LA rolls in final three sets to top Horsemen

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By Mike Cote

It’s not often this season the Los Alamos Hilltopper volleyball team will be able to play in front of the home crowd.
Wednesday night, Los Alamos made the most of its opportunity.
Shaking off a slow start, Los Alamos got into a groove in the second set against the St. Michael’s Horsemen. Los Alamos sailed through sets two and three before St. Michael’s made a valiant defensive stand in set four.
But that wouldn’t be enough for the Horsemen to keep their upset bid alive, as the Hilltoppers prevailed 18-25, 25-11, 25-10, 25-22 at Griffith Gymnasium.
Much like a night earlier against Pojoaque Valley, Los Alamos got off to a rocky start against St. Michael’s. Just prior to start time, Hilltopper head coach Robin Reynolds found out his normal starting libero, Allyssa Tedder, would be out sick for the match.
Instead of Tedder, Los Alamos had to rely on backup defensive specialist Venessa Martinez to be its floor general.
The Hilltopper communication lagged in the first set – several routine serves from St. Michael’s hit the floor untouched and passing was suspect throughout – but Martinez helped right the ship toward the end of the opening set.
St. Mike’s (0-5) has struggled throughout the early part of 2013, going into Wednesday’s match having taken just two sets, albeit against some stiff competition including Class 4A champ St. Pius X and strong small-school program Texico.
The Horsemen seniors are small – two of the three are listed at 5-foot-1 – and their biggest player, Ellie Breeden, is just a freshman.
Breeden started off the match well with four spike kills in the opening set. She wouldn’t make much noise as the match progressed, however, as the Hilltopper front line started putting up a much more effective block on her and outside hitter Allie Berhost.
In the third set, Los Alamos middles Sam Fenner, who had a big showing at the Moriarty Invitational last weekend, and Claire Stewart came up with two big block kills apiece.
On offense, Los Alamos (4-2) spread the ball around effectively. Five different Hilltoppers connected on kills in the third set and seven got into the action in the fourth set.
St. Mike’s wouldn’t go down without a fight in set four, however. The Horsemen got some big pick ups from the floor by setter Lainie Serna and libero Julianna Valdez – Valdez had the dig of the match against Los Alamos outside hitter Brianna Montaño, who smoked a shot down the right sideline that Valdez somehow managed to dive to the floor for and pick up.
The teams traded leads three times in the final set – there were only two lead changes total in the first three sets – and Los Alamos held a scant 21-19 lead with St. Mike’s holding the side-out.
But St. Mike’s made some critical mistakes at the end and Montaño finished the match off with a nifty dink that fell harmlessly to the middle of the floor.
Montaño, Fenner and Sierra Foley, who is having a nice start to her season from the outside, all finished with 6 spike kills for Los Alamos. Fenner added a pair of block kills and Kiana Zerr, who came in early to assist on defense, had three block kills.
For the Horsemen, Breeden had 6 spike kills, although she only managed two after the first set, and Aurora Martinez had 3 tip kills.