Griffins girls volleyball season is off to a solid start

Photo by Ted ApodacaChloe Zentgraf takes advantage of an over-pass and taps a hit down for an easy point.

Los Alamitos went 3-1 last week, starting to gel

The Los Alamitos High girls volleyball team is shaking off the rust of limited play and practice time and have improved to 4-2 overall this season. Last week, the Griffins swept two matches with wins over Long Beach Wilson and Long Beach Millikan.

The Griffins took out Wilson, 25-12, 25-21, 25-16, led by senior outside hitter Olivia Panzica with nine kills. Junior Sydney May had 13 assists and six service aces. Serving would end up being a factor in the Griffins’ ability to keep control of the match, after a tight second set.

“Our serving definitely picked up after the first couple points there, maybe some tentative serves, then we started getting after it a little bit more, creating some opportunities or scoring off our serves,” Head Coach Dave Huber said.

Huber noted that although the Griffins have a small core of senior players with varsity, after losing last season, the team is starting with about 90 percent of its players in their first year of varsity competition. The Griffins were in control of the first set early and cruised to a 25-12 win.

Long Beach Wilson pushed back in the second set, exchanging rallies with the Griffins midway through the set. With the Bruins leading the set 10-8, the Griffins went on a 7-0 run and appeared as though they might run away with it.

Panzica started the rally with a cross-court kill that cut the Wilson lead to 10-9. From there, May contributed consecutive ace serves, the first off a back row dig attempt and the second dropped in the middle of the defense. After a hit into the net, the Griffins had taken a 12-10 lead.

Senior middle hitter Chloe Zentgraf followed that with a kill off a block and May got another ace serve off a back row reception misplay. A kill by senior middle hitter Amanda Zidonis pushed the lead to 15-10. But the Bruins finally broke serve and went on a 6-0 run to regain the lead, 16-10. From there it stayed close with the team exchanging leads four times.

The Griffins took a 20-19 lead on a long hit by the Bruins and then got consecutive ace serves from junior setter Ava Kelly. The first dropped inside the back corner and the second came off a back row reception attempt. A hit attempt that went long, gave the Griffins a 23-19 lead.

One play later, the Griffins got to set point, 24-20 with a kill down the line from junior middle hitter Chase Koepke. One play later, the Bruins were called for a net violation that ended the set.

Los Alamitos jumped out to a 6-1 lead in the third set. Long Beach was able to cut it to a one-point lead at 10-9 and 11-10, but could gain a lead. Two ace serves by Anna Sanzaro pushed the lead to 15-10. The Bruins would not threaten again. With a 22-16 lead, the Griffins got consecutive kills from juniors Taylor Hofland and Reagan Schippert to get to match point. A long hit attempt by Long Beach ended the match.

With the 2020 season missed, teams are trying to get their rhythm and timing back. After the Wilson match (their third of the season), Huber said the team was actually a little sharper than he might have expected early in the season. He said he’s hopeful that the small core of players who were varsity contributors in 2019, will help bring the 2021 Griffins up to speed sooner than later.

“It’s huge, when you’re the only one that’s played varsity volleyball before, you know, like to have that experience and be able to talk about it and kind of help push others along,” Huber said. “So, they’re learning that process as well.”

After the Wilson match, the Griffins played two matches at the Lakewood Tournament over the weekend. They split those, beating Rancho Cucamonga before falling to Lakewood. In the win over Rancho, Zidonis and Sanzaro combined for 20 kills.

The Griffins have three road matches upcoming, at San Clemente on Thursday and at Ocean View on Friday. They will travel to neighboring Cypress on Tuesday. All those matches are scheduled for 5 p.m.