LA seeded 3rd in 4A tournament

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By Mike Cote

There weren’t a whole lot of surprises in the 12-team volleyball tournament when the Class AAAA state playoffs schedule was announced.

The top four teams entering pool play, which gets going Thursday at the Santa Ana Star Center in Albuquerque, were the top four teams throughout the season according to the New Mexico High School Coaches Association weekly polls.

The Los Alamos Hilltoppers were tabbed as the No. 3 seed entering pool play.

They will take part in Pool C along with sixth-seeded Moriarty and 11th-seeded Volcano Vista.

“I was hoping for two, but 2-to-3, that’s a good place to be sitting in,” Hilltopper head coach Garry Maskaly said. “If we were to go to the finals, we wouldn’t face Goddard until the end.”

In seeding for the tournament, the Hiltoppers trail only the No. 1 Goddard Rockets and No. 2 St. Pius X Sartans.

The winners in each of the four pools — the top seeds in each pool are Goddard, St. Pius, Los Alamos and fourth-seeded Albuquerque Academy — will play in Friday morning’s quarterfinal round. The other teams will square off in an opening-round match for the right to advance to the quarterfinals Thursday evening.

The Hilltoppers are heading into the state tournament following their third consecutive sweep this season of the Española Valley Sundevils to take the District 2AAAA tournament championship Saturday at Griffith Gymnasium.

Los Alamos ran the table this season against its 2AAAA competition and hasn’t lost since mid-September, a 14-match win streak.

Saturday, hosting the 2AAAA title match against the Sundevils, Los Alamos (18-3) put together one of its best outings of 2009. Los Alamos was successful on two-thirds of its spike attempts and had its best service-receive showing this season.

“We’re starting to peak right at the right time,” Maskaly said.

The Hilltoppers lost to only one AAAA team during the regular season, Goddard, which handed them two of their three losses. They beat Moriarty twice in the season, once in early September and once in late September.

The two teams Los Alamos has been most leery of in 2009 are Goddard, which swept Los Alamos in both meetings, and St. Pius, which Los Alamos for the first time in several seasons, didn’t have on its schedule.

Los Alamos didn’t see Volcano Vista (13-9) during the regular season, either.

Goddard was the only Class AAAA team to earn 20 victories in 2009. It lost just one match the entire season, an Oct. 31 tune-up contest against Class 5A Rio Rancho, the top seed in the big-school tournament.

St. Pius (13-4) meanwhile, won the District 6 title and picked up nine straight victories to end     the season.

The biggest question mark for the Hilltoppers heading into the playoffs is whether they can keep their top-shelf offense cranked high against teams that will show bigger blocks than the Hilltoppers’ district competition.Conversely, the defense will have to prove it can put up the types of blocks it needs to slow down the big hitters Goddard, St. Pius and others feature.

But Maskaly, who is in his first season guiding Los Alamos’ program, said his team is ready for all comers in the postseason.

“We’ve been working on a lot of the little things,” he said. “We’re making smart choices with the ball when things aren’t perfect. If we keep doing that, we’ll do well in our pool.”