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2018 GIRLS VOLLEYBALL PREVIEWS: New league should make for interesting season for quartet of area teams

By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter

While some may miss the battles for the Suburban League championship between Cerritos High and Mayfair High, the former school, plus three others, are glad that the new 605 League is beginning this season. Cerritos may still be the favorites to win a league crown, but the other three will battle with two other schools for two other automatic berths to the CIF-Southern Section playoffs. Gahr High has hopes of claiming the San Gabriel Valley League and has the talent to do so, while Valley Christian High is in the same position in the Olympic League.

ARTESIA PIONEERS

4-18 overall last season, 0-12 in the Suburban League, seventh place

18-82 overall last five seasons

Head coach: Joe Soto (first season)

Last time made the playoffs: 2010

Division 6

Key losses: Daisy De Avila, Mika Gebers Ayanna Jimenez, Jessica Tibayan

Returning players: Senior setter Lizzy Bryson, senior opposite hitter Yulissa Sosa, junior libero Arely De Avila, sophomore middle blocker Oriana Monis

Joe Soto becomes the program’s seventh head coach since 1998 and is hoping to send the Pioneers to the playoffs for just the second time in that span.  Soto coached Norwalk High in 2005 and went 10-8 overall, 6-6 in the Suburban League and sent the Lady Lancers to the playoffs. He said he talked with former Norwalk head coach Wendy DeVries who told him there may be an opening as varsity coach and said she would like to work with Soto again.

“What really enticed me was the re-leaguing,” Soto said. “To be really honest, if we were still in the Suburban League, I might have declined, only because we would have been playing for fourth place. The incentive was, being in the new 605 League, it gave us a fighting chance to compete for [the playoffs] and obviously win the league title. I have three seniors who have never sniffed the playoffs.”

The Pioneers return just four players, but already, Soto is pleased with what they bring to the table. He says that senior setter Lizzy Bryson has a great set of hands and is more like a coach on the floor. Senior opposite hitter Yulissa Sosa will play on the right side while four sophomores will start, highlighted by middle blocker Oriana Monis. Soto added that he thinks the strength of the team will come from his sophomore class.

In addition, junior Aylin Borja will mainly play all around and junior middle blocker Jeanette Panuco will start opposite Monis. Other newcomers to varsity will be junior defensive specialist Eden Fleming, sophomore outside hitters Danae Green (who can also play the setter position) and Tiffany Ramos, defensive specialist and libero Ashley Monge and right side hitter Yunche Rodriguez. Soto also believes his team can take no worse than third place in the 605 League.

“From day one, I came in and said we needed to change the culture and the mindset,” Soto said. “When I first came in, I cut seven seniors. Last year was one bad hiccup and we’re going to get back to winning. A lot of these girls don’t understand that we’ve been downtrodden for a couple of years.”

CERRITOS LADY DONS

16-8 overall last season, 9-3 in the Suburban League, second place, lost to Diamond Bar High in the Division 5 second round playoffs

70-49 overall last five seasons

Head coach: David Cuthbert (sixth season, 70-49)

Last time missed the playoffs: 2002

Division 5

Key losses: Kelly Amalu, Amber Han, Kea Minami, Tracey Nakamura, Muna Okoli

Returning players: Senior outside hitter Samantha Oh, senior defensive specialist/libero Sidney Pasion, junior setter Emily Pasion, junior right side hitter Nicole Blue, junior middle blocker Chisoma Agaranna, sophomore outside hitter Karina Gatewood

Now that Cerritos has left the Suburban League, where it won four league titles since 1998 and finished in second place six times, including the last three, head coach David Cuthbert must like his chances of being the favorites to win the 605 League. He said the team wasn’t truly satisfied with finishing in second place last season, but it was good finish. He will miss the rivalries with La Mirada High, Mayfair High and Norwalk High.

Although the Lady Dons lose five impact players, there is still enough firepower in the lineup, especially with senior outside hitter Samantha Oh, junior right side hitter Nicole Blue and up and coming sophomore outside hitter Karina Gatewood. Also in that mix are the Pasion sisters, senior Sidney, who is a defensive specialist and libero, and junior Emily, the number one setter.

“You can’t fully replace that group like that,” Cuthbert said of last season’s seniors. “Some new players will have to do some elements while our returners will have to expand their games to make up for some of the loss. We will have to be flexible this year.”

Cuthbert thinks the leadership will come from Blue, Oh and the Pasion sisters, but at the same time, he expects the whole roster to have leadership behavior. Blue and Gatewood have made the biggest improvements since last season with the latter being multidimensional as she could see some time at outside, middle or on the right side.

“We always look at the process of getting better each day, but if you want specifics in terms of outcomes, we aim to win our new league and reach quarterfinals and more for CIF,” Cuthbert said.

