LA picks up big sweep at home vs. Academy

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Volleyball: Ealey leads all hitters with 10 spike kills, eight block kills

By Mike Cote

Heading into its first tournament of the season today, the Los Alamos Hilltopper volleyball team was looking to get some momentum going Thursday night.
And the Hilltoppers managed just that.
The Hilltoppers, playing a tough Albuquerque Academy squad, came from behind in both the first and second sets Thursday, then cruised to big victory in the third set, earning a 25-18, 28-26, 25-12.
Los Alamos fell behind quickly in each of the first two sets, trailing Academy’s Chargers 6-1 right off the bat in the opening set and was down as late as 18-13 before making an impressive comeback in set two.
“It was a huge victory for us,” Los Alamos head coach Garry Maskaly said. “It’s something we really wanted as a team. It’s something that could help define us for the rest of the season.”
Los Alamos (1-1) traveled to the Moriarty Pinto Invitational today. Los Alamos, which is the second-seeded team in the tournament behind Class 5A Sandia, was scheduled to face Sandia Prep, Tularosa and District 2-4A foe Bernalillo in this morning’s pool play round.
Against Academy, Los Alamos was looking to bounce back from a rough outing last Saturday. Los Alamos was dropped at home by next-door neighbor Pojoaque in four sets.
In the Pojoaque contest, Los Alamos struggled to break the momentum of the Elks’ servers, who several times during the match were able to go on long runs to take control of sets.
The Hilltoppers also wanted to pick up the tempo of their passing game and keep the Charger blockers off-balance, something they were unable to do against Pojoaque. The strategy worked well throughout, with the Hilltoppers working the ball into the middle to their strongest hitter, Chase Ealey.
Ealey, a senior, had an impressive outing Thursday. Ealey, at 5-foot-11, was matched up for much of the early part of the contest against towering Academy middle blocker Kaira Lujan, who stands 6-2, but got the better of Lujan throughout.
Ealey stuffed Lujan twice at the net in the first set and two more times in the second set. Lujan actually blocked Ealey to the floor on her first try in the opening set but had little success against her the rest of the way.
For the match, Ealey finished with 10 spike kills and eight block kills, leading all players in both categories.
It was also a good night for setter Savanah Romero. In addition to moving the ball around more quickly to her hitters – including setting up both Ealey and Erin Kirk on several slide-step attacks – Romero had a very effective night dinking the ball over the net.
Romero had a dink to finish off the opening set and scored on another at 26-26 in the second set, completely catching the Chargers off-guard. Los Alamos would take the set on the next play when Ealey, who generally has a hard jump serve, floated a knuckleball just inside the deep left corner.
The Hilltoppers looked to be in trouble in the second set. With neither team able to sustain any kind of a rally through the first half of the set, the Chargers would gradually move out to an 18-13 edge.
Academy’s solid outside hitting duo of Megan Reynolds and Stephanie Sun combined for nine spike kills in the second set, with Reynolds scoring on kills at 16-12 and 17-13 seemingly to put the Chargers in position to take the set.
However, with the Chargers still up 19-16, a disputed call that originally went their way, giving them a momentary 20-16 advantage, was reversed – a back-row attack which was initially ruled a point for Academy was judged overturned when it was determined the ball nicked the net antenna on the way over.
That call, which put the Hilltoppers within 19-17, seemed to shift the momentum in favor of Los Alamos, which tied the game at 22 and held on through an Academy set point before closing the set out and taking a 2-0 edge.
Academy appeared to be shaken by the second set loss and got little going in the third set. Its service-receive game fell apart, sending passes right at the net and more than once right at Ealey, who made Academy pay.
Outside hitter Alicia Rendon had six spike kills for the Hilltoppers while Kirk added five more from the opposite side. Outside hitter Danielle Ortiz added a pair of spike kills in the second set.