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MID-CITIES LEAGUE GIRLS VOLLEYBALL – La Mirada battles through unexpected injury, sweeps Norwalk as rare league title is in sights

By Loren Kopff

@LorenKopff on Twitter

October 4, 2022~Just when the La Mirada High and Norwalk High girls volleyball teams were preparing for what many thought would be a first place battle in the Mid-Cities League last Thursday, Bellflower High put a wrinkle into things. A five-set win over Norwalk on Sept. 27 left the Lancers in third place with a 3-2 league mark after the first round, looking up at La Mirada (5-0) and Bellflower (4-1).

Then, midway through the first set last Thursday, La Mirada senior middle blocker Mele-Ana Sitani inadvertently stepped on the foot of sophomore setter Kiersten Mahan and immediately went to the court where she laid face down for several minutes.

Sitani had badly injured her lower left leg and had to be taken away on a stretcher with her team trailing 15-11. The gymnasium was cleared of all players and those in attendance, obviously shook up at the accident, and about 40 minutes later, La Mirada head coach Kimberly Mahan and Norwalk head coach Paola Nava agreed to suspend the match until this past Monday. It was then that the host Matadores moved closer to the program’s first league title since 2014 with a 25-14, 25-18 25-15 victory, leaving the team with a 13-9 overall mark and 6-0 in the circuit. Norwalk dropped to 7-11, 3-3 and will have to hope Bellflower loses at least two more league matches to claim second place.

“I don’t want to count my chickens before they’re hatched, but I’m trying to be patient,” said Mahan on closing in on a league title. “But yes, now I’m excited. This is a good group of girls and after the Covid year coming back, it took awhile to regroup. But I have a lot of seniors and I think we’re doing very well working as a team.”

But the thoughts of Sitani were still on the minds of the players when the match resumed. According to Mahan, Sitani was taken to PIH Health Whittier Hospital last Thursday and transferred to Children’s Hospital of Orange County that night. She had surgery last Friday and was released from CHOC last Saturday.

“I think they were anxious and a little nervous because of what happened on Thursday,” said Mahan. “We wanted to continue our season. We were 5-0 [in league], so we wanted to come out here and get the win.”

Before the stoppage in play, there were seven ties and five lead changes with Norwalk scoring the last four points. La Mirada had squandered leads of 3-0, 4-2, 7-5 and 10-9. When play resumed, Mahan subbed in senior outside hitter Brooke Hayne for Sitani and immediately had a kill. That set the stage for senior setter Mikayla Gonzalez to serve five straight points. Then after kills from Norwalk sophomore middle blocker Samantha Munoz and junior outside hitter Marisol Roseboro, a kill from senior opposite hitter Abbie Van Nyernen led to senior outside hitter Bailey Mahan reeling off the final six points of the set.

“The girls all said they wanted to do this for Mele-Ana today, and so we were going to come out strong and do this for her and that’s what they did,” said Kimberley Mahan.

“I think it’s been a really long season for our girls, and I think there are only a handful of my players that are eager and want to play and are passionate about the game,” said Nava. “I have a few girls that are young, and they don’t know how to want it yet. They don’t know how to thrive off energy and thrive off a nice swing or a good dig. We were just flat the entire game.

“Even when we got a kill or an ace or we scored a point, there was no emotion and it’s frustrating as a coach to see that your girls don’t get excited,” she continued. “But it is what it is and unfortunately, I can’t teach them effort. I can’t give them that energy that they need.”

Norwalk tried to rebound in the second set but the height of La Mirada’s six-foot sophomore middle blocker Natalie Ojeisekhoba and 5’10” senior middle blocker Milan Nimeh proved to be too much for an uninspired Lancers defense. In the set, the two combined for nine of the teams’ 16 kills and they were either tips at the net or slams down the middle of the court. While the Lancers never led in the set, it managed to stay within striking range until successive kills from Hayne, Nimeh and Bailey Mahan made the score 22-17. Nimeh then ended the set with back to back kills.

“With Natalie, our sophomore, we’ve been working with her a lot, and my other setter, the sophomore, just working on running the one’s and three’s a lot more instead of not so much the outside hitters,” said Kimberly Mahan. “But they did a great job.”

“[My girls] think that they need to be perfect but it’s not about being perfect, it’s about being smart,” said Nava. “What La Mirada has is they’re smart with their balls. If they get blocked, they’re tipping the next ball. But our girls just want to swing away and we’re not smart with that ball.”

La Mirada jumped to a 5-1 lead in the third set and coasted to the easy win as the closest the Lancers would get was two points early on but were within two to four points throughout the first rotation. Sophomore setter Kiersten Mahan served the final five points of the match, three of them on aces.

Nimeh led all players with a dozen kills while Ojeisekhoba added seven kills followed by Meraz and Bailey Mahan with six and five kills respectively. La Mirada hosted Lynwood High this past Tuesday and Firebaugh High on Oct. 6 and will end the regular season at Bellflower on Tuesday and home against Dominguez High on Thursday.

Norwalk was paced by Roseboro (seven kills) and freshman defensive specialist Nicole Reyes (four kills) as it hosted Firebaugh this past Tuesday and Dominguez on Oct. 6 before visiting Lynwood and Bellflower on Tuesday and Thursday respectively.

“These girls have four games left [and] I think they still need to continue to practice hard and work hard because third place can fall out of our hands just like that,” said Nava. “If we lose to Firebaugh, that’s another loss on us. Firebaugh did take a set on us [on Sept. 15]. So, tomorrow is a very important game. We do have to win that game to stay in the running for CIF. Again, it puts the pressure on these girls and they don’t know how to deal with pressure very well. But I believe in them and I have faith in them. But it’s all about if they have faith in themselves.”

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