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GIRLS VOLLEYBALL : Arnold, Valley Christian handle California in posting first sweep of young season



By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter


With the 2021 fall season several weeks in, it wouldn’t be fair to push the panic button if a girls volleyball team, which won the 2019 CIF-Southern Section Division 4 championship, has won twice in its first eight matches, considering the number of experienced players returning from two seasons ago. Valley Christian High was in that position, having only defeated Downey High in five sets on Aug. 19 and Warren High in four sets a week later.

The Lady Defenders, who have always beefed up their non-league schedule, did the same for the 2021 campaign and in their ninth match of the season, recorded their first sweep, taking care of California High 25-19, 25-18, 25-16 this past Tuesday night. The win set up a battle of the city’s top teams as V.C. hosted Cerritos on Sept. 2. The Lady Dons, who won their first four matches of the season, all sweeps, fell to Warren in four sets this past Tuesday.

“We were in the Lakewood Tournament and were playing against some [CIF-SS] Division 1 teams like Harvard-Westlake and Los Alamitos,” said V.C. head coach Jeff Ornee. “I didn’t go in expecting to win those games, but I came in expecting to compete and I thought we competed pretty hard against those teams whether we won or not. Tonight’s win was important, especially dealing with the circumstances of losing a player mid-game. The girls responded well and I think we’re heading in the right direction.”

Senior outside hitter Kaelyn Arnold got things going with a pair of aces in the opening minutes of the match as the hosts had a quick 3-0 lead. The Condors would rally and take their biggest lead of the match at 13-9 thanks to a pair of net violation calls on V.C. and kills from Ixtati Cabrera and Evelyn Gomez.

Ornee called a timeout and his team immediately responded when junior middle blocker Lauren Thorpe had a kill and junior setter Carissa Kamstra served five straight points. V.C. would not trail the remainder of the set as Arnold was already becoming a main force with seven kills in the set. V.C. also had seven aces in the opening set and the strong serving continued in the second when junior opposite hitter Ari Schmidt had four straight aces to give her team an early 7-2 lead and the Lady Defenders never looked back in the set.

“It’s been a point of emphasis in practice, for sure,” Ornee said of his team’s serving. “Our last match, I think we missed 25-30 percent of our serves. It was something we needed to grind in because we’re a pretty defensive-minded team and when we miss our serve, we don’t give our defense a chance to thrive and play well. So, I challenge all my servers to keep their run going. Ari did a great job [and senior setter] Shawnee [Starke] did a great job.”

California was only able to put two brief scoring sprees of four and three points respectively together in the match, the first making it 11-9 and the second making it 22-17. Other than that, V.C. held its ground.

Early in the third set and with the Lady Defenders up 5-2, senior outside Carmelina Infante went up to spike her fourth kill of the match. However, she landed awkwardly near the up official and immediately was in pain, holding her left knee. Several minutes later, she had to be helped off the court and would not return. Following the match, Ornee said had not spoken to the team’s trainer, but the initial diagnosis is thought to be a torn ACL.

V.C. continued to put points together in bunches, four in a row to make it 12-6, then another four straight to make it 17-8, and finally two different spurts of three straight points each. Arnold, who was limited to two kills in the second set, ended the match with 15 kills along with three aces while Schmidt added seven kills and Thorpe six kills along with five blocks, three of which she combined with Kamstra.

“Her growth already this season has been pretty incredible because she came in as a pretty one-dimensional player and she liked to swing hard and that’s all she really wanted to do,” Ornee said of Arnold. “But I’ve kind of been trying to teach her along the way that there’s a lot of ways you can get kills. We rode a lot of our offense through her, especially after Carmelina went down; she saw a lot of swings and she responded well.

“That’s kind of the benefit of [Kamstra and Thorpe] being together on j.v. for a couple of years,” he continued. “They got to play with each other and develop that connection; middle to setter and bring that up with them to the varsity level. It’s been cool to see their growth as well.”

After the Cerritos match, the Lady Defenders will travel across town to face Whitney High on Tuesday before hosting St. Anthony High on Thursday.