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GIRLS VOLLEYBALL : Early Cerritos struggles leads to another sweep by Valley Christian, wins battle of rallie

September 8, 2021

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

Fresh off a home sweep against California High Aug. 31, Valley Christian High was at it again two nights later against city foe Cerritos High, someone it has seen recently in tournament action. In 2019, the Lady Defenders swept the Lady Dons in the Bellflower/V.C. Tournament and in 2018, Cerritos won in four sets in the Tae Kim Molten Classic, hosted by Lakewood High.

It’s very rare that the two best teams in the city, historically, would meet in a non-tournament match and after last Thursday night, maybe they should meet every season. Both teams combined to have eight rallies of at least five points and when the match had ended, V.C. had collected its second straight sweep, taking care of Cerritos 25-11, 25-21, 25-22, leaving the Lady Defenders at 4-6 on the season. The Lady Dons dropped their second straight match after beginning the season with four consecutive victories.

“It’s been a weird match with the runs,” said V.C. head coach Jeff Ornee. “We had a bunch; they had a bunch. I felt like when they were going on runs against us, it was mostly because we weren’t able to set our middles. When we turn into a one-dimensional team where all we can do is set our outsides, our offense tends to be a little bit sluggish, and we struggle to side out. I challenged our passers towards the end of that game to keep us in a rhythm where we can run our middles and have success. And I think they were able to do that.”

“We absolutely struggled to start with,” said Cerritos head coach David Cuthbert. “We haven’t played many teams as good as Valley Christian. For a lot of our new players who haven’t played in the last two years, it’s something different.

“But we made a big change to our lineup, and it took half a set to figure out what we were doing,” he continued. “Once we did, I thought we looked different. I thought we were a different team.”

Cerritos never led in the first set as the hosts scored the first three points and following two straight aces from senior outside hitter Kaelyn Arnold, were sitting good at 9-3. The Lady Dons chipped away at their deficit and when senior outside hitter Mikayla Guerrero laid down her third kill, it was 17-11. But Arnold’s fourth kill led her to serve the final seven points of the set. Included in that scoring spree were four aces and consecutive kills from junior outside hitter Ari Schmidt in which they tipped off the hands of a Cerritos player at the net.

V.C. stormed out to leads of 3-0 and 12-1 in the second set and was looking to make this match a laugher. But Cerritos senior defensive specialist Jada Ramos reeled off six straight points to keep the Lady Dons in the set. Moments later, an ace from V.C. libero Emma Rodgers gave the Lady Defenders a 10-point advantage. However, Cerritos put together its second rally of the set and it began with a block from junior middle blocker Somto Eze. After that, senior outside hitter Charlize Castillo served seven straight points to make it a 20-18 affair.

Cuthbert credits the adjustments he made prior to the beginning of the second set as to the better performance, even though they lost the set. He took senior setter Leanna Tolentino out of setting and gave it to sophomore setter Chloe Cruz, admitting his team needed to pass better. Even when Cuthbert made a mistake with the lineup, the team worked through it and passed the ball better in the second set.

“Leanna and Mikayla, they are our senior leaders,” Cuthbert said. “They’re the ones who have been around and our team is going to go as they go. They’re kind of the emotional heart of the team. But Isabella is new in here and she’s finding her place. I think today was a good day for her. She got a lot of touches on the ball [and] a lot of blocks.”

“Once they started passing better, and [Tolentino] is a phenomenal passer…we tried to keep it off her, but she was covering so much court,” Ornee said. “When she was able to pass, they ran their middles and then they were tough to stop. I think the adjustment that [Cuthbert] made was getting her more involved in serve receive and then running middles at us because we had trouble slowing them down.”

Tolentino’s sixth kill of the match gave Cerritos its first lead to begin the third set. But V.C. scored four and three straight points respectively in the beginning to hold an early 9-4 lead. The lead would grow to 16-9 when senior setter Shawnee Starke served four straight points after an Arnold kill. But Tolentino started another Cerritos rally with her 10th kill, then served five straight points. The Lady Dons then took a 20-17 lead after freshman defensive specialist Gabriella Colombo had her second ace.

“I think we defended pretty well,” Cuthbert said. “Once we forgot about the first set, we defended well. We got a lot of digs. I think, perhaps where we can get better is putting the ball away after a dig. I think [V.C.] did a little better job extending rallies and we just didn’t quite manage to finish it off after getting some digs.”

The Lady Dons were three points away from a victory, but V.C. junior setter Carissa Kamstra picked the perfect time to have her first two kills of the match. An ace from junior defensive specialist Anneke Dekraker, plus kills from Schmidt and senior middle blocker Samantha Sims ended the match.

“I think we’re thriving in the adversity a little bit more than we were earlier on this season,” Ornee said. “We were playing against tough teams, but we were getting down a little bit just within our own team chemistry. So, they found a way to battle and they found a way to fight through some of that adversity. Even tonight when we were going through those runs, I didn’t see that give up in my team. They responded and they battled and they wanted to win in three and they took care of business.”

Arnold led all players with 14 kills and six aces while Schmidt added 11 kills and 11 digs. V.C. would collect 23 aces with Starke adding another seven and Rodgers five. V.C. visited Whitney High this past Tuesday and came away with a 25-14, 25-15, 25-12 victory with Sims leading the way with 10 kills and Arnold and junior middle blocker Lauren Thorpe each collecting eight kills and Rodgers posting 14 digs. The Lady Defenders hosted St. Anthony High on Sept. 9 and will participate in the Kennedy Tournament on Saturday before beginning Olympic League play on Thursday with a home match against Maranatha High,

“Ari has kind of been my utility knife this season,” Ornee said. “She’s played middle, she’s played opposite, she’s played outside. So, I’ve been moving her around and she hasn’t complained once. She’s been really great just rolling with the punches. She played opposite on Tuesday and now I throw her in as an outside today and she played great. She held it down and was able to come up with some big offense when we needed it from her.”

Meanwhile, the Lady Dons were led by Tolentino’s 11 kills and seven more from sophomore Leila Tolentino. Guerrero picked up eight kills and sophomore middle blocker Isabella Dantzler added another four kills. Cerritos has had to do all this without its biggest hitter entering the season, senior middle blocker Halyne Buycks, who was injured on the first day of camp.

“But that’s what our kids have faced,” Cuthbert said. “If you’ve looked at the last two years, all we’ve done is faced adversity. And that’s not just us; that’s every team. It’s just something else for us to deal with and overcome. We’re going to have to grow through it and work through it and get better. I trust that we will.”

Cerritos will next be in action today against Oxford Academy in the 605 League opener.