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2023 GIRLS VOLLEYBALL PREVIEW – Cerritos still the queens of the 605 League while La Mirada looks to improve in Gateway League

September 1, 2023

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

Since the inception of the 605 League, no one has been able to touch Cerritos High, which has not dropped a match in 40 attempts in the new circuit. Defending Mid-Cities League champion La Mirada High tries its luck in the Gateway League, opening the door for up and coming Norwalk High while Valley Christian High and Whitney High welcome new head coaches.


5-13 overall last season, 3-7 in the 605 League, fourth place

25-85 overall last five seasons

Head coach: Tommy Dube (fourth season, 21-43)

Last time made the playoffs: 2021

Division 7

After advancing to the CIF-Southern Section divisional playoffs in 2021, which snapped a nine-year postseason drought, Artesia High missed the playoffs last season. In fact, Artesia lost to John Glenn High in a five-set tiebreaker, winner goes home match to end the regular season. Head coach Tommy Dube endured a roller coaster of a season that included injuries and coaching up players into positions.

“The focus has been on getting one percent better every practice/game and I finished the season proud of the effort and determination of the players and team,” he said.

It might be tougher this season to get back to the playoffs as junior opposite hitter Rylee Asumbrado and sophomore Djulianne Goze are the key returners who got extensive playing time. Dube says the culture of the team and maximum effort is showing up and he looks forward to that paying off as Artesia competes this season. 

The Pioneers will be built around their youth this season as there are 11 sophomores of a team of 14. Although young, Dube is quick to say a lot have been playing club and beach volleyball in the offseason which he is confident will strengthen the team’s unity and skill sets.

An early season starting lineup would have senior Jocelyn Villarreal as the setter or an outside hitter with Goze the other outside hitter. The middle blockers would be Cierra Martinez and Kristine Palafox with junior Rebecca Gooden and Asumbrado as the opposite hitters and Emily Hernandez as the libero.

As far as expectations, Dube would only say the team is striving for a CIF championship.


17-8 overall last season, 10-0 in the 605 League, first place, lost to Crescenta Valley High in three sets in the Division 5 second round playoffs 

106-31 overall last five seasons

Head coach: David Cuthbert (10th season, 160-72)

Last time missed the playoffs: 2002

Division 5

The numbers are staggering and whenever that time comes for him to leave the Cerritos program, head coach David Cuthbert will go down as the best volleyball coach the school has seen. When the Dons were in the old Suburban League, they were consistently in the top three with La Mirada and then-queens Mayfair High. Now, the 605 League has been Cerritos and everyone else as the Dons have gone 120-2 in sets played during league action. 

Last season, Cerritos began the season 5-3 and dealt with some injuries to key players. Had the team been healthy, Cuthbert may have been looking at his fourth straight season of at least 20 wins.

“We have worked hard to develop all our players so that when we have an injury to an important player, we have someone ready to step in,” said Cuthbert. “There is always a loss when a player is injured, but we try and see it as an opportunity for someone else to fill their spot. We’ve tried to build a balanced team so that we are prepared for those unfortunate events.”

Cerritos graduated eight players from last season’s team but still has enough firepower to stay on top of the league for a fifth straight season. The winningest head coach in the program says everyone has worked hard to make some improvements, but he has been impressed by the leadership development from senior setter Chloe Cruz, whom he says, ‘continues to take on more responsibility’, and the offensive development of senior middle blocker Isabella Dantzler, who missed the beginning of the season recovering from a stressed fracture in her right tibia.

“She has expanded her range of attacks and we will look to use her in a slightly different way this year,” said Cuthbert.

In addition to Dantzler, look for senior outside hitters Nicole Salas and Leila Tolentino to get a lot of looks on the outsides and the opposites. Those three, plus Cruz, senior defensive specialist/libero Jasmine Kastner and junior defensive specialist/libero Gabriella Colombo remain the heart of the team. But look for Ava DeLeon-Ortega, opposite hitter Annabella Lee and middle blocker Sophia Toney as the newcomers who Cuthbert expects to make contributions.

“We are aiming to be playing our best volleyball at the end of the season, and to have it in our hands to win league approaching the last few games of the year,” said Cuthbert. “We have had a challenging last four months with lack of facilities, so our players have a bunker mentality and are pulling together. So, they are plenty motivated.”


