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NEWS AND NOTES FROM PRESS ROW – Artesia girls volleyball shows valiant effort in four-set loss to Oxford Academy

October 12, 2023

By Loren Kopff * @LorenKopff on Twitter

CYPRESS-Artesia High girls volleyball head coach Tommy Dube always preaches to his players to have the mindset of getting one percent better in practice and always pushing each other. As the Pioneers visited Oxford Academy in the regular season finale this past Tuesday, it looked as if they would be swept badly based how the first set went.

But all those practices this season paid off and even though Artesia fell to the Patriots in a battle for second place in the 605 League, it showed that this is not the Artesia of old. Oxford Academy clinched second place with a 25-13, 25-22, 23-25, 26-24 win that sent the Pioneers to third place and an automatic berth in next week’s CIF-Southern Section playoffs. The brackets will be released on Saturday morning with wild card action beginning on Tuesday and first round action on Thursday.

The Pioneers never led in the first set, trailing by half a dozen points twice in the first rotation until Jenelieve Urfano served seven straight points for the easy win. But senior outside hitter and setter Jocelyn Villarreal made sure her team wouldn’t go down without a fight. After collecting four kills in the first set, Villarreal doubled that total within Artesia’s first six points of the second set as the Pioneers came out strong, leading 10-3. The Patriots took their first lead at 14-13 and never led by more than three points in the set, which featured seven ties and three lead changes. 

In the third set, Villarreal continued her strong play, as she has been doing all season, getting half of her team’s 12 kills as both teams couldn’t distance themselves from each other. 

There were 12 ties, six lead changes and the largest lead by either squad came at 8-5 when Oxford Academy’s Hien Nguyen’s fifth kill made it 8-5. Both teams would have a two-point advantage five times and the Pioneers pulled out the win on kills by junior outside hitter Rylee Asumbrado and Villarreal, her 19th at the time.

“All over the place; definitely one of our key players,” said Dube of Villarreal. “You’re talking about the assists, plus being the outside hitter, and the primary one. She really excelled at the end of last year when she transferred into a setting position more than just a hitter. But she’s really captured that role of being the go-to person for setting and the control with that as well as being the go-to for our hitters.”

The Pioneers were in a good position to the tie the match, leading 17-12 in the fourth set after an ace from junior libero Emily Hernandez. But a serving error, plus three straight aces from Kelly Vo and another kill from Nguyen quickly tied the set. She would give her team its first lead of the set with an ace, but the Pioneers would stop the Patriots at match point four times as Villarreal had her 24th and 25th kills around an ace from sophomore outside hitter Djulianne Goze. After a timeout, Oxford Academy ended the match with kills from Abbigail Tago and Nguyen.

Asumbrado had nine kills while Goze and junior opposite hitter Rebecca Gooden added six and five kills respectively. But lost in the mix is the improvement of the Artesia girls volleyball program. The loss dropped the Pioneers to 10-8 overall, 6-4 in league but Artesia is assured of its first winning season in over two and a half decades, its third playoff trip since 2010 and its second double-digit win season since 2010. On top of that, the Pioneers will finish with fewer than 10 losses for the first time since 2007 and the third place finish is the program’s best when Dube guided the team to a 5-5 league mark and a wild card appearance two seasons ago.

“The mindset was we’re always playing ourselves and we’re always pushing ourselves to be the best we can be, and what can we learn from tonight and how that can empower us more the next step,” said Dube. “So, win or lose [tonight], we just wanted to make sure we were rolling.

“When I came into the program in 2019, it’s been up and down,” he continued. “Coming out of Covid, we kind of had to rebuild. We lost a lot of players, but I think the message has been consistent; the players have been very adaptive. The players that were grown through our system right now are latching on to the message that is being sent.”

In other girls volleyball action, Cerritos High completed another undefeated 605 League season, with another sweep, this time with Whitney High being the latest victim, 25-18, 25-8, 25-18. The Dons improved to 19-4, 10-0 while the Wildcats finished the season at 13-17, 5-5 and fourth in the 605 League.

