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NEWS AND NOTES FROM PRESS ROW – La Mirada girls volleyball rallies to nip Artesia in Division 7 wild card match

October 21, 2021

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter


There hasn’t been much positive playoff history when it comes to the Artesia High and La Mirada High girls volleyball program, but something had to give when the two former Suburban League opponents met in a CIF-Southern Section Division 7 wild card match this past Tuesday night. On one side, you had La Mirada, which last won a playoff set in 2015 and was seeking its first playoff victory since 2014.

Then you had Artesia, which last appeared in the postseason in 2010 and was predominately known as the bottom feeders when it was in the Suburban League. The Lady Pioneers were seeking their first playoff win since 1996. After losing in the first set, the Lady Matadores bounced back and defeated the third place representatives from the 605 League 23-25, 26-24, 25-21, 25-23 in a match played at Norwalk High. La Mirada improved to 12-18 and travelled to Coachella Valley High, ranked ninth in the division and was the Desert Valley League champion, on Oct. 21.

“It’s exciting because we started late,” said La Mirada first-year head coach Kimberly Mahan. “So, we started out having a rough season, fighting injuries and we’ve had players not being able to play because of Covid. So, there’s been a lot. We’ve been learning a lot and it’s been exciting.”

The Lady Matadores began the season with 11 straight losses before winning their final two playoff matches in the Kennedy Tournament on Sept. 11. One of those losses was to Artesia in four sets in the second match of the season on Aug. 24. The final three sets in that match were decided by a combined nine points. La Mirada ended the season winning four of seven matches in the Bellflower-Valley Christian Tournament on Sept. 17 and 18, before taking six of nine league matches to finish in second place.

“Since we did start late, I had three weeks to get them ready,” Mahan said. “We were very rusty because we hadn’t played in two years because of Covid. A lot of these girls are freshmen playing at the varsity level, which is a way faster pace. Our passing was struggling at the beginning of the season and once we started to pass and the girls progressed, we’ve just been improving as time went on. And tournaments helped us a lot too.”

La Mirada never led in the first set but also never trailed by more than five points at any time. Artesia junior outside hitter Andrea Arzate was on fire in the beginning, recording 10 of her team’s 18 kills in the first set while La Mirada was countering with senior opposite hitter Layla Monteon and junior outside hitter Bailey Mahan, both of whom had five kills.

The Lady Matadores didn’t take their first lead until it was 6-5 in second set and came in the middle of a six-point scoring spree off the serving of sophomore opposite hitter Alyssa Meraz. Artesia was unable to regain the lead in the set but tied it at 24-24 on a kill from senior middle blocker Melissa Lopez. However, junior middle blocker Milan Nimeh had her seventh kill, then an ace to prevent the Lady Pioneers from going up two sets.

There would be six ties and four lead changes throughout the first rotation of the third set, which really wasn’t sealed until Meraz served four straight points to put her team up 22-14. Both teams would be unable to distance themselves from each other in the fourth set as Artesia’s biggest lead was 22-19 and La Mirada’s was at 14-10. Artesia was close to sending the match to a fifth set, up 22-19 on an ace from senior setter Kira Magdaleno. But a serve into the net allowed senior libero Zayetzi Diaz to serve four straight points, including a pair of aces.

“We started off super slow today; I think the girls were very nervous,” said Kimberly Mahan. “[For a lot of them], this was their first playoff game. So, their nerves got the best of them, and we weren’t playing our game.

“I did not want to go five sets, I didn’t want to go four sets,” she later added. “But I’m glad they fought. Artesia fought too; they’re a scrappy team who picks up a lot of balls. We weren’t playing how we normally play because, like I said, they’re nervous.”

Bailey Mahan led La Mirada with 15 kills and 20 digs, followed by Monteon (11 kills), Meraz (14 assists, nine kills), who was setting for the first time, Nimeh (11 digs, eight kills) and senior setter Kaelyn Corns (14 assists). Arzate had 22 kills and junior outside hitter Alexis Brazil pitched in with 10 kills for the Lady Pioneers, who ended their season at 9-11.

Kimberly Mahan replaced longtime La Mirada head coach Linda Reich, who had been the program’s varsity coach for 17 seasons prior to the pandemic and played under Reich before coaching La Mirada’s lower level teams.

