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NEWS AND NOTES FROM PRESS ROW: Gahr’s chances of outright San Gabriel Valley League title swept away by Warren

By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter


DOWNEY-Last season, the Gahr High girls volleyball team had one of its best seasons, going 17-8 and winning the San Gabriel Valley League title for the first time since 1998. However, the Lady Gladiators found out that repeating as league champions isn’t that easy.

Gahr came out sluggish against Warren High this past Tuesday and was simply outplayed in the first two sets and eventually lost to the Bears 25-16, 25-19, 25-23. Gahr dropped to 7-11 overall, its first losing season since 2014, and 6-2 in the circuit. With two matches remaining in the regular season, Gahr’s only chances of sharing the crown would be to have defeated Paramount High on Oct. 19, have Downey High lose to Warren on the same day, then beat Downey on the road on Tuesday.

“Winning league was our goal,” said Gahr head coach Iris Najera. “Now we’re playing for second place. My philosophy is the same. We take things one point at a time. A win over Downey would be nice for us, not for anyone else. I know we are capable.”

Through the first rotation in the opening set, both teams went back and forth with no lead greater than two points. There were seven ties and three lead changes. With the Bears leading 11-10, Holly Cabrajac had a kill that began a stretch of four straight points and nine of the next 10 as Warren opened a 20-11 advantage. The Lady Gladiators were limited to half a dozen kills, four aces and three blocks, two coming from junior middle blocker Nneoma Izima.

In the second set, Gahr tried to stay close early but Janine Dahdul served seven consecutive points to put the hosts up 13-4. However, the inability to string together more than two points at a time spelled doom for the Gladiators in the first two sets as they scored three straight points once in the first set and once in the second set, the later ending on an ace from sophomore middle blocker Mariah Iosua, making the score 20-15.

In fact, Najera, who admitted her team lacked intensity and urgency, but that they will learn from this loss, called her second and final timeout of the second set with the score 10-4 and lashed out at her team.

“I was trying to get a reaction from the team by getting fired up,” she said. “I wanted more aggressiveness and competition.”

Najera would see some of that in the third set, even though the Lady Gladiators quickly fell behind 13-4 again. Following a timeout, Najera would see Izima get a kill, then senior opposite hitter Jackie Dixon serve four straight points. With the score 18-11, sophomore outside hitter Hunter Thomas had a kill, then an ace followed by Dixon’s first kill. A minute later, an ace from junior middle blocker Olanna Olumba and another kill from Dixon made it 19-17.

Warren would score the next four points but Gahr made one final push and after a rotation violation, was a point away from tying Warren. But Cabrajac pounded down her match-high 12th kill. Thomas led the Lady Gladiators with 11 kills while Izima added seven kills and four blocks.

“We made a nice run at the end of the third set,” Najera said. “Volleyball is a sport all about momentum. I liked the effort at the end. It was too late, though.

“Hunter Thomas is one to watch,” Najera added. “I am impressed with her athleticism, her attitude and her maturity. She is a natural leader. I am looking forward to coaching her these last two matches of league.”

In other girls volleyball action, the regular season concludes on Tuesday with the wild card matches of the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section beginning on Oct. 28. Artesia High (4-16 overall, 0-10 in the Suburban League) will host playoff-bound Norwalk High (14-9, 6-4), Cerritos High (13-4, 8-3), another soon to be playoff participant, will compete in the Chadwick High Tournament on Saturday before visiting La Mirada High on Tuesday, John Glenn High (7-12, 1-9) will host Bellflower High, Valley Christian High (18-7, 4-2 in the Olympic League) will host Heritage Christian High prior to another playoff appearance and Whitney High (3-19, 2-7) will entertain Sage Hill High in the final volleyball match of the Academy League.


Artesia (3-4, 1-2) @ Mayfair High (6-1, 3-0)-There is one team in the Suburban League that Artesia has not defeated in over 20 seasons and the Pioneers will play that team tonight at Ron Yary Stadium. It’s a tall task for the Pioneers, who have given up 44 and 55 points respectively in the past two weeks. Junior quarterback Heder Gladden accounted for four of the five touchdowns Artesia scored in a 55-35 loss to La Mirada last Friday. The 35 points were the most an Artesia squad had scored against the Matadores since 2005, a 42-34 victory. Mayfair is the third ranked team in the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Division 9 poll.

Warren (5-2, 1-1) @ Gahr (6-1, 2-0)-The Gladiators have had a relatively easy time during their five-game winning streak, allowing 40 points. But now, the tough part of the schedule begins and first up is Warren on homecoming night. Gahr has opened San Gabriel Valley League play with easy wins over the two last place teams and will round out the season against three teams who currently have a combined 16-5 record. The Gladiators are ranked sixth in Division 10 while the Bears are ranked sixth in Division 7. Gahr has a 4-2 record against Warren in the past six meetings. In last Friday’s 41-18 win over Lynwood High, junior running back Micah Bernard scored four times.

Monrovia High (2-5) @ Valley Christian (5-2)-The Crusaders are back from their bye and are stepping out of Olympic League play to host the Wildcats in a replacement game because Village Christian High dropped varsity football for this season. The Crusaders are the fifth ranked team in Division 8 and have won four straight games by an average margin of 29.5 points. The last time V.C. was in action, the rolled over Maranatha High 63-14. This will be the last home game for the Crusaders in the regular season.