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ALBUQUERQUE — If new Los Alamos head coach Robin Reynolds was looking to ease his way into the captain’s chair, he picked the wrong teams to start the season with.
Reynolds made his head coaching debut Tuesday night for the Hilltopper volleyball team. His assignment wasn’t an enviable one, either, as the Hilltoppers faced off against longtime rival and defending Class 4A champion St. Pius X.
Los Alamos, which wants to implement some new wrinkles in its offense this season, didn’t get much of a chance to do so, with the Sartans’ hard hitting and solid serving keeping the Hilltoppers off-balance for a good portion of the night.
The Sartans would go on to win Tuesday’s match 25-20, 25-16, 14-25, 25-13 at St. Sebastian Gymnasium.
“Their mental toughness is probably their biggest thing,” said Reynolds of the Sartans, who improved to 2-0 with Tuesday night’s win. “There are no ragged edges. They’re hard to exploit.”
Los Alamos did have some success hitting to the outside, particularly with Brianna Montaño and Sierra Foley on the left side of its offense.
Montaño, who had a good summer which has transferred to a good preseason, led Los Alamos with nine spike kills, all of them coming on the left side, while Foley had five spike kills, three of them in the third set, most of them coming with Montaño playing in the back.
But the Hilltopper offense wasn’t as consistent as it needed to be to upend St. Pius.
The biggest trouble the Hilltoppers (0-1) had Tuesday was due to St. Pius’ big hitters getting solid swings from all areas of the court — the Sartans finished with five kills from the back row.
Those hits Los Alamos found difficult to field, even with libero Allyssa Tedder turning in a solid defensive performance. Moreover, Los Alamos’ passing game, which it relies heavily on to set up the offense, couldn’t get on track.
Reynolds said there are still plenty of issues to iron out, but he said he’s confident the team can do that.
And the first two teams Los Alamos is playing to open the season are good at exposing any weaknesses. Up next for Los Alamos is Pojoaque Valley, the four-time defending Class 3A champions, on Sept. 10.
Los Alamos hung with St. Pius through the first set, tying it at 20-all before a service error and a hitting error seemed to throw the Hilltoppers off their rhythm.
That upset rhythm carried right over into the second set as the Sartans jumped to a 13-3 edge behind the hitting of outside Julia Landavazo, a key player in the Sartans’ upset victory over Piedra Vista in the championship match of the 2012 Class 4A tournament. Landavazo had five spike kills in the set — as well as a match-high 11 spike kills.
At the end of the second set, however, Los Alamos put together a mini-run with Sam Melton and Sam Fenner serving to cut into the lead.
That positive momentum at the end of set two, much like the negative momentum in set one, would carry over.
It would be the Hilltoppers to get off to the fast start in the third set, going up 10-3 on a Foley spike kill, then moving out to a 14-5 edge on a tip kill by Montaño with Michaela Pigue serving.
Taking over the setting duties this season for the Hilltoppers is Melton, with Pigue and Rhese Beevers, whom Reynolds hopes to get into the serving mix more as the season wears on.
Melton had the bulk of the service duties Tuesday and was efficient in getting the ball to the outside hitters.
Reynolds said he still wants to see the team do a better job with its short sets in the middle of the net.
“We did really, really well on the outside and our game plan was to stick to that,” he said. “With our inability to get the setters good passes, it hurt us…We’ve still got a lot of work to do.”
Also for Los Alamos, Fenner finished with 5 spike kills and Claire Stewart had 3 spike kills and 5 block kills in the middle.
St. Pius’ Caitlyn Martinez had 5 spike kills and 3 tip kills, while Emily Burford had 4 spike kills.