Gahr High swept Paramount High 25-15, 25-23, 25-21 this past Tuesday to improve to 19-11, 3-5 in the Gateway League, which is good for fourth place while La Mirada High, ranked fifth in Division 6, fell to Warren High 25-18, 23-25, 25-16, 25-18 to drop to 17-10, 4-3 in the Gateway League. The Matadores visited Paramount High on Oct. 12 while Valley Christian High locked down second place in the Olympic League as the Defenders defeated Whittier Christian High 18-25, 25-10, 25-19, 21-25, 15-9 this past Monday. V.C. (14-10, 5-2) travelled to Heritage Christian High this past Wednesday.


Artesia (4-3) @ Pioneer High (2-5)-This game was played on Oct. 12. The 605 League season has arrived for the four-team circuit and half of league will see their seasons extended to an 11th game on Nov. 3. Artesia, which was once an offensive juggernaut, having scored 151 points in its first three games, has managed just a dozen points in its back to back losses. Last Thursday, the Pioneers fell to Garey High 28-12, a team that entered the contest 1-5. With junior quarterback Charlie Lopez not in action, senior quarterback Santiago Parrilla was seven of 12 for 65 yards and a touchdown while the Pioneers were held to 106 yards on the ground.

After winning the first three games over the Titans since the league was formed, Artesia lost last season’s contest 22-0. Pioneer has lost three straight games, including 26-20 to Bassett High last Thursday. Scoring has been a problem for the Titans as they have not scored more than 21 points in any game while allowing nearly 200 points thus far. 

Prediction: Artesia 28, Pioneer 14

Glenn (5-2) @ Cerritos (2-5)-See Cerritos/Gahr game story. This game was played on Oct. 12.

Prediction: Glenn 28, Cerritos 27

Gahr (4-3, 0-1 in the Mid-Cities League) @ Firebaugh High (3-5, 0-2)-See Cerritos/Gahr game story.

Prediction: Gahr 42, Firebaugh 14

La Mirada (2-5, 1-1 in the Gateway League) @ Norwalk High (3-4, 0-2)-Once longtime rivals of the former Suburban League, it has been very one-sided for La Mirada, which has won 22 of the past 24 meetings dating back to 1998. The last loss to Norwalk came in 2013, a 42-35 affair. Before that, the Lancers were celebrating a 41-24 victory in 2008. 

The Matadores dropped a 35-21 decision to arch-nemesis Mayfair High last Friday as sophomore quarterback Santino Garcia was 12 of 27 for 144 yards and a pair of touchdowns while senior running back Martin Aguilera rushed for 47 yards and the other score as La Mirada has scored 21 points in consecutive games, both season highs.

Norwalk was overwhelmed by Warren 50-14 last Friday as the Lancers have scored a combined 24 points against the league’s top two favorites. The heart and soul of the double wing offense continues to be senior running back Caleb Mitchell and junior running back Ezra Mueller. The winner of this contest has an outside chance of third place and an automatic playoff berth, but the Matadores still have to face Downey High and Warren.

Prediction: La Mirada 28, Norwalk 24

Aquinas High (4-3, 2-0 in the Ironwood League) @ Valley Christian (2-5, 1-1)-For the fourth time this season, V.C. was held to single digits as the Defenders were beat up by Ontario Christian High 51-6 last Friday. Junior quarterback Austin Abrahams scored on a one-yard run early in the contest before the Knights scored 22 points in the third quarter. V.C. was outgained 471-237 and has surrendered at least 33 points four times.

The Falcons, who knocked off Heritage Christian 39-28 last Saturday, have won three straight games and four of their last five. During the winning streak, Aquinas has scored at least 39 points and when the teams met last season in the inaugural season of the Ironwood League, the Falcons were victorious, 50-14.

Aquinas loves to run and has nearly 1,700 yards on the ground with Jusyis Solis leading the way with 966 yards and 11 touchdowns. Champ Brown, just a freshman, is second on the team with 346 yards and five touchdowns. 

Prediction: Aquinas 38, V.C. 14

Last week’s predictions: 3-2

Season to date: 35-11