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605 LEAGUE GIRLS VOLLEYBALL: Whitney adds another sweep to its ledger, survives pesky Oxford Academy

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff

The Whitney High girls volleyball team had a breakout season in 2018, going 14-8 and finishing in second place in the new 605 League. This season, the Lady Wildcats are on the prowl again and are showing no signs of slowing down.

Despite some tense moments against arch rival Oxford Academy this past Tuesday, especially in the second set, the Lady Wildcats were business as usual and swept the Patriots 25-14, 25-21, 25-18, improving to 10-4 overall and 4-0 in the league. Coupled with Cerritos High’s sweep against Pioneer High in which the Lady Dons gave up 26 points, first place will be on the line today when Whitney visits Cerritos.

“We always talk about composure in practice,” said Whitney first-year head coach Alonso Ledezma. “We always talk about mentality, focus. We always have to stay focused no matter what team we’re playing, whether it’s a sweep, whether it’s a bad team, whether it’s a good team. We tend to sometimes play at the level that some other teams play at, and I told my girls we can’t do that if you guys want to become league champions and you want to try to take that away from Cerritos starting on Friday.”

Whitney gained an early 4-1 lead in the first set and although the Patriots would not lead the remainder of the set, they stayed within striking range. With Whitney leading 15-12, a serve into the net gave possession to sophomore defensive specialist Ysabelle Andrion, who served consecutive aces and got a kill from junior opposite hitter Nika Fedorova as the hosts opened some breathing room. 

Fedorova and senior outside hitter Skye Garcia each had four of Whitney’s 10 kills in the set and the team served seven aces. However, the second set would test Whitney’s character a bit and the team found itself trailing for most of the set.

Backed by Liliana Nguyen’s four straight aces, Oxford Academy bolted out to a 7-2 lead before Ledezma called a timeout. He told his players to move up from the back line and they responded. Fedorova had a pair of kills, Andrion added another ace, junior middle hitter Chizaram Izima had a block and the Patriots were called for a net violation as Whitney trailed 8-7. Moments later, Garcia had her sixth kill for her team’s second lead of the set. After that, there would be four more ties before Whitney took the lead for good on another ace from Andrion. In fact, she would have five aces in the set, but four in a stretch that turned an 18-18 tie into a 22-18 lead.

“She was out for two weeks due to concussion protocol and it was fantastic to have her back so we can run what we normally like to run,” Ledezma said.

One of the turning points in the set came when Whitney was leading 22-20 and Oxford Academy serving. Garcia dug a ball from her knees and meticulously placed the ball just inside the back line. Then she ended the set with a power kill down the middle of Oxford Academy’s side of the court. Garcia would finish the match with 19 kills.

“We all knew that she was a power hitter,” Ledezma said. “We all knew that she plays club and she’s one of those players that likes to take up the challenge at times. And yes, of course, sometimes coaches and players clash at times. But I think she’s been able to be adaptive to me as her coach since the first day I started [at Whitney].”

Serving would take over in the third set, especially after the Patriots gained an early 4-3 advantage. Senior middle hitter Ola Ogan spiked her third kill, then served three straight aces and had a solo block before adding another ace for good measure. Following a brief scoring spree by Oxford Academy, Andrion served four consecutive points as the Lady Wildcats led 14-7. 

Even with Whitney up 21-10, the Patriots tried to make one final surge. But Garcia had a pair of kills and Fedorova one more at the end to finish off the match and send Whitney to its 10thsweep of the season, including a two-set sweep in the Kennedy Tournament. 

Fedorova added nine kills and four aces while Andrion led everyone with eight aces. As a team, Whitney had 37 kills and 24 aces as part of its 75 points. But now, the Lady Wildcats have to face the defending league champs who are also on a roll, winning 13 of its last 14 matches. The Lady Dons also won last weekend’s Bellflower-Valley Christian Tournament. And, Cerritos (17-5, 4-0) has swept 13 matches, including five in the tournament. While nothing will be clinched or settled today, Ledezma said it would be nice to see his team be league champs at the end of the season, something Whitney has not been since 2000. Whitney will also visit John Glenn High on Tuesday.

“It’s not for the league title, but it is for first place; league implications to take sole possession,” Ledezma said. “Yes, they swept everybody last year. Yes, they swept everybody this year depending on what happens in tonight’s game. But I think the girls are going to be pretty fired up for this match, the biggest match of their lives, especially for the three seniors.

“I talked to a lot of the league coaches,” he added. “They have big hitters; I know they have a transfer student that just got cleared. They run their middles a little bit here and there, but I think their main [strength] is their serving and their outside hitters. I think we can be prepared for them.”