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NEWS AND NOTES FROM PRESS ROW – Gahr girls volleyball survives a five-set, wild card roller coaster victory over Sultana

October 19, 2023

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

For a girls volleyball program that was more successful in the CIF-Southern Section playoffs in the 1980s and 1990s, Gahr High hasn’t fared too well recently. With one playoff win in the last five seasons despite winning a league title three times since 2016, the Gladiators may have found that postseason spark of the earlier days.

It didn’t look good after the first set against Sultana High this past Tuesday in a Division 6 wild card match. But the seventh-ranked Gladiators, behind the stellar play, both offensively and defensively, form junior opposite hitter Kyla Jones, had enough to move to the first round after a 20-25, 25-13, 25-12, 21-25, 16-14 home win and visited West Valley High on Oct. 18. The Mountain Pass League champions are ranked 10th in the division.

The Gladiators, who finished third in the Gateway League, had a 3-0 lead in the fifth set turn into a 5-5 tie before Jones had a kill, then served consecutive aces. While the Sultans never led in the set, they got to within a point three times and caught Gahr three times. When Mishelle Dominguez put down her team-high 17th point to tie the set at 13-13, Gahr head coach Charity Dennis called a timeout before Jones’ kill put her team up 14-13. A serve into the net tied the set again before Jones and senior outside hitter Isabela Torres, off the touch of a Sultana player, won the match.

Gahr (21-11) led by four points early in the first set that saw nine ties and four lead changes. The Sultans took the lead for good at 19-18 on a kill from Maggie Warden. She and Dominguez combined for 10 of the 14 kills the visitors from Hesperia would collect in the set. But Gahr completely dominated the second and third sets, never trailing while Jones, Torres and senior outside hitter Mariah Robinson were spiking kills all over the place and senior setter Cassandra Zoellers was serving four of the team’s nine aces during those two sets.

“Everyone was contributing,” said Gahr assistant coach Alex Quan-Madrid. “Everyone was playing at their peak performances. They were playing as a team; everything was going great.”

After six ties in the fourth set, Sultana took its first lead at 16-15 on a Warden kill before Gahr rallied to take an 18-17 lead. But Dominguez had a pair of kills down the stretch and Isabella Abeyta had consecutive aces to send it to the final set.

Jones led everyone with 19 kills and had six aces while Robinson added a dozen kills with five aces and Torres another 10 kills. 

“Kyla has been big for us all season and we’ve been kind of lucky because a few other girls have stepped up in the last couple of weeks where we haven’t had to lean on her as much as we had to earlier in the season,” said Quan-Madrid. “So, I think she was just trying to find that rhythm. But she’s always been consistent for us, no matter what.”

Gahr entered the playoffs on a roll, winning six of eight matches after a lackluster performance on Sept. 28 against La Mirada High, losing in four and picking up 34 points over the final three sets. 

“I think that La Mirada game definitely represented a low point for us, and we did a lot of reflection, said Quan-Madrid. “We redefined our game to really find our rhythm. We feel like we’re hitting a good peak right now in terms of the overall team; in terms of overall play level, we’re where we want to be in the playoffs.”

After going 10-14 last season and missing the playoffs for the first time since 2008, Gahr reached a rarity with its 21 victories. Since 1998, the most victories by any Gahr team came in 1998 when that team went 17-5. Before this season, the last time any Gahr team won 20 matches in a season was back in 1988 when the Gladiators, behind the tutelage of Sonny Okamoto, went 21-1, won the 4A Division championship and was a CIF Division 1 State semifinalist. Two years before that, Gahr posted a 20-1 mark, also winning the 4A Division title.

In other girls volleyball playoff action, with first round matches to be played on Oct. 18, Artesia High defeated St. Pius-St. Matthias Academy in four sets this past Tuesday in a Division 7 wild card match. The Pioneers (11-8), the third place representative from the 605 League, went to Wildwood High, the champions from the Coastal League. In Division 5 action, Cerritos High, the champions of the 605 League which enters playoffs at 19-4, hosted Culver City High, the fifth place team from the Bay League.

La Mirada (18-10), which finished second in the Gateway League and are ranked sixth in Division 6, entertained Desert Christian Academy, the second place team out of the South Valley League while Mid-Cities League co-champion Norwalk High (22-11), ranked second in Division 7, welcomed Twentynine Palms High, the Desert Valley League’s third place team.

Finally, Valley Christian High (15-10), the second place representative out of the Olympic League, travelled to seventh-ranked Paloma Valley High in Division 4 action. The Wildcats won the Ivy League and have lost four matches.


Cerritos (3-5, 1-0 in the 605 League) @ Artesia (5-3, 1-0)-See Cerritos/John Glenn High game story. This game was played on Oct. 19.

Prediction: Artesia 35, Cerritos 28

Paramount High (3-5, 1-1 in the Mid-Cities League) @ Gahr (5-3, 1-1)-The winner of this contest will grab second place in the league and if you go by the numbers, Gahr should ease past the Pirates on homecoming night, which is also the final regular season home contest. Gahr blasted Firebaugh High 42-8 last Friday for its fourth game of scoring at least 40 points. But despite this season’s success, the Gladiators have lost 10 straight to the Pirates, including a 41-20 affair last season.

Paramount’s win have come against Compton High (45-20), Venice High (27-17) and Lynwood High (2-0). In the five losses, the Pirates combined to score 40 points.

Prediction: Gahr 42, Paramount 13

Pioneer High (2-6, 0-1 in the 605 League) @ Glenn (5-3, 0-1)-See Cerritos/Glenn game story. This game was played on Oct. 19

Prediction: Glenn 35, Pioneer 14

La Mirada (3-5, 2-1 in the Gateway League) @ Warren High (6-2, 3-0)-See La Mirada/Norwalk game story.

Prediction: Warren 38, La Mirada 17

Norwalk (3-5, 0-3 in the Gateway League) @ Dominguez High (5-3, 0-3)-See La Mirada/Norwalk game story.

Prediction: Norwalk 35, Dominguez 20

Valley Christian (2-6, 1-2 in the Ironwood League) @ Big Bear High (2-6, 0-3)-This game will be played on Saturday afternoon at Big Bear Middle School. V.C. was blanked by Aquinas High 48-0 last Friday, the third time the Defenders have been whitewashed this season. and the fifth time they have been held to single digits in the scoring department. V.C.’s only win in Ironwood League action last season came against Big Bear, a 35-21 contest. 

While V.C. has yet to reach the 100-point mark, the Bears have scored 186 points despite a five-game skid in which they have yielded 218 points in that time. Big Bear was blanked by Heritage Christian High 48-0 last Saturday.

Prediction: V.C. 38, Big Bear 14

Last week’s predictions: 4-1

Season to date: 39-12