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OLYMPIC LEAGUE GIRLS VOLLEYBALL : Valley Christian loses battle of momentum swings, chance to tie for Olympic League top spot

By Loren Kopff  • @LorenKopff on Twitter

The two best girls’ volleyball teams in the Olympic League squared off this past Tuesday night at Valley Christian High with the host Lady Defenders needing a win to catch Village Christian High at the top. And unlike the first meeting back on Sept. 18 when the Crusaders yielded 54 points in a three-set sweep, the second time around had numerous momentum swings that lasted the full five sets.

In the end, Valley Christian couldn’t add to a 10-7 lead in the final set and Kendall Jensen served four straight points to give her team that final push, giving Village Christian a 25-22, 22-25, 25-19, 11-25, 15-11 victory. Valley Christian, the fifth-ranked team in the CIF-Southern Section Division 4 poll, dropped to 18-8 overall and 4-2 in the league.

“I knew our lead wasn’t safe the way they had been playing,” said Valley Christian head coach Jeff Ornee. “All it took was one girl to go back there. I think Kendall Jensen went back to serve and she went on a run. She’s probably the best server in our league based on what the stats tell me. They got their girl back there when it came down to crunch time and she took advantage.”

The Lady Defenders rallied from two-point deficits twice to tie the set early on, then a kill from junior outside hitter Rachel Gonzales tied the set at 5-5 and gave the serve to junior middle blocker Dakota Quinlan. The transfer from Bishop Montgomery High, who would have a monster match, gave her team a brief 7-5 lead. Moments later, kills from senior opposite hitter Megan Bouma and junior outside hitter Ashlyn Couch pushed the lead to 10-7.

The first set would see four ties and one lead change through the first rotation before Jensen reeled off five straight points to give her team a 16-10 lead. The hosts would trail by seven points twice through the second rotation before a kill from Couch began a stretch of six straight points. However, a kill from Campbell Jensen and her ace ended that rally, as well as the set.

Valley Christian would begin to have more momentum in the second set, never trailing even though there would be five ties. Valley Christian had a lead of 9-5 following the second of two straight aces from junior setter Rachel Lim, and led 14-10 after a Quinlan block. Consecutive aces from Brooke Hudspeth made it a 22-21 before Quinlan added her ninth kill. Gonzales finished off the set with a pair of kills.

“I thought that was big,” Ornee said. “It was a really up and down match as far as momentum goes all night. It really came down to serving. I think these are probably the two best serving teams I’ve seen all year. We had a couple of those long runs, they had a couple of those long runs. It was just a momentum battle all night and unfortunately in game five, the momentum kind of shifted their way.”

The third set was even tighter with four ties through the first rotation and Village Christian leading by no greater than two points until the third rotation. Valley Christian took its first lead at 15-14 on another block by Quinlan. That was followed by a kill from Couch. However, kills from Kendall and Campbell Jensen put the Crusaders in front and they would not relinquish the lead the remainder of the set.

Village Christian was clinging to a 6-4 lead in the fourth set when Gonzales had three straight kills. After a timeout, Lim had an ace and the maroon and gold was up 10-4 and never looked back. Couch, Gonzales and Quinlan combined for 11 kills in the set.

“I talked to the girls after game three and I said, ‘we’re close, we’re right there and if there was a difference, it’s serve a little bit tougher and we definitely have to pass better,” Ornee said. “I didn’t think we passed the ball well in game three. So, I challenged all three of my passers-Ashlyn, Rachel and Mia. I said if we want to push this to a game five, it’s going to come off [them], and I thought we passed phenomenal.”

Gonzales and Quinlan each had 17 kills while Couch, who didn’t play in the first meeting, added 13 kills. Bouma chipped in with another nine kills while Quinlan came up with nine blocks. Kim had 40 assists and senior libero Mia DeKraker had 17 digs, followed by 15 from Couch and 10 from Gonzales.

“More than what she brings on the court, I was so impressed with what she brought off the court,” Ornee said of Quinlan. “She had that sit-out period and anybody else in that sit-out period probably is going to sit on the bench and keep to themselves because they know they probably can’t contribute on the court. But she was the loudest girl on the bench. She made a huge impact talking to my middles that weren’t probably playing middles. She was a huge part of our team off the court.”

Even though Valley Christian is sitting in second place with no shot of a league title, unless the 

Crusaders lose their final two matches and the Lady Defenders win out, Ornee isn’t ready to claim the second spot. Valley Christian visited Heritage Christian High on Oct. 10 and will wrap up the regular season against Whittier Christian High on Tuesday. Valley Christian, which won a thrilling five-set match against Whittier Christian on Sept. 25, leads the Heralds by one game in the standings. It was the first of two five-set matches the Lady Defenders have been involved in this season.

“Dakota is going to have to be the difference maker, for sure,” Ornee said. “And, if we can clean up our offense with her a little bit, getting her the sets she needs…a huge difference maker. But the other thing is, we haven’t secured second in league yet. We still have to play Whittier once here and by no means am I comfortable sitting in that second spot. We have a tough match against Heritage on Thursday and then Whittier is coming in on Tuesday. So, that will be the battle for second.”