GAHR LADY GLADIATORS

8-13 overall last season, 7-3 in the San Gabriel Valley League, second place, lost to Valley Christian High in the Division 4 first round playoffs

61-60 overall last five seasons

Head coach: Iris Najera (seventh season, 73-70)

Last time missed the playoffs: 2008

Division 4

Key losses: Carissa Ayala, Julianna Carvajal, Jackie Dixon

Returning players: Senior outside hitter Tepora Pili, senior middle blockers Nneoma Izima and Olanna Olumba, senior opposite hitter Julia Stein, senior libero Yanelli Guzman, senior defensive specialist Noelia Munoz, junior setter Louisa Black, junior outside hitter Mariah Iousa, junior outside hitter Hunter Bailey Thomas

Gahr head coach Iris Najera saw her team have somewhat of a Jekyll and Hyde season as the Lady Gladiators struggled in non-league action but managed to finish in second place in the San Gabriel Valley League.

“We had a very competitive preseason last year,” she said. “I scheduled those teams to prepare us for top level play in league. This year, we will be playing tough competition again to prepare for league.”

The Lady Gladiators should be well-experienced as they graduated three impact players. Gahr does return its starting setter, junior Louisa Black, both outside hitters, both middle blockers, the opposite hitter and libero. Junior outside hitter Hunter Bailey Thomas has improved the most out of the returning players while junior outside hitter Mariah Iousa has made the transition from middle blocker. In addition, senior middle blocker Olanna Olumba is learning a new position and can also play opposite hitter. Keep an eye on junior setter Afioga Tone to make an impact this season as a newcomer to varsity as Najera calls her ‘a leader, competitor and [someone who] loves the game’.

Najera says this is one of the most experienced and physical teams she’s had and she’s very excited for this season. As far as the league, Najera believes that her team, along with Downey High, Paramount High and Warren High, can win the SGVL.

“It all depends on the students each school gets,” she said. “All schools have great coaching. We all have similar student populations.”

JOHN GLENN LADY EAGLES

8-13 overall last season, 2-10 in the Suburban League, sixth place

32-86 overall last five seasons

Head coach: Mariel Turner (second season, 8-13)

Last time made the playoffs: 2009

Division 6

Key losses: Darlene Ayala, Gloria De La Cruz, Karina Gomez, Christine Zepeda

Returning players: Senior right side hitters Berenice Santana and Brianna Tapia, senior middle blockers Denise Cardenas and Kate Ramirez, senior outside hitter Paola Ramirez, senior libero Jessica Valdez

It was a learning experience for John Glenn High head coach Mariel Turner, who is confident her team can build off an eight-win season of 2017. Her first head coaching job was everything she expected after coming from Millikan High, which has an established program. She said she knew it was going to be different and was prepared for it but didn’t see too many issues with the players. She added that it’s tough to come into a struggling program because it’s hard to bring a winning mentality into the program. But, the Lady Eagles have a lot stronger team this season.

“Everybody wants to go to CIF and it was my goal that I always kept in mind,” Turner said. “Last year I didn’t know what to expect out of Glenn. When I came [here], I did everything I could to go to CIF. But our first goal was to win just one match, and I think anything more than one match was a win for the season.”

Glenn lost a big hitter in Gloria De La Cruz, who graduated last season. But look for senior middle blocker Denise Cardenas and senior outside hitter Paola Ramirez to take control of the offense. Turner feels those two will always be leaders and have gotten better in their own unique ways. But, senior right side hitter Bernice Santana has improved a lot and is becoming another leader.

“I am pleased 100 percent because that winning mentality is there in our returners,” Turner said. “So, that confidence is there with them [and] it’s spread to our new varsity players and I really am happy with who has been moved up to varsity.”

Turner lists senior defensive specialists Carla Bautista and Mariah Chavez and sophomore libero Karina Flores as her top varsity newcomers,

NORWALK LADY LANCERS

15-11 overall last season, 7-5 in the Suburban League, third place, lost to Vistamar High in the Division 5 first round playoffs

63-53 overall last five seasons

Head coach: Eric Lorn (second season (15-11)

Last time missed the playoffs: 2010

Division 6

Key losses: Esmeralda Aispuro, Danielle Gomez, Elexus Moralez, Jackie Quijada, Julia Sanchez, Valerie Zavala

Returning players: Senior outside hitters Marissa Anguiano and Cieara Munoz, senior middle blocker Priscilla Martinez, senior defensive specialists Zoey Castillo, Arlene Chairez and Marissa Reyna, senior utility player Daisy Sanchez, junior outside hitter Alejandra Macias

After having been on the Norwalk High coaching staff the past few seasons, helping former coaches Jessie Gonzalez and Hector Guevara, last season was pretty much what head coach Eric Lorn expected. The Lady Lancers finished at least third in the Suburban League for the fifth time in the last six seasons and advanced to the playoffs for the seventh straight season. But now, it will be different if Norwalk wants to extend its streak to eight seasons as the league has been dropped to four teams.

“I kind of knew what I was getting myself into,” Lorn said of last season. “It wasn’t a big surprise, but it was definitely a lot of work.”

