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CIF-SS DIVISION IV GIRLS VOLLEYBALL FINALS: Gonzales, Quinlan power underdog Valley Christian to upset win against top-seeded Norco

CHAMPIONS: The Valley Christian High girls volleyball team captured the CIF-Southern Section Division 4 championship last Saturday, upsetting top-seeded Norco High 25-21, 14-25, 25-13, 25-21. It is the program’s fourth divisional title and first since 1998. V.C. was led by junior outside hitter Ashlyn Couch (12 kills, 11 digs), junior outside hitter Rachel Gonzales (11 kills, 19 digs), senior middle blocker Megan Bouma (nine kills). junior middle blocker Dakota Quinlan (nine kills) and junior setter Rachel Lim (38 assists, 11 digs). PHOTO BY ARMANDO VARGAS, Contributing photographer

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

Everyone loves an underdog and once again, there’s reason to love the 2019 Valley Christian High girls volleyball team. Showing no fear against Norco High, the CIF-Southern Section’s Division 4 top-seeded team, the Lady Defenders shrugged that off to capture the program’s fourth divisional championship.

V.C. defeated the Cougars 25-21, 14-25, 25-13, 25-21 last Saturday morning at Cerritos College. The last time the school had won a girls volleyball title was in 1998 when that team went a sparking 33-0 and were crowned USA Today National Champions. It was the third of three straight CIF championships V.C. won in the late 1990s.

“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” said V.C. head coach Jeff Ornee. “I told my girls to enjoy every moment of it because they deserved it and that they worked so hard just to even get here. We battled through some tough teams, but the fact that we’re here and we’re coming home as champions is a great, great feeling.”

Junior middle blocker Dakota Quinlan, who transferred from Bishop Montgomery High, said she wasn’t thinking of winning a divisional championship until the Lady Defenders knocked off St. Anthony High in the quarterfinals. She felt the Saints were their biggest competition in the postseason and at that point, knew V.C. had the talent to win the Division 4 title.

“I think it’s the best feeling ever,” Quinlan said. “I [transferred] for the coach and a better coaching staff and I definitely think I came to a better team. We were the underdogs, but that’s definitely the best feeling to have because you come in with a stronger mentality.”

Both teams played a tight first set until a kill from senior opposite hitter Megan Bouma put the Lady Defenders up for good at 9-8. The lead would increase to 14-9 and 20-13 before Norco, who had entered the match with one loss on the season and had fallen in nine sets, scored four straight points. Later, the Cougars staved off set point three times before junior outside hitter Rachel Gonzales ended their rally.

Valley Christian High junior middle blocker Rachel Gonzales goes for a kill against Norco High’s Taylor Underwood (#10) and an unidentified player in last Saturday CIF-Southern Section Division 4 championship match. The Lady Defenders upset the top-seeded Cougars 25-21, 14-25, 25-13, 25-21 to win the program’s fourth divisional title. Gonzales had 11 kills and 19 digs. PHOTO BY ARMANDO VARGAS, Contributing photographer

Valley Christian High junior middle blocker Rachel Gonzales goes for a kill against Norco High’s Taylor Underwood (#10) and an unidentified player in last Saturday CIF-Southern Section Division 4 championship match. The Lady Defenders upset the top-seeded Cougars 25-21, 14-25, 25-13, 25-21 to win the program’s fourth divisional title. Gonzales had 11 kills and 19 digs.

“I mentioned that to the team all year [that] we seem to play better against tougher competition,” Ornee said. “So, the better the team we’re up against, the harder we play. So, I told them, and I didn’t lie to them. They’re a good team; they have a good record, 22-1. They didn’t get challenged all year. They were sweeping through teams, even through CIF they were sweeping through teams. They made it look easy, so we knew we were going to be the underdogs once again and I told my girls just thrive in that underdog role.”

The early moments of the second set were tight again until Aubren Billen served three straight points to give her team a 7-4 lead it would not relinquish. But V.C. would storm back early in the third set and the serving of Bouma propelled the Lady Defenders to the rout in the third set, and momentum for the fourth set.

