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605 LEAGUE GIRLS VOLLEYBALL – Cerritos heats up in cool gymnasium after sluggish start, takes top spot after first round

Cerritos high school logo, don

September 28, 2022

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

CYPRESS-Cerritos High junior middle blocker Isabella Dantzler thought the temperature inside the Oxford Academy gymnasium was a bit on cool side, in fact colder than the one at Cerritos. Maybe that was the reason why the Dons had a rough start in their key 605 League match last Thursday to close out the first round of league action.

Cerritos trailed by as many as nine points in the first set but came on strong through the second rotation to rally for the win, then had relative ease the rest of the match in a 25-23, 25-12, 25-7 win over the Patriots. The win left the Dons with a 5-0 league mark and coupled with the outcomes of six matches last Friday and Saturday in the Bellflower-Valley Christian Tournament, Cerritos began this past week with a 12-7 overall mark.

The Dons struggled early in the match and found themselves down 7-1 after an ace from Elyannah Sonza, 12-4 after a net violation, and 18-9 after a serve receive error. That prompted head coach David Cuthbert to call a timeout and whatever he said, the players immediately responded.

“I don’t think I can tell you specifically what I said,” joked Cuthbert. “Basically, when you get down like that, those are the best sets to win. And even if you don’t win them, it was all about can we steal some momentum back and get comfortable. Nine times out of 10, you’re going to lose that set, being down nine. We were just talking about getting some momentum back [and] the girls played really well.”

It was 19-12 heading into the second rotation and after a kill from junior outside hitter Nicole Sales, sophomore defensive specialist Gabriella Colombo served four straight points to help get her team back in the set. Moments later, senior defensive specialist Audrey Lee reeled off four straight points as Cerritos took its first lead of the set on a block from Dantzler. The set would end on a net violation and an ace from senior setter Viannce Sinocruz. But it was clear that the Dons had the momentum which they never let go of in the next two sets.

“Once we got warmed up and realized it was the same people that’s always been there and it’s just our team, I knew we would start to get back in the groove of it and playing like ourselves again,” said Dantzler. “I felt like for the first set, we were putting pressure on ourselves that wasn’t necessary. So, once we got the lead, and won the first set, that made us feel like we can win in three sets and we don’t have to take it to five.”

“Gabby serves tough,” said Cuthbert. “She has the balance between how hard she’s going for it and then limiting errors. At that time when we’re down, we’re just like, ‘okay, just full throttle, let’s go for it and see if we can steal a couple’.”

Cerritos never trailed in the second set, racing out to a 10-3 lead thanks to three kills from senior outside hitter Nina Tumbocon and two more from senior middle blocker Isa Cilloniz. Later, junior libero Jasmine Kastner had consecutive aces as the lead expanded to 15-7.

Then in the third set, tied at 4-4, Dantzler’s fourth kill put the Dons in front for good before adding two straight kills for a 7-4 advantage. Three points later, she had a block and after the Patriots scored consecutive points, she finished the match strong by adding five more kills, four coming when junior outside hitter Leila Tolentino was serving. She would have four aces during that nine-point scoring spree.

Dantzler, who finished with a career-high 11 kills, missed the first part of the season as she was recovering from a stress fracture on her right tibia from last May. She made her season debut on Sept. 1 against Sunny Hills High and has played in every league match this season.

“I feel myself regaining my strength and just playing like myself and realizing that my teammates are there for me and I can trust them and lean on them if I need to,” said Dantzler. “As long as I feel fine, then I should be able to play like I was before.”

“We always knew what Isabella had,” said Cuthbert. “We were just trying to bring her back the right way from [her] injury. She had a bit of a slow start, but man, at the end, she was really dominant. [Junior outside hitter] McKinzie [Nicholson] started all season from probably being our last player off the bench. But she’s put in so much work. She’s grown so much, and she was a big part of closing [the third set] out, not just scoring the kill on the last point, but that’s probably her high in kills all year.”

Although Dantzler led everyone in kills, this was a complete team win as Cilloniz added 10 kills, Nicholson and Tolentino each had seven kills with the former also adding five aces while Tumbucon and Sales pitched in with six and five kills respectively.

“Nina knows who she is,” said Cuthbert. “But she’s not going to be somebody who’s going to get up there and bang balls. She has to play smart. That’s what she did today.”

Cerritos continues its remarkable dominance in the 605 League, established in 2018, by winning its 35th straight match without a loss. On top of that, the Dons have lost just two sets in 605 League action, the first coming against Whitney High on Sept. 16 of last season and the other coming two days later against Oxford Academy. Since the league was formed, Cerritos has won 103 out of 105 sets played.

“It’s good, but the way I look at it is Cerritos volleyball is only 5-0 in 605 [League] play, because every other year is a different team, different players,” said Cuthbert. “We have to let that go. We’re not trying to defend our title here, we’re pursuing a title. It’s a really different way to look at it because I have a lot of kids on this team who have never played varsity volleyball before. What we did three years ago was meaningless to them. What we’re doing now is what we have to focus on. The record is great, but I’m 5-0 in league and that’s the way I look at it.”

The Dons will visit Pioneer High today and John Glenn High on Tuesday with the rematch against Oxford Academy scheduled for Oct. 11, which is the last match of the regular season. The Patriots currently sit in second place.

“They might be the best league opponent we’ve faced; them or Whitney three years ago,” said Cuthbert. “They’re doing great; they’re playing really well and you saw it in the start of the first set what they’re capable of. So, they’re a really, really worthy opponent. We know that when we go back and play them in a couple of weeks at our place, it’s going to be another battle. I’m looking forward to that one.”