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GIRLS VOLLEYBALL: CERRITOS SURVIVES SLUGGISH START, FINISHES STRONG AGAINST NORWALK IN BATTLE OF FORMER LEAGUE FOES

Wednesday Sept. 11, 2019

BY LOREN KOPFF@LORENKOPFF ON TWITTER

Old Suburban League rivals met for the first time since Nov. 3, 2017 and it was more of the same for the Cerritos High girls volleyball team when it ventured into Norwalk High’s gymnasium last Thursday. Despite a slow start that lasted for nearly two sets, the visiting Lady Dons threw the knockout punch in the third set and swept the Lady Lancers 25-22, 25-17, 25-8.

The win snapped a two-match losing streak and put the Lady Dons (5-4) above .500 for the third time this season while Norwalk stumbled to a seventh straight loss after beginning the season at 3-2.

“They needed to be reminded of a few home truths along the way, and seemingly to just enjoy the game,” said Cerritos head coach David Cuthbert. “It didn’t look like they were having fun the first two games. It really kind of showed in the way we played, and Norwalk really did a good job defensively. They were really scrappy.”

“I have a very young group,” said Norwalk head coach Eric Lorn. “Last year, I graduated I think eight or nine seniors and I only have about three returners that started. So, it’s definitely a very young team. The way they played yesterday against Downey and the way they played today against Cerritos…they started to go up again. It’s just now about consistency and getting all the girls up to speed.”

Cerritos never trailed in the first set, but the hosts made things interesting as an early 5-1 lead turned into a 6-6 tie. Paced by back to back aces from senior outside hitter Cindy Byun, the Lady Dons took an 11-6 lead only to see Norwalk get back to within three points moments later at 14-11 after an ace from senior outside hitter Alejandra Macias. 

Later in the set, Norwalk would trail by two points at 20-18 after junior defensive specialist Gabriela Cruz served an ace, then was down 23-22 following an ace from junior libero Arleen Lopez, capping off four straight points. But the Lady Dons put the set away on back to back kills from senior outside hitter Nicole Blue.

In the second set, Cerritos set the tone early, turning a 2-1 deficit into leads of 6-2 and 10-3. Junior outside hitter Karina Gatewood had a pair of kills while sophomore outside hitter Mikayla Guerrero had consecutive aces and Byun added another ace to her total as part of the early surge. Midway through the set, senior setter Emily Pasion’s ace made it 16-6 and a minute later, an ace from Blue put the Lady Dons up 18-7.

But Norwalk refused to go away and got a kill from junior defensive specialist Marie Abrina, plus three straight aces from senior defensive specialist Diana Espinoza. Two kills from Blue and an ace from junior defensive specialist Loren Kim sealed the win late in the set.

“I think Norwalk kept the ball alive, which frustrated us,” Cuthbert said. “It was really warm in here. We came off playing against a very different type of team earlier this week. I think all those kind of played into [the slow start]. You have to remember that they’re still 15-year old’s. But the focus coming in was not to let those distractions affect our play. We were a little disappointed as a coaching staff with the level that we showed in the first two sets.”

“In the first set, they were very motivated,” Lorn said. “I told them ‘don’t worry, you just have to play the game hard’. They have some big girls, but our defense can keep us alive. They were definitely doing that, and they were all into it. But somewhere along the lines, they just kind of lost it [and] they got it back again. But it’s just about consistency and changing their mentality of how they see the game.”

Whatever momentum Norwalk thought it had was quickly wiped away when Pasion served three aces as part of a six-point scoring spree to put the visitors up 7-0. After Macias put the Lady Lancers on the board, Blue responded with a kill, an ace and then served four more consecutive points. The closest Norwalk would get in the set was 10 points at 14-4.

Blue led everyone with 13 kills and had four aces while Gatewood added 11 kills and a pair of aces. Pasion and senior middle blocker Chi Agaranna each pitched in with five kills with the former also serving five aces.

“She got some time last year, but she’s going to be playing a lot of minutes,” Cuthbert said of Agaranna. “Both our middles are starting to do good things as well.”

Meanwhile, the Lady Lancers are still searching to find an identity with a relatively new squad. Macias led the purple and gold with half a dozen kills while junior middle blocker Alyanna Dorado had four kills and a pair of aces.

“Aly is one of the returners from last year and has made a big jump since last year,” Lorn said. “Last year, she was more of a role player. This year, she’s our main hitter. She actually plays all around usually.”

When Cerritos left the Suburban League following the 2017-2018 school year to form the 605 League, many were under the impression that the current Suburban League members wouldn’t want to have anything to do with the four schools that are now part of the six-member 605 League. But those notions have changed. From 1998-2017, Cerritos went 34-6 against Norwalk with four of those setbacks coming on Norwalk’s court. In fact, Norwalk has swept the Lady Dons just twice.

“I like to keep those old rivalries going with the Suburban League teams and it seems like that’s going to be possible now going forward,” Cuthbert said. “We haven’t seen them in a couple of years, so I really didn’t know what to expect coming in today. But yes, it was definitely nice to renew.”

“For one, I’m kind of glad they’re not in our league anymore,” Lorn admitted. “They’re very, very big. The outsides are incredible, but definitely, I miss the competition that they brought to our league. I wish we could keep going, playing at least one game for preseason every year.”

Cerritos would face Warren High this past Tuesday and Chadwick High this past Wednesday. Its league opener is today at Oxford Academy and the Lady Dons will remain on the road for a Tuesday encounter with Artesia High.

“I think we’re waiting for the consistency of selection,” Cuthbert said. “We’ve had a couple of injuries and we’re still waiting for somebody to come in. And then, we’ve played some really good teams so far. We’ve lost four and a couple of those losses were not bad losses. I don’t know if there’s such a thing as a good loss. But to me right now, the most important thing is playing well against those teams.”

Meanwhile, the Lady Lancers ended their losing streak by sweeping Montebello High 25-12, 25-21, 26-24 last Friday but lost to Gahr High 25-19, 25-14, 25-18 this past Tuesday. Norwalk, which finished in third place in the Suburban League last season, a game behind Bellflower High but one game ahead of La Mirada High, will visit Whittier High today before opening league action at Mayfair High on Thursday.

“I feel like us and Bellflower are going to fight for that second spot,” Lorn said. “I heard La Mirada might be a little better; I haven’t seen them play or heard anything from them yet. I think it’s anyone’s game for that second spot.”

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