The Lady Lancers should have a team that will compete with league nemesis Mayfair High for the title and it begins with senior libero Marissa Reyna, who can also be a defensive specialist and an outside hitter. Last season, she led Norwalk with 136 kills and 255 kills. Expected to complement her in the kill department will be senior outside hitters Marissa Anguiano (37 kills, 135 digs last season) and Cieara Munoz and senior middle blocker Priscilla Martinez.

“Out of all the returning players, there is probably one key person that made a big difference and that was Marissa Reyna,” Lorn said. “All the other returners, they still have a lot of work to do and they may need a lot more experience. Some of them playing only a couple of years, some of them not getting a lot of playing time last year on varsity. That makes a big difference.”

Lorn added that senior defensive specialist Zoey Castillo, who is coming off a softball injury last spring, has also been making a bigger difference since last season even though she isn’t getting a lot of playing time.

Lorn lists senior setter Arianna Ortiz, sophomore middle blocker Alyanna Dorado and freshman defensive specialist and libero Stacey Valentin as the varsity newcomers who will make an impact in 2018. Norwalk will field 17 players with 10 of them being seniors. So, the Lady Lancers should be set for the next several seasons as far as experience goes.

“I definitely am thrilled for the next couple of years,” Lorn said. “I help out the [lower level] teams as much as I can, and I see a lot of young talent. You could say that last year, too, when I saw the freshman team that as of right now, the freshmen and sophomore class is very strong. I see a lot of talent moving up.”

VALLEY CHRISTIAN LADY DEFENDERS

21-8 overall last season, 6-2 in the Olympic League, second place, lost to Santa Monica High in the Division 4 second round playoffs

93-45 overall last five seasons

Head coach: Jeff Ornee (second season, 21-8)

Last time missed the playoffs: 2009

Division 4

Key losses: Anneka Bakker, Ashley Bouma, Hannah Buckley, Rebekah Perez, Maya Escobar-Robbins, Madison Holmes, Megan Lim, Madison Wybenga

Returning players: Senior outside hitter Aubrey Schwieger, senior middle blocker Hailey Gonzales, senior opposite hitters Camdyn Hemmersbach and Candice Palmer, junior opposite hitter Megan Bouma, sophomore outside hitter Ashlyn Couch

For the fourth time since 2012, V.C. won at least 20 matches, which is always a measuring stick of a successful program. And while the Lady Defenders lost a big hitter in Madison Holmes, enough talent returns in 2018 for the team to make a push for the Olympic League crown and a deeper run in the playoffs.

“Having two powerhouse hitters on the outside in Maddy and [senior] Aubrey [Schwieger] was great, but it meant our offense was slightly off balance,” said V.C. head coach Jeff Ornee. “They were getting close to 80-90 percent of the sets every match. I am making an effort to be much more balanced offensively, including our middles and opposites.”

Schwieger had 306 kills, 257 digs, and 13 blocks last season, but she won’t be alone in both the offensive and defensive attack. Most of the returning players had a great year of club volleyball in the offseason, according to Ornee, and because of that, he has seen significant improvements all around. Look for junior middle blocker Hailey Gonzales (32 kills) and senior opposite hitter Camdyn Hemmersbach (26 kills) to have much better offensive seasons.

“Maddy was a great player and an even better captain for the team,” Ornee said. “She will be very difficult to replace. However, I am confident that some up and coming sophomores and juniors are ready to step into that role. Aubrey has taken the reigns as a team captain and leader and has been a great influence on the younger girls so far.”

The Lady Defenders graduated three defensive specialists and/or liberos, but Ornee is looking forward to seeing junior libero Mia DeKraker improve throughout the year. She has already shown great poise and confidence in passing and playing defense.

Ornee is also confident that he can maximize the girls potential this season and fight for a league title, which will once again showcase some good competition.

WHITNEY LADY WILDCATS

6-20 overall last season, 5-7 in the Academy League, fourth place, lost to Schurr High in the Division 6 first round playoffs

27-74 overall last five seasons

Head coach: Ole Nervik (12thseason, 59-153)

Last time missed the playoffs: 2016

Division 6

Key losses: Juliann Chou, Vivian Shi, Chloe Tran

Returning players: Senior middle blocker Taylor Genera, senior setters Jodie Morada and Victoria Tran, junior outside hitter Skye Garcia, sophomore outside hitter Nika Fedorova

Whitney High struggled last season to have one of its worst seasons in the 2000s. But longtime head coach Ole Nervik is banking on some experience, and the move into the new 605 League to propel the team to the playoffs for the second straight season.

“I think there was great parity in our league,” he said. “We will go with great intensity to every match.”

The offense is led by senior middle blocker Taylor Genera and junior outside hitter Skye Garcia. Nervik say Genera is, ‘a great girl who loves playing and her enjoyment rubs off on all the girls’. But keep an eye on junior middle blocker Ola Ogan, who can be a force to reckon with after this season, and sophomore middle blocker Chizaram Izima.

The move to the new league is a welcome site for Nervik, who believes there will be more parity instead of a gold and silver bracket the program had dealt with in the now defunct Academy League. The shorter travel distances for league matches is also a huge positive as he believes more parents will come to the road matches.

 

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