Bouma reeled off seven straight points to give V.C. a commanding 8-0 lead. Junior middle blocker Ashlyn Couch, who had three kills in the first two sets combined, had three kills as part of those eight points. The Cougars never scored more than three straight points in the set and got as close as five points. Later in the set, junior setter Rachel Lim served three straight points and Gonzales ended the set with three in a row, including an ace.

“I think it definitely helped, but I think our energy is what really helped us and how we actually bonded as a team that game,” Couch said of Bouma’s serving.

“Game two was really sloppy for both sides, honestly, but we made a lot of mental mistakes, and the biggest thing I took away was we weren’t serving tough enough,” Ornee said. “If we were going to beat this team, we had to serve tough, and I told the girls don’t be scared to miss. Megan’s serving was huge, Rachel had a couple of runs that were big. Once they started getting on it, it made a difference.”

Quinlan said she felt those eight points to begin the set was the turning point and it made the team go to another level. Bouma and V.C. would jump out to a 4-2 lead in the fourth set before Jenny Carranza reeled off four consecutive points, the last two on aces, to give Norco a 7-4 advantage. The Lady Defenders wouldn’t lead again until Bouma’s eighth kill made it 12-11. It was the second of five straight points served by senior libero Mia DeKraker, who had an ace during that stretch. 

Valley Christian High junior middle blocker Rachel Gonzales goes for a kill against Norco High’s Taylor Underwood (#10) and an unidentified player in last Saturday CIF-Southern Section Division 4 championship match. The Lady Defenders upset the top-seeded Cougars 25-21, 14-25, 25-13, 25-21 to win the program’s fourth divisional title. Gonzales had 11 kills and 19 digs. PHOTO BY ARMANDO VARGAS, Contributing photographer

Both teams would trade points until Norco got to within a point at 18-17. In fact, it would trail by a point two more times before Bouma had the last of her nine kills, then served the final two points of the match.

“It means a lot, especially since we didn’t win league this year,” Ornee said. “Our league is tough; Village [Christian] was a tough competition for us this year and they pushed us and challenged us. That was another of those underdog matches. But to win this, to win CIF…that’s all I could dream of for this season, and the girls put in the work and earned it.”

“All we had to do was talk to each other and make sure that we’re better,” Quinlan said. “We just kept thinking that we’re the better team and that’s what is going to happen.”

Couch led the Lady Defenders with 12 kills while Gonzales had 11 kills and Quinlan nine kills. Lim had 38 assists while Gonzales was stellar on defense with 19 digs, followed by 13 from DeKraker and 11 each from Couch and Lim. Also contributing at a key moment in the fourth set was senior middle blocker Olivia Vande Vegte, whose fourth and final kill of the match started those seven straight points served by DeKraker.

“I’ve been battling with Olivia,” Ornee said. “Olivia doesn’t like to make mistakes. So, if she doesn’t think it’s a great set, she’ll tip it. And I told her we’re not going to win championships with tips. We’ve got to swing. And I think that kind of flipped the switch in her head and she started hitting at everything. She’s got power on her swing.

“Ashlyn was massive too,” he added. “Her swings on the outside were big, siding us out and getting us back to the serving line.”

“Our coach asks us questions [before the season] and makes us write down our goals for the season,” Couch said. “Our goal was to win league, but we didn’t quite get that. But we made it to CIF and that was our next goal. We won CIF and I’m so proud of the girls. Yes, we were taking about CIF at the beginning of the year.”

The Lady Defenders, ranked sixth in the division, would then be seeded 15thin Division 2 of the CIF-State Southern California Regional Championships where they travelled to Chula Vista to face Eastlake High this past Tuesday. V.C.’s season would come to an end as it was swept 26-24, 25-21, 25-14 to conclude the campaign at 25-9 

“It’s been a journey,” Couch said. “We really wanted this, and we got it and we accomplished our goal that we had all season. It was a crazy feeling; we wanted it so bad.

“I love them; I can’t even explain,” Couch later said. “They’re crazy good and without them, we actually, probably wouldn’t go as far. But Dakota came on this team and she killed it and we knew this was going to be a good season for us when she came on the team. Megan really came out with the energy. We all really wanted this win.”

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