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605 LEAGUE GIRLS VOLLEYBALL – Artesia ends playoff drought, gets past Whitney in third place tiebreaker match


The Artesia High girls volleyball team knocked off Whitney High 25-18, 25-20, 20-25, 25-18 in a 605 League third-place tiebreaker match with the winner going to the playoffs.



October 17, 2021

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

The head coach of the 2010 Artesia High girls volleyball team was Micah Burpo, who was in his third season and his star players were senior middle blocker Ashley Crawford, senior opposite hitter Brigith Geronimo, sophomore setter Holly Holtzer and freshman outside hitter Daisy Briseno. That team finished with a 10-14 record, fourth place in the Suburban League and was the last time the Lady Pioneers reached the CIF-Southern Section playoffs.

That is, until last Wednesday when Artesia knocked off Whitney High 25-18, 25-20, 20-25, 25-18 in a 605 League third place tiebreaker match with the winner going to the playoffs and the loser having its season end. Not including the fall of 2020 in which there was no girls volleyball because of the pandemic, it has taken two complete seasons for head coach Tommy Dube to get Artesia back to the playoffs after the long absence.

“Just perseverance; that’s what it’s been all about,” Dube said. “Working together as a team, always coming to practice and giving that one percent better. That’s been the philosophy; one percent, one percent.”

“It feels unbelievable,” said junior outside hitter Andrea Arzate “I nearly started crying because I’m just so emotional and I’m really grateful. We worked so hard in practice, and it finally paid off today.”

Arzate, who still had to fight back the tears after the match, is one of the star players for the Lady Pioneers. She was on the frosh/soph team in 2019 and has helped the varsity team to a 9-10 mark, the best the program has had since 2010.

Whitney would hold the lead throughout the first rotation of the opening set and midway through the second set, earning a 15-10 advantage which would be its largest lead. But at 17-13, Arzate had four straight kills before the Lady Wildcats called a timeout. When play resumed, a pair of net violations, another kill from Arzate and an ace from junior outside hitter Alexis Brazil put the hosts up 20-17.

It was nearly the same script in the second set with Artesia’s lone lead through the first rotation coming at 7-6. The Lady Wildcats, who ended their season at 8-19, had a 19-18 lead heading into the third rotation when Brazil spiked her sixth kill. Following a double hit violation on Artesia, senior setter Kira Magdaleno had consecutive kills, then two straight aces as part of the final five points she would serve to end the set.

“Going into that third set, it was mainly our errors,” Dube said. “We kept hitting the ball out of bounds, hitting the ball into the net. The focus was just getting the ball consistently over there and trying to put it where they were not.”

Through the first two sets, Arzate was doing her part with 14 kills with Brazil pitching in with half a dozen kills and two aces. But Whitney turned the tables in the third set and turned a 13-11 deficit into a 21-14 lead due in part to the serving of senior setter Isabela Esteban (two aces) and senior outside hitter Giana Medina (three kills) and the hitting of senior outside hitter Rebecca Joy Simbol (three kills).

“It was just the serving of [Esteban],” Dube said. “She just ran off [five] in a row which was unacceptable. It was really all our errors. We started to fight back and started to work at that opportunity, but it was a little too late, too much.”

To make sure the Lady Wildcats would not keep their momentum going and possibly force a fifth set, a kill from Arzate and kill and block from senior middle blocker Magaly Zeferino tied the set at 5-5. Minutes later at 7-7, Arzate pounded her 24th kill to give Artesia the lead for good and would begin a stretch of five straight and eight of the match’s next nine points scored. And while Arzate, who ended the match with 25 kills, was pacing the Lady Pioneers the entire way, Zeferino was coming on strong the latter half of the match. Through the first two sets, she had six kills, but would finish the match with 14 kills.

“Coming into this game, I felt that our middle, Magaly, was on fire,” Dube said. “And if we could keep our passing going, we would have a real opportunity to take it.”

In fact, Dube said he wasn’t satisfied until the Lady Pioneers reached their 24th point on Brazil’s 14th and final kill. Then with her serving, Whitney was called for a net violation, ending the match.

“They were on a run already,” Dube said. “They ran three points back on us and were starting to get a push and we were back in that same scenario where we couldn’t get a transition point.”

“We kind of lost hope; it was really frustrating in the earlier years,” Arzate said of the playoff drought. “But now we’re starting a new legacy and it’s amazing.”

Whitney, which had defeated Artesia in four sets on the road on Sept. 21 before being swept by the Lady Pioneers at home on Oct. 8, was led by Simbol (20 kills), Medina (10 kills) and Esteban (four kills, three aces). Magdaleno would also pitch in with six kills and four aces while freshman outside hitter Rylee Asumbrado also served four aces. As a team, the Lady Pioneers had 17 aces to Whitney’s 13.

“We literally started with 12 girls at the beginning of the season due to switching of gym time and apprehension of Covid,” Dube said. “Coming into this season, we didn’t have any preseason [matches] at all and the girls who are here…most of them are new. Magaly coming in as a brand new middle and connecting with volleyball was huge.”

“The turnaround is just the practices,” Arzate said. “We work hard on the court all the time and just the coaches. We got a new [assistant] coach this year and this is the reason why we play how we play.”

Artesia will face former Suburban League rival La Mirada High in a Division 7 wild card match, slated for Oct. 19, with the winner to face Coachella Valley High two nights later. La Mirada, the second place team out of the Suburban League, went 11-18 but won 11 of its last 18 matches. Dating back to 1999 until 2017, the last year Artesia was in the 605 League, La Mirada won 36 of the final 38 league meetings with the Lady Pioneers, both losses coming in 2001.