10-14 overall last season, 1-7 in the Gateway League, fifth place

65-54 overall last five seasons

Head coach: Charity Dennis (third season, 21-28)

Last time made the playoffs: 2021

Division 6

Gahr High did not provide any information for this season’s team, but the Gladiators return senior outside hitter Leilani Choe, senior middle blockers Zyon Aubrey and Isabella Torres, senior setter Cassandra Zoellers, junior opposite hitter Kyla Jones and junior setter/libero Minerva Rodriguez. Last season’s league record was the first losing league campaign in over two and a half decades. The previous worst was 5-5 in 2008.


9-10 overall last season, 5-5 in the 605 League, third place, lost to Glendale High in three sets in the Division 7 wild card playoffs

35-67 overall last five seasons

Head coach: Daniel Reyes (fourth season, 21-38)

Last time missed the playoffs: 2021

Division 7

Glenn did not provide any information for this season’s team. The Eagles graduated only two players from last season’s squad and at least one other player transferred. The program will be seeking its first winning season since 2009 and last season’s playoff appearance snapped an 11-year playoff drought.


17-10 overall last season, 10-0 in the Mid-Cities League, first place, lost to Pacifica Christian/Orange County High in five sets in the Division 7 first round playoffs

54-78 overall last five seasons

Head coach: Kimberly Mahan (third season, 29-29)

Last time missed the playoffs: 2018

Division 6

La Mirada was introduced to the inaugural Mid-Cities League last season and breezed through it, losing just two sets and ending the regular season winning 12 of its last 15 matches before the playoff loss. Because of the successful season, the Matadores switch over to the Gateway League, or upper league, of the Suburban Valley Conference, which brings better competition.

“It means a lot to me and our team to dominate the Mid-Cities League,” said head coach Kimberly Mahan. “It had been a while since the program was undefeated in league. It gave the girls a lot of confidence and showed them that anything is possible. They want to continue to do well and win again this year.”

The Matadores fielded a team of 13 last season and graduated eight, so there will be a lot of rebuilding to do. But don’t tell that to Mahan, who says it has been ‘pretty easy to regroup this year’. Of the five returnees, four were impact players-senior outside hitter Alyssa Meraz (112 digs, 103 kills last season), senior libero Margaret Norton (126 digs), junior setter Kiersten Manah and junior middle blocker Natalie Ojeisekhoba (79 kills, 40 blocks). 

“I think my returning players have improved a lot this offseason,” said Kimberly Mahan. “Many of them played club, which helped their game play and got them a lot of touches with the ball.”

Look for junior outside hitter Geraldine Aiono, junior defensive specialist Angelyna Conde and junior middle blocker Maleah Diaz to be the top newcomers with the latter having a cup of coffee last season for the playoffs. She and Aiono will provide even more of a block up front while Conde brings with her great defense, according to Mahan.

Downey High and Warren High, the top two teams in the Gateway League last season, combined to win 31 matches, a far cry from the 22 put together by Bellflower High and Norwalk, which finished in second and third place respectively in the Mid-Cities League. Getting to the playoffs again this season is one thing. Winning another league title will be more challenging.

“I’m very competitive, so I always set high expectations for my team,” said Mahan. “With that being said, I do understand that the competition will be harder in the Gateway League. We have been working hard in the summer and have a great group of girls. We are going to play hard, try our best and hopefully do well in this tougher league.” 


11-12 overall last season, 7-3 in the Mid-Cities League, tied for 3rd place, lost to Bassett High in five sets in the Division 8 first round playoffs

47-67 overall last five seasons

Head coach: Paola Nava (third season, 19-23)

Last time missed the playoffs:2021

Division 7

With La Mirada moving up to the Gateway League, this gives Norwalk a better chance of winning the program’s first league title since 2013 when that team shared the Suburban League crown. Norwalk has not had a winning season since 2017, but with 10 players returning from last season, all signs point towards a special season.

“Last season was an eye-opener for us as a program,” said head coach Paola Nava. “We saw the potential our girls have and were eager to pull it out of them. We were a young team last season, with the majority of our team being underclassmen and the young mentality was something that I believe hurt us more than it should have.”

Senior outside hitters Kendall Nakano (142 digs, 63 kills last season), Marisol Roseboro (107 digs, 86 kills) and junior middle blocker Samantha Munoz (61 kills, 24 blocks) are the returning offensive threats. But Nava lists junior outside hitter/opposite hitter Brenda Quezada and senior setter/opposite hitter Zaidee Zepeda, along with Munoz, as the one who have improved the most during the offseason. 

The Lancers will have six seniors, five juniors, a pair of sophomores and one freshman and of the newcomers, it’s the lone ninth grader, middle blocker Mirei Sanchez, whom Nava says already has the skill set to provide more offense to the team and still has much room to grow.

