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605 LEAGUE GIRLS VOLLEYBALL: Cerritos finds new rival in quest for league championship

By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter

For 20 seasons, the Cerritos High girls volleyball team would have its share of battles with Mayfair High for supremacy in the Suburban League. Even though the Monsoons would have the upper hand, winning 32 times in 40 matches, the two would play in some of the best battles the league had to offer, especially since 2008.

Now that the Lady Dons have nicely situated themselves in the 605 League, they can look to another rival to battle it out for first place, at least this season. Behind a solid performance from senior outside hitter Samantha Oh and junior outside hitter/middle blocker Nicole Blue, the visiting Lady Dons swept upstart Whitney 25-13, 25-14, 25-19 this past Tuesday afternoon in the new battle for top dog in the new league.

“That’s what it was,” said Cerritos head coach David Cuthbert of the battle. “We were both undefeated [in league] coming into today and we’re not much more than a mile apart. The kids know each other, so, it’s a big game. There’s always going to be a big game. It was a point of emphasis to make sure that we came in with the right frame of mind, from the players to the bench to my lower levels being loud in the stands.”

Cerritos, the seventh ranked team in the CIF-Southern Section Division 5 poll, never trailed in the first set, building a 7-2 lead, then expanding it to 14-5 following an ace from sophomore outside hitter/middle blocker Karina Gatewood. The Lady Wildcats (10-5 overall, 3-1) never strung consecutive points together until the end when sophomore setter Nika Fedorova had a pair of kills around a block from sophomore middle blocker Chizaram Izima. But a kill from Blue and an ace from Gatewood ended the set.

It was a little easier in the second set as once again, Whitney never tied or led. At 11-6, a kill from Blue gave the serve to junior setter Emily Pasion, who reeled off six straight points. The hosts managed back to back points once, and not until it was 19-8. But the Lady Wildcats made it interesting in the third set.

They took their first lead at 3-2 on a kill from junior outside hitter Skye Garcia and held their largest advantage at 6-3 on an ace from senior setter Crystal Wang. But the Lady Dons (16-3, 4-0) tied the set on back to back Gatewood kills. There would be five more ties until Oh had her 10thkill, then served three straight aces to make it a 19-16 lead. After Izima had a kill and a block, Cerritos iced the set, and match, with five straight points.

Cerritos had won 11 straight matches until falling to St. Joseph High in the championship match of the Gold Division of the Valley Christian Tournament last Saturday. During that winning streak, the Lady Dons lost just one set, and that came against Mayfair High last Saturday in the second playoff game.

“We’ve played really well,” Cuthbert said. “We’ve had some good wins and we’ve been in every game we’ve played in this year. So, I really like the trajectory of our program, getting into league. But we have to make sure that we maintain. We can’t get over satisfied with what we’ve achieved, and we talked about this yesterday in practice. The weekend was a great reward for a lot of hard work, but there are more rewards ahead.”

Cerritos had the advantage in kills 47-26, but Whitney picked up 13 kills in the third set. Gatewood pitched in with seven kills while junior setter/right side hitter Cindy Byun added half a dozen more. Whitney was led by Garcia (seven kills) and Izima and junior middle blocker Ola Ogan, each of whom had four kills.

“We’re balanced and that’s important,” Cuthbert said. “There are times where we want to funnel the ball to certain players and [get] certain types of hits. But, we’re balanced and that makes life a lot easier on our setters.”

Whitney, which was swept for the first time all season in a non-tournament match, will visit John Glenn High today to close out the first round of league play. Round two begins on Tuesday at Pioneer High, which took Whitney to five sets on Sept. 6. Cerritos will entertain Oxford Academy today before travelling to Artesia High on Tuesday, which scored 30 points against the Lady Dons on Sept. 7.

Oxford Academy and Pioneer are battling for third place in league and while Mayfair is no longer that true rival for Cerritos in league competition, Cuthbert still sees some rivalry with the Monsoons.

“I don’t know about that,” Cuthbert wondered about Whitney being the new true rival. “They are because they’re close. But this is the first year in the league. We’ll see how things shake out. I still absolutely see Mayfair as a rival because we struggled against them for a good number of years. So, I think it’s important for our programs to keep scheduling teams like that; keep competing against teams like that-summer leagues, tournaments or non-league. Mayfair is still a rival for us and it’s still a big game if we can get it on the schedule.”