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605 LEAGUE GIRLS VOLLEYBALL: Cerritos sweeps district rival to claim rare league championship for school


By Loren Kopff

@LorenKopff on Twitter


From 1998-2017, the Cerritos High girls volleyball program had been situated in the Suburban League, which was dominated by Mayfair High, winners of 13 league titles during that stretch. Of the other seven seasons, the Lady Dons took home the league crown four times, including three in a row from 2009-2011.

In 2013, Cerritos head coach David Cuthbert took over the program and after two straight third place finishes, he guided Cerritos to three consecutive second place finishes in which those teams went 9-3 in league play. Now, Cuthbert can say he is a league champion as the Lady Dons swept Whitney High 25-10, 25-9, 25-20 last Friday afternoon to claim the first 605 League title. Cerritos, ranked seventh in the CIF-Southern Section Division 5 polls, improved to 21-3 overall at the time, 9-0 in the circuit and has swept its last six opponents and 16 of its last 18. The Lady Dons have not lost a set in league competition and the most points any league foe has scored against Cerritos has been 21, which came against Artesia High on Sept. 25.

“It’s a big deal; we feel good about it,” Cuthbert said. “The first goal for us this year was to take care of business in league. And, regardless of Suburban or 605, we played at a level this year that’s deserving of being a league champion. So, I’m proud of what the girls have done. I’m proud of what the program has done, and it sets a marker for us.”

“It was really cool to win my first league championship and the first for Cerritos in a while,” said Cerritos senior outside hitter Samantha Oh. “Even though we had a different league this year, I thought that we didn’t let up and that we wanted to beat everyone 3-0 and we didn’t want to lose any sets.”

Whitney led early in the first set 4-2 before a serving error allowed sophomore defensive specialist Maile Tabon to serve three aces to give the Lady Dons the lead for good, Serving would be the theme in the match as Cerritos had seven aces in the opening set and 11 more in the second set. In addition, Whitney would give Cerritos four more points throughout the match on its serving errors.

“Serving set the tone for us today,” Cuthbert said. “I thought we lost a little bit of it in the third set with a couple of errors. But that’s the first line of offense for us; to serve tough. That keeps us in games, that helps us win games, it helps us blow out games and it helps us play well against tough teams. You have to be tough on the service line.”

“I thought we played better today,” said Whitney head coach Ole Nervik. “They served a lot more aggressively this time than they did [at Whitney], and their serves were tough. When they get a comfortable lead, when they can just go back there and blast it…that’s what happened. It’s hard for us to come back from that.”

With Cerritos clinging to a 7-6 lead in the first set, junior outside hitter/middle blocker Nicole Blue had her first kill and from there, sophomore outside hitter/middle blocker Karina Gatewood served five straight points. The set would end with Tabon reeling off five straight points.

Whitney would score the first point of the second set on a block from senior setter Jodie Morada. But Blue’s sixth kill would give the serve to Gatewood, who promptly had two aces. Moments later, Blue would have three straight aces to make it 8-3, then junior setter Emily Pasion ended the set with six consecutive points, including the last four on aces. Pasion then began the third set with three straight points, the last two on aces.

“This was probably one of our better serving games,” Oh said. “We probably won this game with our serving; they couldn’t get that many great passes. Emily had some great serves.

“Emily is the biggest factor,” she continued. “We can always count on her for making her serves and getting us a lot of aces and always making the right setting decisions.”

Meanwhile, the Lady Wildcats couldn’t generate much offense in the match and couldn’t score more than two straight points at any time. They would trail by a point four times in the third set, but never tied or take the lead. Junior outside hitter Skye Garcia led Whitney with five kills while Morada added four kills. For the match, the Lady Wildcats had 18 kills while Oh paced the Lady Dons with 10 kills, followed by Blue (eight), Gatewood (six) and senior middle blocker Tiana Agabon (five).

“Maybe I was more excited because it was senior night,” Oh said of her performance. “But it was nice to have a big crowd out here.”

“She was excited,” Cuthbert said of Oh. “I think even though perhaps kill percentage and total kills is maybe down a little bit this year, still, the overall of what she brings to our team on defense, on serve receive…she contributes so much. When you look at the success we’ve had over the past four years, you have to say Sami is at the center of that.”

Following wins at Oxford Academy this past Tuesday and Paramount High the next day, the Lady Dons will roll into the playoffs at 23-3, the most victories the program has had since going 25-4 in 2009. In that season, Cerritos went undefeated in league and advanced to the CIF Division III finals.

“That’s always a target but I didn’t think it would come quite so early,” Cuthbert said. “We deliberately scheduled a little tougher this year. So, my expectation wasn’t to go for a great win-loss record. It was to play well, win league and be ready for playoffs. The kids just bought in and worked really hard all year. That’s the result; that’s the reward for them.”

Cerritos will host a first-round playoff match on Thursday, and the Lady Dons are most likely going to face a team, or teams, from the Inland Empire or farther throughout the postseason.

“I have to throw the cliché ‘it’s one game at a time’ but it’s true,” Cuthbert said. “The challenging this is when you look at our division, there are a lot of teams a long way from us that we don’t know much about. I’m really happy with how we’re playing. I feel this is the highest level we’ve played since I’ve been here going into the playoffs. So, why not us? Why can’t we make a run? I feel it’s within our hands and within our capability. I’m excited or the postseason, I’m ready for it, the kids are ready for it and they’re ready to go.”

“I think the competition was a little lower from the Suburban League,” Oh said. “But it didn’t change us at all. We still practiced just as hard and played just as hard.”

Whitney, which swept John Glenn High 25-20, 25-15, 25-16 this past Tuesday, will finish in second place in the league and enter the playoffs with an overall mark of 14-7 and 7-3 in league action. This is Whitney’s best season since going 15-8 in 2001 and finishing in second place in the Delphic League with an 8-2 record. The Lady Wildcats have finished below third place in league competition since then.

“Of course, I’m really happy,” Nervik said. “It’s a good team. There’s still a lot of volleyball left this year. So, I expect us to be even better as the season goes on.”