“I’ve learned a lot watching her coach, and then I kind of followed her lead,” she said. “It’s been fun, exciting and stressful.”

In other area girls volleyball first round action played on Oct. 21, Cerritos High (24-4), the champions of the 605 League, hosted Walnut High, the third place representative from the Hacienda League in Division 4 action. Also in the division, Gahr High, the third place representative from the San Gabriel Valley League, evened its ledger at 12-12 following a 14-25, 25-20, 25-20, 25-23 wild card win against Chadwick High this past Tuesday. The Lady Gladiators met Marmonte League champion Oaks Christian High while Valley Christian High (18-12), which finished tied for second in the Olympic League, hosted Orange Lutheran High, the third place team out of the Trinity League in Division 3 action.


Gahr (1-5 overall, 1-2 in the San Gabriel Valley League) @ Warren High (7-0, 3-0)-Not only did the Gladiators pick up their first win of the season on Oct. 14 against Lynwood High, they scored their first points of the season in a 40-13 conquest. But the excitement is sure to be short-lived as Gahr travels to Warren, a place where it last won in 2016 and has just two wins since at least 1998. All the Bears have done thus far is put up 314 points opposite just 38 and are coming off a 40-6 win at Paramount High last Friday.

The most Warren has allowed in a game is 12 points, and that came against Dominguez High on Oct. 1. Quarterback Nicholaus Iamaleava has been on fire all season, completing 119 passes for 1,740 yards and 28 touchdowns while being picked off once. Running back Marcus Higgs leads the ground game with 217 yards on 24 carries and four touchdowns. As a team, the Bears have rushed for 740 yards and seven touchdowns. Three wide receivers have caught at least 22 passes, led by Jordan Anderson (24 receptions, 483 yards, eight touchdowns), Juan Wilson (23 receptions, 281 yards, seven touchdowns) and Joshua Johnson (22 receptions, 426 yards, six touchdowns).

La Mirada (4-4, 1-1 in the Suburban League) @ Bellflower High (2-5, 1-2)-The Matadores picked up an important 35-10 win against Norwalk High last Friday to keep their playoff hopes alive. La Mirada still trails Norwalk in the standings but concludes the regular season against the bottom two teams of the circuit who are a combined 2-13. La Mirada got a pair of touchdowns from senior running back Edward Lafferre, who leads the team with 533 yards on 91 carries and five scores and one from senior Amel White, who rushed for 128 yards on nine carries against the Lancers. Junior quarterback Nehuel Garcia was 11 of 17 for 180 yards and one touchdown.

The Buccaneers snapped a five-game losing streak to Firebaugh High last week with a 53-8 victory, scoring one more point than they had in the previous three games combined.

Mayfair High (7-0, 2-0) @ Norwalk (6-3, 2-1)-If the Lancers want any share of the Suburban League title, they have to pull off a major upset against the Monsoons. The vaunted double wing offense was limited to 287 yards against La Mirada while the Monsoons had their bye last week and last played on Oct. 8, a 15-10 win over La Mirada. The Monsoons have outscored their opponents 261-101 but two of their last three games have been decided by 16 points. Quarterback Evan Tomich has completed 65 of 109 passes for 1,119 yards and nine touchdowns while the leading ground gainer is Nick Adimora, who has amassed 1,216 yards on 97 carries and scored 17 touchdowns.

Norwalk has been paced all season by the double threat of junior running back David Herrera (1,312 yards, 134 carries, 19 touchdowns) and senior running back Jonathan Goodloe (1,216 yards, 109 carries, 13 touchdowns). Junior quarterback Caden Barnhill, who has attempted nine passes, is the team’s third leading running back with 200 yards. This will be Norwalk’s last regular season game and a win, plus two wins by La Mirada, would create a three-way tie for the league title.

Valley Christian (5-2, 2-0 in the Olympic League) @ Heritage Christian High (4-3, 2-0)-This game should decide the league title as the Defenders are the hottest team in the area, winning their last five games on the field by a combined score of 215-56. Recently, V.C. had to forfeit a 45-0 win against Santa Rosa Academy from Aug. 26 and is coming off a 43-0 win at Whittier Christian last week, its first true shutout of the season.

Heritage Christian has won two straight games, both in league action, including a 50-13 victory against last place Maranatha High last week.