25-17 in the first round of the playoffs. The Lady Dons (7-2 overall, 3-1 in league) then swept Artesia High 25-12, 25-12, 25-8 this past Tuesday and will entertain Gahr High today and La Mirada High on Thursday.