_____________________________ ST. NORBERT CHURCH           RATES ________________________         EBOOK


MID-CITIES LEAGUE GIRLS VOLLEYBALL – Norwalk shakes off sluggish start, survives scare from Firebaugh to continue historical season

October 11, 2023

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

Coming into this season, the history of the Norwalk High girls volleyball program has been adequate at best. Since 1998, the Lancers have been to the CIF-Southern Section playoffs 11 times, have had eight winning seasons and have not won more than 16 matches in any season.

But Norwalk is embarking on a special 2023 campaign that could land the team one of the top two spots in Division 7 once the postseason begins as early as Oct. 19. The Lancers, fresh on the heels of a 25-6, 26-24, 25-17 win at previously undefeated (in the Mid-Cities League) Mayfair High on Oct. 3, found enough to get past third place Firebaugh High 25-17, 25-12, 23-25, 25-13 last Thursday at the Norwalk Arts and Sports Complex. Norwalk improved to 20-10 overall, 7-1 in league after the win and is in position to at least claim a share of the program’s first league title since 2013.

“I think definitely the girls are coming off a great high that they took from that sweep over Mayfair on Tuesday,” said Norwalk head coach Paola Nava. “But it’s definitely a mental game for us; it always has been. I think we have a lot of talent on our team; a lot of young talent and I think sometimes it can be too much. It can be a lot of pressure and they don’t know how to handle it yet. But we talk about it and the girls are trying to get over that hump. They understand that if they want to prolong their season as much as possible, mental games can happen like that.”

In the first set against Firebaugh, the Lancers never trailed and had a 19-8 advantage through the first rotation on the strength of seven aces from five players, three from junior opposite hitter Zaidee Zepeda, and three kills each from senior outside hitter Kendall Nakano and sophomore outside hitter Nicole Reyes. A block and a kill from junior middle blocker Samantha Munoz put the Lancers up 21-9. However, the Falcons made a late run that included four straight aces from Betzayde Zuniga to make it 22-17. 

It was nearly the same script in the second set as the Lancers built early leads of 6-2, 11-5 and 13-9 in the first rotation. However, the Falcons again made a charge to get back in the set and this time, took their first lead at 15-14 on an ace from Kiara Carrasco. A serving error, plus two straight kills from Munoz made it a 17-15 Norwalk lead. But moments later, consecutive aces from Hanna Gastelum put Firebaugh back on top at 19-18.

The Lancers would close out the set on fire as 6’1” freshman middle blocker sensation Mirei Sanchez had her seventh kill and two straight blocks, followed by Nakano’s fifth kill and back to back aces from Reyes.

“I called that timeout [at 19-18] and I let them know that right now, they weren’t being aggressive enough,” said Nava. “I want them to swing; I want them to dig deep, and I think that’s what they did coming out of that timeout.”

Even though the Lancers ended the set with momentum, the Falcons weren’t about to go away just yet as the third set featured 11 ties, eight lead changes and no lead greater than four points. The final lead change came when Jovie put down her second straight kill to make it 20-18. Norwalk did make one last ditch effort to come back, scoring four straight points at the end, half on aces from senior setter Alyssa Dorado. But Zuniga’s ninth kill gave Firebaugh the win.

It would be all Norwalk in the fourth set, building leads of 10-4 and 13-6 in the first rotation and never let the Falcons score more than three straight points at any time. 

“I think [Firebaugh] came out defensively strong today,” said Nava. “They were hustling, and I want to give them kudos. But I wanted to give my team an opportunity to kind of snap out of it. I think it’s a great learning moment for them, even though they took that loss [in the third set]. But I don’t want to feel that again.”

Munoz led the Lancers with 14 kills while Sanchez added a dozen kills and six blocks. Nakano and Reyes each pitched in with 10 kills, making it a rare feat that four players would have double-digit kills in a match ending in less than five sets. As a team, the Lancers had 53 kills along with 22 aces, led by Zepeda’s six. Dorado, Reyes and sophomore libero Ashley Castaneda all had five aces while Nakano had the other.

“We’re working hard with our defenders and our setters to kind of keep that ball moving, because at the beginning of the season, it was very repetitive and our offense really wasn’t scoring as much,” said Nava. “Now, we’re learning to move the ball around and I think that’s kind of helping us a lot because teams were able to read us in the beginning.”

Norwalk ended the regular season sweeping Dominguez High 25-12, 25-13, 25-21this past Tuesday and went to Gahr High this past Wednesday in a non-league affair before going to Lynwood High on Oct. 12. Should the Lancers make a deep run in the playoffs, the prospects of a plus 25-win season look good.

“It’s something that I never thought about when I took over the program three years ago,” said Nava of winning 20 matches. “Myself and coach Enrique [Galicia]…we kind of wanted to rebuild this program and get it back to what it used to be. I think that we’ve done that, and we pushed our girls. We’re always underdogs, and so when we’ve preached that to our players, they want to go out and show out. 

“It’s a huge accomplishment; I think the girls are proud of themselves,” she continued. “They knew they could do it and we [as coaches] knew they could do it. We had a lot of high expectations coming into this season from other coaches and other teams. It’s definitely a good feeling, but we’re not done yet and I know they have their goal that they want to maintain. Their eyes are still on that prize.”