OCC assumes command

COSTA MESA — During last season's run to a state title, Orange Coast College women's volleyball setter Kimya Jafroudi was surrounded by future four-year college players, including community college All-American Briana Fields.

This season, the MVP of the 2009 state tournament is surrounded by a group of newcomers that hasn't made recruiters from four-year schools salivate just yet.

But after Jafroudi's steady hands produced 33 assists in a 25-20, 25-22, 25-14 thumping of Orange Empire Conference rival Irvine Valley Wednesday at OCC, the Pirates are looking every bit the role of state-title contenders.

OCC came into last week ranked No. 12 in the state. But the Pirates (6-1, 2-0 in conference) knocked off No. 4-ranked Cypress in five games Friday, then took care of the No. 8-ranked Lasers (6-1, 1-1) in commanding fashion.

IVC had won 18 of 20 sets this season and seized a 5-0 lead to open the match Wednesday. But OCC, with Jafroudi distributing to a balanced corps of hitters, settled down, then stepped up.

Freshman outside hitter Katie Bergen led the winners with eight kills. But, true to Coach Chuck Cutenese's preseason assessment, the kills were split almost evenly between five Pirates.

Freshman middle blocker Rachel Thierjung and freshman outside hitter Aimee Melone had seven kills apiece. Freshman outside hitter Katherine Wichner and sophomore middle blocker Cathleen Hopkins each chipped in six kills. In eight matches thus far, five different players have led the Pirates in kills.

"We coaches saw the writing on the wall early," Cutenese said. "We told the team that we don't believe we have one big hitter, so everyone is going to have to carry the weight. We're trying to get players to recognize what their ability is and I think everybody is kind of buying into the fact that that is what their role is."

Jafroudi's role is to distribute and lead and, Cutenese said, her stability has been a key.

"Having her back has been huge," Cutenese said of Jafroudi, who nearly left the program to walk on at UC Irvine this fall. "I feel badly, because we're not giving her a lot of attention in practice right now, since we're working on so many other people. She has become a leader this year and we're really excited about the role she's taken on and the confidence she has displayed."

OCC's confidence was transparent early when the Lasers "kind of served us off the court," Jafroudi said.

"Chuck took a timeout and told us that we've got to step it up or we were going to lose," Jafroudi said. "We calmed down, got a pass and started getting into rhythm. We tied it up [it was deadlocked at nine, 10, 11, 12, 14, 16 and 17] and then kind of took off from there."

A pair of IVC hitting errors (half of its 18 hitting miscues came in the first game) put OCC up, 19-17. The Pirates never lost control again. IVC took an 8-7 advantage in Game 2, but OCC rallied and led the rest of the match.

"We got on a run, got in their heads and beat them in three," Jafroudi said. "I don't think we were expecting that. We were expecting a match like we had with Cypress on Friday."

With its last two victories, OCC's expectations have risen.

"Chuck always tells us that our conference is pretty much the top conference in California," Jafroudi said. "So to beat the two top [ranked] teams is a big way to start our conference. It's a big boost for us. My teammates are definitely stepping up and I'm very proud of them."

Freshman libero Maddie Baird had 20 digs and Bergen added 10 for OCC, which should move into the top 10 in the next poll.

Sophomore Ellie Weikamp had 12 kills to lead the Lasers, coached by former Estancia High head coach and Newport Harbor assistant Tom Pestolesi.

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