LA hangs to beat St. Mike's in 5 sets

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Volleyball: Ealey finishes with 32 spike kills as ’Toppers rally from 2-1 deficit

By Mike Cote

There were some bumps in the road with the Los Alamos Hilltopper volleyball team’s lineup shifts Wednesday, but head coach Garry Maskaly is hoping the rest of the season will be smooth going.
Wednesday night, the Hilltoppers hosted the St. Michael’s Horsemen, who so far have had an up-and-down season. Keeping true to form, the Horsemen had an up-and-down contest, picking up victories in the first and third sets to keep the pressure on the Hilltoppers.
The Hilltoppers, however, easily won sets two and four, then came back from a 7-5 deficit midway through the 15-point fifth set to top the Horsemen 3-2.
Los Alamos’ set scores Wednesday were 24-26, 25-17, 23-25, 25-10, 15-11.
There were huge momentum swings throughout the contest, with Los Alamos seemingly well in control of set two before St. Mike’s came back late in the set – too late, however, to make a serious run. That mini-run late in the second set seemed to give St. Mike’s momentum heading into the third set, when it went up 20-8.
Then, in another wild swing, the Hilltoppers reeled off 13 of the next 14 point to cut the lead to 21-20. The Horsemen would eventually win the set 25-23, but they struggled to recover from the run.
Along the way Wednesday, Los Alamos’ Chase Ealey collected 32 spike kills, dominating at the net while she was on the floor. While no known school record exists for spike kills in one match, Ealey’s effort Wednesday night was certainly one of the top performances in school history.
Maskaly moved Ealey from her normal position in the middle to the outside, hoping not only to confuse the St. Mike’s blockers but to work more of his personnel into the middle and the opposite side.
Further, the Hilltopper lineup was set to have three of the team’s best servers, Alicia Rendon, Danielle Oritz and Savanah Romero, at the back line while Ealey was upfront.
The lineup worked through three rotations, but the Hilltoppers struggled with the fourth rotation, where the Horsemen took advantage.
“That’s something where, in those rotations, there’s going to be shifts like that,” Maskaly said. “But when they were up 20-8 (in the third set), a lot of those points were our hitting errors.”
St. Mike’s middle blocker Alexa Chavez had a big night herself, finishing with 12 spike kills.
Defensively, however, neither Chavez nor St. Mike’s (4-3) had much of an answer for Ealey, who was spraying the ball all around the floor, making good use of both the line and cross-court swings. St. Mike’s libero Adrienne Chavez had a good night defensively with 27 digs, but only a handful of those would end up becoming points for her team.
Following Ealey, Los Alamos (5-2) got some good rotations out of sophomore Claire Stewart, who finished with five spike kills and three tip kills from the middle position. On the opposite side of Ealey, Alicia Rendon had nine spike kills and Erin Kirk added five more, giving the Hilltoppers a well-balanced attack.
This season, St. Mike’s is under the tutelage of Steven Long. Long took over in the offseason for longtime head coach Chela Butler, who led the Horsemen to a Class 3A state championship in 2002. Butler retired following the 2010 season.