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Barring a runaway victory in the fourth set by the Los Alamos Hilltoppers, the difference between the Hilltoppers and the Española Valley Sundevils in their match Wednesday night was zero points.
Los Alamos, trying to avoid falling into a big early hole in the District 2-4A volleyball race, hosted Española Valley at Griffith Gymnasium. Española Valley, which came out victorious in its first two district outings, had a chance to take a commanding 2-game lead with a win.
The Sundevils looked to be on their way after outlasting the Hilltoppers in a grueling, emotional third set, but following that set, which both teams had and lost chances to put away, the Hilltoppers rallied to take the final two sets.
In the fourth set, Los Alamos libero Danielle Ortiz reeled off eight straight points to start, giving her team a big advantage. The momentum from the fourth set carried Los Alamos through a tough fifth set to take a 24-26, 25-23, 28-30, 25-8, 15-13 victory.
Like in many of their recent outings, the Hilltoppers had trouble getting things going against the Sundevils early.
“It was shaky,” said Ortiz. “We were tied at 1-1 and that third game was really tight. We battled it out, but coming down to the wire it was anyone’s game.”
Ortiz and the Hilltopper back line had to make several adjustments during the contest. The Sundevils (8-6 overall, 2-1 in 2-4A) threw the Hilltoppers a curveball in the first two sets.
Instead of coming out slugging as the Hilltoppers, the Sundevils were dropping dinks down toward the corners and found some success doing so.
On the other side, Los Alamos was all over the place with its hitting and with its serving for the first three games. Los Alamos totaled only six spike kills in set one and, although it hit better in the second and third, accuracy was spotty, as was serving accuracy, where the Hilltoppers committed four service errors in set two.
But toward the end of the third set, Los Alamos’ powerful upfront hitters started finding their marks, particularly Erin Kirk. Kirk got dialed in late in the third set, then was virtually unstoppable the rest of the contest.
Kirk, from her outside hitting spot, had seven spike kills in the fourth set, nearly equaling her total in the first three sets, then slammed seven more hits to the floor in the abbreviated final set.
For the contest, Kirk finished with 23 spike kills.
Los Alamos setter Savanah Romero, who has played for several years alongside Kirk, said the Hilltopper veteran outside hitter just needed to find her rhythm.
“Really, it was her timing. Her confidence got up,” Romero said. “In the first game she was a little nervous, a little unsure. Later, she started swinging like she does in practice.”
Even with the Hilltoppers’ victory, the District 2-4A race is far from over. Capital, Los Alamos’ next opponent, presents problems in the middle and Santa Fe and Los Alamos have a rematch scheduled in two weeks, not to mention that Los Alamos must still travel down to the valley Oct. 20.
Española Valley head coach Damon Salazar said he’s expecting another war in that contest.
“They’re a good, strong team,” Salazar said. “We’re a strong-serving team and they’re the first team that have served with us. Maybe they even outserved us … It was a great match. Good volleyball. Both teams were passing, both teams were serving, both teams were putting hits on the ball. It was a coin flip right at the end.”
In all but Los Alamos’ big fourth set victory, the teams were within a point of each other down to the wire. In the decisive set, Los Alamos held a 14-10 lead with a chance to close it out, but Española Valley’s Amanda Maestas came through after a lengthy rally with a spike kill and Kaitlyn Romero had a block at the net to put the Sundevils within 14-13.
On the final point, however, the Sundevils’ defense, which had been stout for most the match, stood around as a routine pass fell to the floor.
Despite moving the ball around well Wednesday, no Sundevil finished with more than five spike kills. Kristin Archuleta and Kayla Romero each had three spike kills as the Sundevils staved off two match pints in the third set to win.
Following Kirk’s big performance for the Hilltoppers (8-6 overall, 2-1 in 2-4A), Claire Stewart had 7 spike kills and 3 block kills from the middle, while Brianna Montaño and Sam Fenner added 6 spike kills. Savanah Romero had 38 assists.
“We’re really excited. We’re happy with the way we performed,” Savanah Romero said. “We’re happy to play Capital on Saturday and keep going on.”