By Loren Kopff
The importance of a good start to any season can lead to the playoffs most of the time and for the John Glenn girls volleyball team, it is doing something it has had trouble with in previous seasons. Following a 25-13, 25-16, 25-16 victory over host Whitney this past Tuesday evening, the Lady Eagles have opened up the 2014 campaign with three victories in their first four matches.
To some, a 3-1 start may not be much. But to Glenn, it’s just the beginning of something good under first-year head coach Davion Jackson. Last season, the Lady Eagles were 1-6 before starting Suburban League action, including a four-set home loss to Whitney, and won just four non league matches. In fact, Glenn, which has not been to the playoffs since 2009, had won a combined eight non league matches from 2010-2013.
“It’s a team game,” Jackson said. “They’re actually pulling together and they actually want to be here. You can tell. I was just talking about that the other day. You can tell by the coaching of last year to this year. The coaching is completely different and it shows in our record.”
“It could have been a lot worse,” said Whitney head coach Ole Nervik. “I thought there were some real bright spots to it. Some of the simple stuff that we’ve been working on we weren’t doing, like making sure our hits are in the court all the time. But I saw a glimmer of hope.”
The Lady Eagles started hot against the Lady Wildcats, bolting out to an 11-1 lead thanks to the stellar serving of junior setter Chanel Villegas. She had four aces and a kill while three other players combined for four kills. Later in the set and with Glenn leading 17-10, Whitney was called for having the wrong setter, thus giving the Lady Eagles the point and Villegas the serve. She responded by reeling off four straight points with another ace.
“She is the best server on the team,” Jackson said. “Her ball is so difficult to pass. It moves, it drops and she’s always been like that. Now she’s more consistent this year.”
Along with the serving of Villegas, senior outside hitter Leslie Larranga and junior opposite hitter Stephanie Lemus also dominated the first set by combining for 10 kills.
Glenn would jump out to another big lead in the second set (11-3) before Whitney chipped away. Sophomore libero Alison Oh’s fourth kill of the match brought the Lady Wildcats to within a point at 14-13. However, a kill from Larranga led to senior libero Kashmir Davies serving five straight points, four of which were aces. The set would end on a serving error, a Lemus kill and an ace from Larranga.
The Wildcats, who were playing in their season opener, wouldn’t go down without a fight in the third set and led 3-0 following consecutive aces from junior setter Jamee Centeno. Moments later, Whitney took an 8-6 lead after kills from senior middle blocker Nicole Waldecker and senior outside hitter Lauren Dejoras. But Glenn quickly turned the tide back in its favor when senior middle blocker Zahory Ramirez served five straight points, including a pair of aces and two kills from senior outside hitter Nicole Cruz.
“One of the things that we did was we took Allison Oh and put her as the libero…because in the first two games, there was a lot of bad passing,” Nervik said of the third set.
Larranga led everyone with 11 kills and had 16 digs while Lemus pitched in with nine kills. Villegas had 20 assists, Davies had 20 digs and Cruz added another 15 digs.
“Stephanie has actually stepped up from last year to this year,” Jackson said. “Our hitters…we can go to anybody and be able to put the ball away. And that’s what I focused on the whole summer; being able to not be just a two-player team. I want to have hitters in the front the entire time.”
John Glenn will participate in the Valley Christian/Mayfair Tournament on Saturday with Downey, JSerra and San Marino as pool play opponents. The Lady Eagles will then travel to Norwalk on Tuesday and host Mayfair on Thursday to begin league action.
“This team is beyond ready [for league],” Jackson said. “I’m so excited about what we’ve done. The seniors are pulling through and talking through it. We’ll get a big test this weekend going into league.”
Dejoras paced Whitney with five kills while Oh added another four as the team will traveled to Paramount on Sept. 18 and will open up Academy League play on Tuesday at Downey Calvary Chapel before visiting Brethren Christian on Thursday.
“They work really hard in practice, even on Mondays,” Nervik said. “That’s always the bad practice for any coach. We’ll make those steps. In time, I don’t know. But we will make those steps.”