RATES       _______________________________ LM __________________________________

La Mirada closes in on second place, rallies to defeat defending co-league champs


By Loren Kopff

High school volleyball teams celebrate in their own ways after a victory, then there’s the way La Mirada celebrated following its come from behind win over Cerritos this past Tuesday. The Matadores knew that they couldn’t win a Suburban League championship but they had their eyes on something that has eluded head coach Linda Reich and her teams since 2008-second place.

Since winning the league title in 2008, La Mirada had finished in third place up until now. And the 13-25, 25-20, 22-25, 25-19, 15-8 victory over the host Lady Dons assured La Mirada of an excellent chance of second place. Afterwards, the team jumped up and down on its side of the court as if it had won a championship.

“It was really important,” Reich said. “It helps solidify second place; we don’t have it for sure. We haven’t taken second over Cerritos or Mayfair in three years. We knew we couldn’t win the [league] championship but we knew we could get a solid second if we played solid throughout the rest of the season.”

The Matadores improved to 8-2 in league action and with a win over Bellflower on Oct. 25 can officially claim second place. For the defending co-league champion Lady Dons, they fell to 7-9 overall and 5-4 in the circuit. They were in fourth place and a game behind Norwalk, who they hosted on Oct. 25.

“Standings don’t really matter to me,” said Cerritos head coach Khanh Vo. “If you win it all, then it’s nice and great. But if you’re second, third or fourth, to me, as long as you get a little bit better each day, I can live with that.”

Cerritos was leading two sets to one and had a 16-10 lead in the fourth set before Reich called a time out. Following an ace from Cerritos senior outside hitter Arnelle Duru, Nicole Springer’s kill gave La Mirada the momentum it needed for the remainder of the match. Her kill was the first of six straight points and 15 of the final 17 points of the set. Springer would have four kills and an ace that landed inches from the back line to end the set while Sara Hickman added three kills as part of those final 15 points.

“At that timeout I reminded the girls that Cerritos is about to take our chance of second place by ourselves away if we don’t turn the game around right now,” Reich said. “They wanted it that bad. They don’t want to be third behind Cerritos and Mayfair again. We have to have some type of little platform to work for and I’m proud of them.”

After the Lady Dons went ahead 3-1 in the fifth set, it was all La Mirada as it scored the next four points and never trailed again. Cerritos got to within 6-5 on a kill from senior middle blocker Bali Leffall Young and 10-6 on her 11th and last kill of the match.

Cerritos jumped out to a commanding 13-3 lead in the first set on the strength of Duru (seven kills), Leffall Young (two blocks) and junior libero Rachael Fitterer (three aces). Throughout the set, La Mirada was unable to score more than three consecutive points at any time but turned it around in the second set and led the entire way with the exception of two ties at 3-3 and 10-10. With La Mirada clinging to a 20-18 lead, Springer put down a kill, then served two straight aces to give the visitors that edge to tie the match.

“It was fundamentals; it just happened,” Reich said of the first set. “Their tough serving took us out of our game and then we finally got out of that rotation, but it was just catch-up from there. They did it to us. We had a lot of errors, but Cerritos was tough. They were hitting the ball well and blocking the ball well in that first game. But we knew we couldn’t just roll over and we didn’t.”

La Mirada was poised to go up two sets to one and led 22-20. But a kill from junior outside hitter Mariah Gonzalez allowed her to serve the final four points of the set, which included a pair of aces and a kill plus another kill from Duru. Duru (three kills), Gonzalez (three kills), Leffall Young (three kills) and some timely serving helped spark the big lead in the fourth set. Duru had three aces and sophomore setter Kaitlyn Bales added two aces.

This was the second time this season that Cerritos had squandered a chance to defeat La Mirada and stay close to Mayfair in the standings. On Sept. 27, Cerritos won the first two sets, then scored 37points in the final three sets as La Mirada rallied for the win. La Mirada’s season sweep was the first time since 2008 it had accomplished that feat against Cerritos.

“In the first match, their two middles went off against us because I had Arnelle playing on the right instead of the left,” Vo said. “Today, their wings went off because we couldn’t figure out how to close the gaps on the defense. Credit to La Mirada. They beat us two different ways.”

Hickman led La Mirada with 16 kills while Valerie Montoya added 13 kills. For the Lady Dons, Duru had 23 kills followed by 16 from Gonzalez and 11 from Leffall Young. The rest of the team had two kills.

“The downfall with this new lineup is that I put a lot of pressure on Kaitlyn to find Mariah because Mariah is in the front row by herself in two rotations,” Vo said. “If we can serve and pass, we win. We didn’t serve and pass.”

La Mirada will end the regular season at Norwalk on Monday while Cerritos will participate in the Chadwick Tournament on Saturday, visit Mayfair on Monday and host last place John Glenn on Wednesday before jumping into the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Division III-AA playoffs.

“I told them there are pros and cons to everything,” Vo said. “The way they approached [this match] was poor and I didn’t like the way they approached…not agreeing with calls, especially in the last game. It comes with the territory when you have brand new players on the right side. I thought overall we fought pretty hard but we didn’t figure out little details of the game.”

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