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In dispatching one of its toughest foes with a bang Wednesday, the Los Alamos Hilltopper volleyball team earned a victory in its district opener.
Los Alamos was dominant for two-plus sets and pulled things together well enough to close out the third set against the Bernalillo Spartans.
The big hitters upfront were again on their game for the Hilltoppers, outgunning the Spartans at the net, while the Spartans’ biggest weapons had relatively quiet nights.
The Hilltoppers were dominant in sets one and two, taking those 25-10 and 25-12.
The Spartans regrouped after falling behind early in the final set, but the Hilltoppers, who started off the third set much the same way they had the first two, cooled off considerably, but still prevailed to take a 25-20 decision and claim the sweep.
“In our first two games, our energy was really up,” Los Alamos libero Danielle Ortiz said. “We started off with a good lead, but in the third game we were a little relaxed. We started to let up a little bit, but we pulled through and we finished on a good note.”
The Spartans (4-6 overall, 0-1 in District 2-4A) have given the Hilltoppers fits in district play for the last few years, including their district-opening meeting in 2011. The Hilltoppers won that contest in four sets but the Spartans held leads throughout and had several opportunities to pull away from the Hilltoppers.
Other than the third set, however, Bernalillo couldn’t mount the kind of offense it needed to stay with Los Alamos. In the first two sets, Bernalillo scored just six points off its side-out chances and only two of those in set one.
Meanwhile, the Hilltoppers started off the match like gangbusters, with six different players scoring on attack chances.
Erin Kirk had five spike kills in the second set, many of those uncontested coming off the left side.
As with its impressive 3-0 victory a week earlier against Moriarty, Los Alamos was getting good swings at the net and forcing a lot of free balls from Bernalillo with an aggressive service game.
“We tried really hard to get them out of system,” Hilltopper middle blocker Claire Stewart said afterward.
Stewart had a big showing Wednesday, taking advantage of a lot quick sets from Savanah Romero.
Against Bernalillo, Stewart finished with six spike kills and a block kill in the third set.
In the final set, with the Hilltoppers thoroughly dominating at that point, the Hilltoppers jumped out to a quick 5-1 lead, but with the serve and the momentum, took a timeout.
The timeout seemed to slow the Hilltoppers down and dropped 8 of the next 12 points.
Bernalillo’s Deana Lopez, the team’s top hitter who’d had a quiet night up to that point, started to dink and dunk her way through the Hilltopper defense. She would finish with three spike kills, only one through the first two sets, and a pair of tip kills.
The Spartans took just their second lead of the match at 14-13. The match was back and forth for the next several points with the Spartans holding an 18-17 edge and the side-out, but the Hilltoppers would regain the lead two points later and hold on to it through the rest of the third set.
Los Alamos (6-4 overall, 1-0 in 2-4A) was paced offensively by Kirk, who finished with 10 spike kills. Middle blocker Sam Fenner finished with seven spike kills, three block kills — two of those coming in the third set to help break the Hilltoppers’ funk — and a tip kill, while Brianna Montaño added six spike kills.
The Hilltoppers are the favorites to win their fourth consecutive district title but all the district teams seem to be relatively evenly matched heading in. Española Valley, which has traditionally been another thorn in the Hilltoppers’ side, could be the team that gives Los Alamos the most trouble in its quest for this year’s 2-4A crown.
This was the second meeting between Los Alamos and Bernalillo this season. They met at the Moriarty Invitational in September, with Los Alamos earning a tight 3-2 win.
Los Alamos was without the services of Romero in that contest.