“We are excited to see her grow throughout this season and see what she can do to help lengthen our season as much as possible.”

Norwalk’s best season since 1998 was 16-7, which was also its league championship season. That began a stretch of five straight seasons of at least 12 victories. The Lancers have the potential to surpass that 16-7 mark in the slightly easier league.

“I am expecting our team to play consistently and to stay hungry throughout the season,” said Nava. “For the past couple of seasons, our matchup with La Mirada has always been very competitive. Not having them in our league this year is a huge change. I am hopeful to see them again next season, but first, we need to make sure our athletes can do their jobs this season, on this team to foresee that in the future. I am already very proud of this team and am ecstatic to see what they can do.”


20-12 overall last season, 6-2 in the Olympic League, second place, lost to South Hills High in three sets in the Division 4 first round playoffs

103-55 overall last five seasons

Head coach: Karly Burkhardt (first season)

Last time missed the playoffs: 2009

Division 4

If you’re going to be a varsity head coach for the first time, might as well be at your alma mater. That’s the situation Karly Burkhardt finds herself in. Burkhardt graduated from V.C. in 2015 and played at Biola University before returning to V.C. as a lower level coach.

“It’s been such an awesome opportunity to go through this program as a [junior varsity] coach,” she said. “I’ll never forget the first year I coached here was the Covid year, so we were just practicing for like nine months. Getting to understand the program as a whole from a coaching standpoint and not just as a player standpoint…I could have kept the j.v. head position, but I actually asked [former head coach Jeff Ornee] can I be your assistant, because I do want to learn.”

Burkhardt added that she can’t express enough about the support from the community of a first-year head coach, and the fact that V.C. has two new athletic directors.  She also gave high praise to Ornee, whom she said runs at a very high level but at the same time kept a goal of having fun.

“His volleyball IQ is very high, so it was really interesting to ask him questions about why are you starting this rotation or why this lineup, why this setter with this hitter,” she continued. “He always had thoughtful answers to everything.”

The Defenders return five players with senior middle hitter Abby McGuyre, senior setter Samantha Van Duyn and sophomore middle hitter Aubrey Ericks as the key components. But it’s senior outside hitter Allie Smith that has improved the most, according to Burkhardt. Last season, Smith was used more as a designated server type of player. But the new head coach says she has stepped into the role of holding everyone together. The other returning player is junior outside hitter Cameron Warner.

V.C. will feature eight varsity newcomers and Burkhardt says sophomore libero Devyn Masi has stepped up the most. Masi was on the junior varsity team last season and the new head coach says her serving has improved a lot. The Defenders will have three freshmen on varsity-outside hitters Tessa Dobmeier and Jenna Van Kampen and setter Lucy Taylor.

“It just feels like a different team, a different challenge,” said Burkhardt. “I loved last year’s team; I can’t emphasize that enough. But this team is kind of its own thing.”


5-26 overall last season, 2-8 in the 605 League, tied for fifth place

48-81 overall last five seasons

Head coach: Mark Kato (first season)

Last time made the playoffs: 2019

Division 7

The last time Mark Kato was a head coach anywhere, the year was 2006 when he guided Cerritos to a 9-12 record, finished third in the old Suburban League and lost in the first round of the playoffs. His daughter Keira, who is a junior on this season’s team and is a defensive specialist, wasn’t born yet. But now Kato, who admitted he forgot how much he has missed the game, is back in the head coaching ranks.

“It’s a great opportunity,” he said. “I think we have made good strides the last couple of years [and] I want to continue it and to be competitive and to foster a new culture at Whitney. I want to build a better program than before.”

Kato didn’t get the job until the summer, but immediately won his first two matches of the season. The Wildcats return half a dozen players from last season and of the team’s four seniors this season, only opposite hitter and setter Gloria Kang is coming back and senior Meera Parikh are back. Kato says all the returners have improved since he took over, but Parikh has probably made the biggest improvement, transitioning from setter to libero. 

Look for sophomore outside hitter Nevaeh Salinas, whom Kato says has a good jump serve and power, to be one of the offensive threats along with junior middle blocker Chiugo Anyama. Both are returning players. The other returning players are junior setter Malia Aquino and junior outside hitter Rachel Moyher. He lists freshman setter Janelle Sales as one of the top newcomers, but look for sophomore middle blocker Olachi Anyama to be a big presence at the net.

“I think we’ll do okay [in league],” said Kato. “I think we’ll improve from last year. I’m not making any promises, but I think we are going to improve. Our goal is to make the playoffs this year.”