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605 LEAGUE GIRLS VOLLEYBALL : Cerritos’ serving leads to 15thstraight 605 League victory, sole possession of first place

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

The 605 League isn’t even two years old but for the purposes of girls volleyball, two teams stand out ahead of the other four. And after last Friday’s match between Cerritos High, winners of 14 straight 605 League matches entering its first place showdown with Whitney High, it may be down to one team.

The serving of the Lady Dons was too much for Whitney, previous owners of the league’s second longest win streak at five matches, to handle. Cerritos breezed to a 25-8, 25-9, 25-13 victory behind 24 team aces and 16 kills from junior outside hitter Karina Gatewood.

“We’re confident in our abilities and we’ve been playing really well the past couple of weeks,” said Cerritos head coach David Cuthbert. “We’ve kind of been narrowing down on what we think is our strongest lineup. We changed things up and we just decided to go with what we think is our strongest lineup for the game and what happened, happened. I thought we played really, really well.”

“We all worked hard together because we know we have one goal and we all just want to win league and play together and have that leadership,” Gatewood said. “All we really care about is just the energy.

“I think all that we do is make sure we’re focused and to have that mentality that this ball goes in, not just for ourselves but for our team,” Gatewood later added. 

Senior setter Emily Pasion began the match by serving three straight points, and after a serving error, senior outside hitter Nicole Blue had a kill, plus three straight aces and a Gatewood block.as the onslaught was on. Following a kill from Whitney senior outside hitter Skye Garcia, one of just two kills the Lady Wildcats would get in the set, Cerritos senior outside hitter Angela Mathai reeled off three straight points, including a pair of aces.

Whitney would post consecutive points once in the set and in fact, never put together more that two straight points at any time in the match. The first set ended with Blue serving six straight points, half of which were aces.

“Serving sets the tone for us and for all teams,” Cuthbert said. “There are times we can live with some…we had a few too many errors tonight and we’ll probably discuss that. But, when we serve as tough as that, you can live with the errors because we’re generating offense from the service line. It doesn’t matter who you’re playing, it puts everybody under pressure when you serve that tough.” 

“We did everything we could to start off the match,” said Whitney first-year head coach Alonso Ledezma. “But I think we just lost confidence. We weren’t focused after those first seven points, eight points. I honestly thought we were going to play better. But unfortunately, we lost focused.”

Gatewood began the second set with her third kill and Pasion proceeded to serve six straight points. Pasion, Blue and Mathai, the first three servers of the set, combined for half a dozen more aces as the Lady Dons quickly built a 14-3 lead. Whitney got to within 10 points three different occasions, the last at 18-8. But sophomore Leanna Tolentino, who was playing libero in this match, served three straight points. The transfer athlete, who recently became eligible and can play numerous positions, was one change Cuthbert made to his lineup.

“Leanna has been great for us and she’s a really talented player,” Cuthbert said. “Right now, she’s earned that spot. Going forward, we’ll keep evaluating it.”

“We’ve had serve receive issues all year long,” Ledezma said. “So, to me, it kind of didn’t surprise me in a way. But, them serving us short was smart of them. They served us short a lot and we weren’t prepared for it. And now that we probably have it on film, we might be prepared. But they might change that for the second time around.”

Whitney tried to make a run in the third set, tying things up at 3-3 and then trailing 11-6 later. But the combination of Gatewood and Cerritos’ serving was two much as 15 of the 25 points came from those two components. 

“I just do what I can for my team,” Gatewood said. “I just work my hardest every single game because it’s not just for me, it’s for a greater purpose. It’s for our school so we can have a good time.”

“She did an awesome job,” Ledezma said of Gatewood. “She did a great job of hitting around our blocks and my blockers just couldn’t block her. We tried to cover those angle shots, but she found ways to get those kills.”

Gatewood would serve four aces while Blue added eight aces and seven kills while Pasion chipped in with half a dozen aces and just as many kills. 

“She was outrageously good today,” Cuthbert said of Gatewood. “She was just on it; serve, defense, being a leader out there. Everything just flowed for her and what was really, really nice to see was she put the ball away in broken play situations. It wasn’t all in system sets.”

Meanwhile, Garcia, Whitney’s top hitter all season long and one of the main offensive threats in the league, was held to five kills. Junior opposite hitter Nika Fedorova was also limited to five kills as the Lady Wildcats collected 13 kills in the match. There was even a point in the second set when she was subbed out with Cerritos owing a 10-1 advantage. Garcia would return to the court later in the set.

“I just wanted to give other players a chance to play,” Ledezma said. “Skye had an off-day in serve receive, so I wanted to try something new. Why not?”

“I think they have a really talented outside hitter,” Cuthbert said. “I think we limited her opportunities by serving tough. There were certain rotations where they just couldn’t set her the ball because of how we served.”

Whitney would knock off John Glenn High this past Tuesday 25-19, 25-11, 25-17 to improve to 11-5 overall and 5-1 in league play while Cerritos, ranked fifth in the CIF-Southern Section Division 5 poll, swept Oxford Academy this past Tuesday 25-10, 25-11, 25-10 to up its mark to 19-5, 6-0. The Lady Wildcats host Pioneer High today and Artesia High on Tuesday while Cerritos is home to Artesia today before visiting Glenn on Tuesday.

“We have room to improve,” Cuthbert said. “But it’s been on our mind and it’s been some things that we’ve discussed, is to maintain our standard of play. We had a great weekend last weekend and we want to carry that [for the rest of the season].”

“Honestly, I told my girls before the match, ‘hey, we have nothing to lose coming into today’,” Ledezma said. “We know they’re a better team. We know they have those big hitters. We had nothing to lose in this match. Now, how do we prepare for the second half of the season? We get back on our horse. We go back to our drawing board and we have to stick to it.”