Torrance High libero Rie Mori digs a shot during Thursday’s CIF State playoff game against Chino Hills. The season came to an end for Torrance with a loss, but not before the Tartars earned a Southern Section championship for the first time since 1993. (MIKEY HIRNO CULROSS/Rafu Shimpo)

By MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS, Rafu Sports Editor

The final point came three matches earlier than hoped for Torrance’s senior libero Rie Mori. Standing in a stonewall posture, she turned her face skyward, eyes tightly clenched, as the stark reality rushed in.

Game over. Season over. High school career over.

The Tartars’ historic run came to an end Thursday, with a second-round loss to visiting Chino Hills, in the CIF State Div. III playoffs. The 3-sets-to-1 defeat came at the hands of the same team Torrance had beaten a week earlier, to capture their first Southern Section title since 1993.

Allison Laurens serves.

And despite Thursday’s ouster, that championship will be the enduring legacy of this team that went unbeaten in the Pioneer League and finished the 2021 season with an overall record of 29-5.

“Unfortunately, we took the loss tonight, but I’m really proud of how well we played on the way to the CIF [Southern Section] championship,” Mori said afterwards. “I think we gave it our all tonight.”

Along with the rest of the team, Mori is clearly pround of the accomplishments that will forever be part of Tartar lore.

“We’ll get the ring, and the patch, and we have the big trophy with the word ‘champions’ on it,” she said.

The last Torrance team to lift that trophy was the 1993 squad, one that featured sophomore Wendy Yokoyama – whose daughter, Kennedy, just happens to be a current member of the Tartars.

And if one family connection is good, more must certainly be better. Junior defender Allison Laurens is the daughter of Jenny Yokoyama Laurens – yes, Wendy’s sister – who was a senior on the Torrance team of 1992 that won the title. The Tartars repeated as champions the following year, with younger sister Wendy on the team.

Seniors Mori and Lea Ito (8), along with teammates Kennedy Turner, left, Allison Laurens. Turner and Laurens will return next season.

“Our moms were pretty good, and they’ve certainly helped us along the way,” said Kennedy Turner, whose family has continued to bolster its athletic pedigree. Now a sophomore, she also plays soccer for Torrance, and her older brother, Owen, is on the Tartars football team competing in CIF playoff action Friday night.

Then there’s young brother Gibson, whose baseball team was the toast of California this past summer, as they earned a berth into the Little League World Series.

Turner and Laurens will be key anchors for Torrance volleyball next season, as they hope to capture some of the magic that led them to success this year.

Jenny Yokoyama (left) and Wendy Yokoyama (below) played on back-to-back CIF title teams in 1992 and 1993, respectively.

Outgoing senior setter Lea Ito said the team is in good hands, having added some talented freshman and developed a team bond that translated to solid play.

“They’re doing great, and the level of skill is great,” Ito said of the team. “If they have anywhere near the chemistry we had this year, they’ll be golden.”

Although the high school game is now behind them, Ito and Mori are far from finished with volleyball. There’s still a club season to be played, and while it’s still a bit early to finalize college decisions, athletics is very much on the table.

Both said the relationships they have developed at Torrance will be their most enduring memories.

“I’m gonna miss laughing so hard my stomach hurts in the team room,” Ito said. “That’s really a special time for me.”

Mori said the Torrance gymnasium will always be a place of comfort for her.

“Having practices in this building, right after school, helps a lot. This is really one of my happy places now.”

Rie Mori reacting as the Chino Hills team celebrates the win.

Rafu Shimpo photos by MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS

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