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SUBURBAN LEAGUE GIRLS VOLLEYBALL: Cerritos digs deep but misses chance of possible shared league title, falls to Mayfair in five

By Loren Kopff

LAKEWOOD-The script was written for the Cerritos High girls volleyball team when it visited Mayfair High this past Tuesday afternoon for the last time as a Suburban League rival. But it did not come with any Hollywood-type success ending.

The Lady Dons, who back on Oct. 14, 2005 snapped Mayfair’s streak of 113 consecutive league matches won with a sweep at home, was looking to put an end to the Monsoons’ current streak of 37 victorious consecutive league matches. But Mayfair pulled away late in the fourth and fifth sets respectively to knock off Cerritos 25-17, 14-25, 21-25, 25-21, 15-7 to all but wrap up the league title. Cerritos (12-3 overall, 7-2 in league) has three matches remaining in the regular season and would need to win out and have the Monsoons lose their remaining three league matches to win the circuit.

Cerritos finishes 8-32 against Monsoons since joining the league and next season will move into the new 605 League. This was the fourth time the teams had gone the full five sets with Mayfair winning all of them, and all four times, Cerritos, which has now lost 12 straight to the Monsoons, was up 2-1.

In addition to the dominating offense that Mayfair provided, complements of Bria Augustine, Sarah Clausen and Joy Umeh, both teams were simply brilliant on defense, coming up with one dig after another.

“I’m not sure if I’ve seen a game like that where both sides were hitting the floor and pulling out some digs that I think everyone in gym thought were down,” said Cerritos head coach David Cuthbert. “Usually, you get one or two of those a game. But I think there were multiple ones each side in each set. It was certainly fun to watch. I’m a defensive-minded coach and I like to see them go to the ground where people in the gym don’t think it’s playable.”

The Lady Dons, ranked seventh in the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Division 5 poll, were in catch-up mode throughout most of the fourth set. A kill from senior middle blocker Kelly Amalu gave the visitors an 8-7 lead. But a net violation, and three straight points served by Madison Purnell gave the Monsoons a lead it would not surrender. Cerritos did get within a point three times but couldn’t get over the edge as Augustine and Clausen were pounding kills all over the place.

The Lady Dons never led in the fifth set but stayed within striking range until a kill from Clausen allowed her to serve the final four points of the match. That final push included an ace and a pair of kills from Augustine, who ended with a match-high 30. On Sept. 14, Cerritos lost to the Monsoons in four sets with each one decided by four or five points.

“We had a game plan that we had in play [since the last meeting] and it didn’t change much for this one,” Cuthbert said. “We were lucky to get some video on them from our first game and then a previous game they played earlier in the year. We had a definite scouting report; we did a much better job of executing it. As it got a little tight at the end, we kind of strayed away, which is probably my only frustration. I’m really proud of how the girls played today.”

Cerritos didn’t generate much on offense in the first set with only eight kills, half of them coming from senior outside hitter Amber Han. Just like the fifth set, the Lady Dons never led in the opening set, but that would change in the next two sets. Cerritos led quickly 3-1 in the second set and never looked back, building a 12-5 advantage following the third kill from junior outside hitter Samantha Oh. One of the turning points in the match came at the end of the set when senior libero Kea Minami served the final five points, including the last three on aces. She would lead the team with 28 digs.

“She was fantastic for us today, in serve receive and in transition,” Cuthbert said. “She stabilized our pass; we started a little shaky passing the ball. And then, you don’t plan for some of those digs, but you just hope that you have players who can make them. She stepped up and made some pretty miraculous plays today. She kept some balls alive. We know how important she is.”

The Lady Dons were up 12-9 in the third set until Clausen’s kill allowed her to serve three straight points, all Augustine kills. Then with the Lady Dons clinging to an 18-17 lead, Han’s 10th kill was followed by her serving four straight points. Han would lead her team with 13 kills and had eight digs while Oh added 11 kills and 11 digs. Senior middle blocker Muna Okoli had 10 kills and three blocks while Amalu poured in eight kills and half a dozen blocks. Defensively, junior defensive specialist Sidney Pasion had 13 digs while sophomore setter Emily Pasion chipped in with 10 digs. But the main story of the match was Mayfair’s big three, who combined for 64 kills and four blocks.

“The way Mayfair plays, they have three dominant hitters who can all win a game by themselves,” Cuthbert said. “They have three girls who are going to score a lot of points. So, our scouting report was to shift our block instead of being a traditional lineup. I think we did a better job of getting a lot more touches where we closed the block.”

Cerritos, which last defeated the Monsoons on Oct. 27, 1011, hosted Artesia High on Oct. 12 and will visit Bellflower High on Tuesday and Crean Lutheran High on Thursday in a non-league tilt.

“Our focus is always looking at the big picture,” Cuthbert said. “We have some really tough games ahead of us. We go down to Crean Lutheran and we play in the Chadwick Tournament [on Oct. 21]. It’s all about sharpening ourselves; getting ready for a run in CIF [playoffs] and see what we can do there.

“Any team sport that finishes with the single elimination…it’s all about where you finish,” he continued. “If we go further than we’ve ever in CIF and come in second in league, I can live with that. League is about getting us ready and getting into the playoffs. That’s where we’re going to evaluate our team when we play against some big teams in single elimination. We’re looking forward to that.”

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