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SUBURBAN VALLEY CONFERENCE GIRLS VOLLEYBALL – La Mirada begins new league with multiple rallies, get past Norwalk

September 14, 2022

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

When the La Mirada High and Norwalk High girls volleyball teams were in the four-member Suburban League, the best they could hope for was play for second place and an automatic berth in the CIF-Southern Section playoffs. That’s because Mayfair High was still the dominant team, like it had been before the formation of the 605 League.

Now, there’s the Suburban Valley Conference and while Mayfair is in the “upper league”, La Mirada and Norwalk now get to battle for first place in the “lower league”. With that said, this past Tuesday’s league opener lived up to the expectations with La Mirada in the early driver’s seat as it rallied for a 21-25, 25-13, 25-23, 25-22 victory. Even more remarkable for the Matadores is that they came back from deficits of 8-0, 13-6, 15-9 and 18-14 in the first set to make it closer than it may have been and 14-7 and 19-15 in the third set.

“We started our transfer student today; our new libero,” said La Mirada head coach Kimberly Mahan. “Sometimes, with the chemistry on the court…I don’t know if that had anything to do with [the slow start]. In the next set, I put [junior] Margaret [Norton] in at libero and it seemed like it worked better.”

For Norwalk head coach Paola Nava, the match was a case of déjà vu as the Lancers blew a 2-0 lead against Gahr High on Sept. 1 and lost in five sets.

“Like I said last time, these girls are not mentally strong enough for the game yet,” said Nava. “It’s unfortunate because I have a young team; they are still learning physically and emotionally about the game and how to stay tough. I don’t think they’ve gotten to that point yet.”

Norwalk’s 8-0 lead was powered by the serving of junior setter Alyssa Dorado, who had four aces. But the Matadores would chip away at their deficit with three points here (three times), five points there and a couple of two-point rallies. A pair of kills from junior outside hitter Alyssa Meraz, one from senior opposite hitter Abbie Van Nyernen and an ace from senior libero Andrea Rosiles made the score 15-14. But Norwalk (4-9, 0-1) would quickly get two kills from junior outside hitter Kendall Nakano and two aces from sophomore middle blocker Samantha Munoz.

In the set, La Mirada (7-6, 1-0) had 16 kills to Norwalk’s nine, but serving was the key as the Lancers had eight aces while the Mats got just two.

“We have a lot of players that play that are good hitters,” said Mahan. “But where we were struggling is our passing. If our pass return is better, they don’t score because we have tall middles that try to run the ones and threes. But we have to get that pass there. We have two good outside hitters, two good middles and then three opposite hitters. So, we are a good well-rounded offensive team.”

Dorado and Nakano would combine for three more aces early in the second set but when senior outside hitter Bailey Mahan put down her fourth kill, it was the beginning of La Mirada’s turnaround in the match. Senior middle blocker Milan Nimeh served 10 straight points and moments later, Bailey Mahan served five straight points (four aces and a Meraz kill) to make it 20-8. Norwalk was limited to five kills in the set but added seven more aces to their total.

“I think that helped and picked up our momentum; the intensity and our energy because I felt like we were flat when we started,” said Kimberly Mahan. “That’s kind of where we struggle, not just with our passing, but somebody taking charge on the court.”

“I know my team and I know that these girls shut down immediately after even a loss of one point if we’re up by 10,” said Nava. “I definitely felt that pendulum changing, and La Mirada took it and ran with it. We couldn’t put them out of it.”

Norwalk dominated through the first rotation of the third set, leading 12-6 after back to back kills from Munoz and 14-7 after an ace from senior defensive specialist Tatianna Navarro. But the Lancers were unable to reel off more than two straight points the rest of the way, letting La Mirada once again chip away.

Senior setter Mikayla Gonzalez began the second rotation serving three straight points. Then down 19-16, Bailey Mahan served five straight points with a pair of aces. Dorado’s seventh ace of the match tied the set at 23-23 before a kill and an ace from Meraz put the Matadores up 2-1.

“I think they lacked their pass too, and they sent a lot of free balls over,” said Kimberly Mahan. “But we should have been utilizing those free balls and we should have been running the middles a lot more.”

“I think our girls were just off today,” said Nava. “We normally don’t have an issue with our serve receive. But today we just couldn’t pass the ball. We were stuck on our feet or stuck on our heels, and we just couldn’t move.”

In the fourth set, La Mirada would have leads of 3-1, 8-5, 12-7, 15-10 and 18-13 but could not get more separation as the Lancers would close the gap multiple times, although never tying the set. The one bright spot continued to be Dorado, who added three more aces, the first to begin the set, the second making it 12-9 and the last making it 24-22.

“Alyssa is a strong player, even last year she served us off the court one game,” said Nava. “She does have a tough serve, but I think that these girls just need to track that ball and move their feet. They were stuck on their heels, but Alyssa did her thing.”

Meraz led all hitters with 16 kills while Bailey Mahan added 12 kills and as many digs. Nimeh also had a dozen digs as La Mirada was solid on defense with 51 digs. The Matadores traveled to Lynwood High on Sept. 15 and will participate in the Kennedy Tournament on Saturday before going to Firebaugh High on Tuesday and welcoming Bellflower High on Thursday. The rematch with Norwalk will be on Sept, 29 and Kimberly Mahan already knows what her team needs to work on in order to sweep the season series.

“Norwalk has always been a good matchup for us,” she said. “We’re always competitive against each other. Last year we went five sets with them every time we played them. I think our girls just need to work on mainly playing our level of play.:

Nakano paced the Lancers with 15 kills while Munoz had six and senior libero Kimberly Lopez and junior outside hitter Marisol Roseboro each added five kills. The rest of the team combined for 11 kills. The Lancers visited Firebaugh on Sept. 15 and will go to Dominguez High on Tuesday before hosting Lynwood on Thursday.

“The main thing that concerns me is their scrappiness on defense,” said Nava. “I think we need to learn how to choose better placement of our balls. The main thing that I saw that really hurt us was their scrappy defense. They’re everywhere on the ball and our girls can’t move.”