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CIF-SOUTHERN SECTION DIVISION 7 GIRLS VOLLEYBALL PLAYOFFS – Norwalk continues to make history, advances into unchartered territory

October 23, 2023

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

Only four times in the history of the Norwalk High girls volleyball program have the Lancers reached the second round of the CIF-Southern Section playoffs. In 1979, Norwalk lost to Cajon High in the 2A Division, in 2013, the Lancers were swept by Valley View High in Division 3AA action and two years later, they suffered the same fate to Rim of the World High in the same division.

The fourth time came last Saturday and unlike the previous three times, Norwalk moved on to the quarterfinals as it held off a pesky Orange Vista High squad 25-20, 23-25, 25-19, 25-13. The Lancers, ranked second in Division 7, improved to 24-11 as they continued to add to their school record for most victories in a season.

The challenge facing the Inland Valley League champions from Perris was that Norwalk didn’t know anything about them. Every opponent Orange Vista faced was on the east side of Interstate 15 in the Inland Empire or from the Apple Valley and had won nine of its previous 11 matches.

“I always preach to my girls it doesn’t matter about the team on the other side; it doesn’t matter about your opponent,” said Norwalk head coach Paola Nava. “At the end of the day, we can control what’s on our side, and I think that’s what we did today. We saw them during warm-ups, and I don’t think one of our players was fazed. So, I applaud my players for that; for sticking to their side, focusing on their side, and worrying about their game at the end of the day.”

Norwalk never trailed in the opening set as it pounded down 16 kills while serving half a dozen aces. Freshman middle blocker Mirei Sanchez was dominant early with six kills in the first set and five more in the second. But junior setter Zaidee Zepeda was showing there’s more to her than her setting skills. She had five kills in the opening set, including three in a row to make it 21-14, and served three aces in the second set. 

The Lancers would lead for most of the second set, gaining advantages of 15-10 at the end of the first rotation, and then 18-15 moments later. But Naomi Jackson’s fourth kill put the Coyotes up 22-21, their first lead since it was 7-6. Then with the score tied at 23-23 as the third rotation was beginning, Jackson had a kill followed by an ace from Jayla Ross. After being held to four kills in the first set, Orange Vista erupted for 15 kills in the second set before combining for 14 kills in the final two sets.

“I think that set was definitely a game of errors on our end,” said Nava. “We made a lot of errors. A lot of communication errors, a lot of serving errors; things that we were able to control, and I told our girls at a timeout it’s a game of errors. Which team is going to make the least errors and which team is not? I think that’s why we fell short that set, because we made the majority of our errors.”

But Norwalk, the co-Mid-Cities League champions came out stronger in the third set and pulled away at the start of the second rotation when junior middle blocker Samantha Munoz had a kill, then senior setter Alyssa Dorado had back to back aces. Then with the score 19-17, Sanchez had a kill, sophomore libero Ashley Castaneda had an ace and Munoz and junior opposite hitter Brenda Quezada combined for a block to extend the lead. The set ended with a pair of kills from Munoz sandwiched around one from senior outside hitter Kendall Nakano.

It was all Norwalk in the fourth set, especially when sophomore defensive specialist Nicole Reyes served five straight points to break a 7-7 tie. She had three aces during that stretch as the Lancers served 26 aces to go along with the 55 kills they posted. Sanchez led everyone with 17 kills followed by 16 from Munoz, nine from Zepeda and half a dozen from Reyes, who also served eight aces.

“Nicole and Zaidee are two girls that love volleyball and I think out of their CIF run from last season, they were hungry, and it encouraged them to be aggressive,” said Nava. “The want to play volleyball. It wasn’t a matter of winning or losing. It was a matter of playing volleyball, playing hard, playing tough and that’s what they did today. I’m really, really proud of them.”

Norwalk will host its third straight playoff match on Wednesday when it faces seventh-ranked Loma Linda Academy. The Roadrunners, who began the season with 14 straight wins, are 24-2 and went undefeated in the Tri County Premier League. If Norwalk comes away with a win, it will travel to third-ranked Wildwood High or sixth-ranked Gabrielino High for the semifinals on Saturday.