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OLYMPIC LEAGUE GIRLS VOLLEYBALL – Valley Christian relies on serving once again to upset Whittier Christian in four sets

October 13, 2021

By Loren Kopff

@LorenKopff on Twitter


Over the past two decades, the Valley Christian High girls volleyball team has had an easy time with a pair of Olympic League opponents, Heritage Christian High and Maranatha High, combining for 58 wins and nine losses. But it’s a different story against Village Christian High where the Lady Defenders have won 19 of their last 40 matches with the Crusaders.

Then there is Whittier Christian High, which is probably V.C.’s biggest league rival, according to head coach Jeff Ornee. The Lady Defenders, who lost the first meeting with the Heralds in five sets on Sept. 28, entered this past Tuesday night’s match with the Heralds holding a 22-20 advantage in the last 42 meetings. You can now add another win under V.C.’s ledger as the unranked Lady Defenders shocked the number three team in the CIF-Southern Section Division 4 Top 10 poll 25-18, 11-25, 25-15, 25-15 in the regular season finale. V.C. was to have played Heritage Christian on Oct. 14, but the Warriors had to forfeit the match due to Covid issue. So, the Lady Defenders will enter the CIF-SS playoffs at 18-12 overall, 5-3 in league and tied with Whittier Christian for second place. The playoff brackets will be released Saturday morning.

“It’s been really fun to be a part of,” Ornee said of the rivalry. “I inherited this program from [former head coach] Melody [Nua] and from coaches before her and the one thing she’s even mentioned is how important that rivalry is, not just volleyball, but in our school in general. We’ll go at it in every sport. So, it’s really fun and I love [Whittier Christian] coach Todd [Morrison] and I have a lot of respect for him and the program he has built. I always know it’s going to be a battle. The girls love it; both teams really enjoy driving it and they know the battle is coming. I’m not surprised the overall record is as close as it is.”

From the first point of the match, which was an ace from Haden Bones, to the last point, which was a net violation call on the Heralds, the raucous crowd was into every point as if it was the CIF-SS championship match. And V.C.’s recurring season theme, the serving, was a big part of it. Following an uncontested point to Whittier Christian off the serve of senior outside hitter Carmelina Infante, who has been injured most of the season but was given the chance to serve one last time in her high school career, senior outside hitter Kaelyn Arnold got things going with a kill, followed by three straight aces. The lead would go to 10-3 after two straight aces from junior defensive specialist Anneke Dekraker and despite Whittier Christian staying with striking range, it was two more aces from Arnold and two from senior libero Emma Rodgers that paved the way for the first set victory.

After getting 11 aces and 10 kills in the first set, the Lady Defenders came out sluggish in the second set, posting three kills and a pair of aces as they fell behind 11-5, 14-6 and 20-10. But the serving returned in a big way in the final two sets along with some stellar defense from both sides, keeping rallies going an extra 20-30 seconds because of digs that were thought to be sure kills.

“Thinking about the teams I’ve had [in the past], I’ve had some firepower offensively and nothing against the team I have right now, but we lack that really explosive fiery hitter,” Ornee said. “[Junior opposite hitter] Ari [Schmidt] is a great player, Kaelyn is a great player; we have girls who can get on the ball every now and then. But we’re never going to be the team that relies on our offense to win those games. We’re really going to rely on our defense, scrambling and covering a lot of balls, but ultimately on our serving because Whittier is a great offensive team.”

With Whittier Christian up 4-2 in the third set, a serving error was followed by four aces from Dekraker plus a rotation violation. V.C. had a 10-7 lead when Arnold spiked her fourth kill as the first of four straight points. Then Arnold began the second rotation with a kill and three straight aces as the Lady Defenders pulled away at 20-9.

“Anneke did a fantastic job tonight and I have three girls who I consider liberos that anyone of them can put on a libero jersey at any point and be that great of a [defensive player] and a passer,” Ornee said. “Anneke is one of those girls and her defense tonight was fantastic. She was digging balls all over the place. But to have that added benefit of her serving is even better. “All six of my servers, I think, when they get the chance to go, any one of them can go on a 10-point run just like that,” he continued.

In the final set, neither team led by more than three points through the first rotation. But at 12-12, which marked the sixth and final tie of the set, a net violation was followed by a kill from Schmidt and a block from senior middle blocker Sam Sims off an attack from Makena Morrison, who entered the match leading the Heralds with 366 kills along with 20 blocks. After a kill from Grace Ford made it 17-13, the set, and match, was put away by another net violation, a kill from Arnold and another block from Sims.

Schmidt led the Lady Defenders with 16 kills while Arnold added 11 aces and 10 kills. Dekraker pitched in with nine aces as V.C. totaled 38 kills and 26 aces. Morrison led Whittier Christian with 17 kills and Ford added nine kills.

“Going back the five years I’ve been here, it’s always been that kind of night when Whittier [Christian] is in our gym or even when we go there,” Ornee said. “It’s become quite a rivalry over the past couple of years, and they’re bringing a huge bus of students and we’ve got our students rocking as well. It was fun to be a part of and for our last home game in league, that’s what we have to look forward to in the playoffs. It’s good to have some experience with that.”

Of the past 43 matches with Whittier Christian, there have been a combined 21 sweeps with 10 coming inside V.C.’s gymnasium while a dozen matches have been decided in four sets, seven of them coming on V.C.’s court while Whittier Christian has been a part of six matches on its court that have gone the distance.