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It might be a good thing for the Los Alamos Hilltopper volleyball team that clocks were turned back an hour this weekend.
The Hilltoppers will have to play bright and early Thursday to start the Class 4A playoffs.
Los Alamos and the rest of the Class 4A field will open the state tournament at 8 a.m. Thursday. The tournament is set for the Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho.
As expected, the Hilltoppers earned the No. 3 overall seed in pool play. They are the top seed in Pool C, which also includes sixth-seeded Moriarty and 11th-seeded Gallup.
Los Alamos will play Gallup at 8 a.m. Thursday in its first pool play contest, then, after Moriarty and Gallup face off, Los Alamos will take on Moriarty’s Pintos.
For almost all of the 2011 regular season, the Hilltoppers were ranked No. 3 in the state coaches’ poll, behind defending state champ Artesia and last year’s runner-up, St. Pius X. Artesia was awarded the No. 1 overall seed, while St. Pius got the No. 2 seed.
“Not too much of a surprise,” said Hilltopper head coach Garry Maskaly, noting that fourth-seeded Albuquerque Academy, fifth-seeded Piedra Vista and Moriarty were all hovering around the same area in the coaches’ poll as they were ranked.
One of the few things Maskaly said he was surprised about when the pool play designations were released Sunday was that Bernalillo slipped down to a No. 10 seed after putting together a 14-6 record and a second-place finish in the District 2 tournament, one of the best finishes in the history of the Spartan program.
Bernalillo was the only other team selected from District 2. Los Alamos, by virtue of its regular season and district tournament championship, got an automatic bid into the playoffs. Bernalillo was the only team to take a set off the Hilltoppers during the District 2 season, although the Hilltoppers swept the Spartans both times the team met in Los Alamos, including Saturday night’s district tournament finale.
The Hilltoppers (18-3) and Artesia’s Bulldogs tied for the third-best record in 4A this season — the Los Lunas Tigers lost just one match all year. The Hilltoppers haven’t dropped a contest since Sept. 17.
Their closest contest between then and now, however, was a five-set decision they took over the Pintos Sept. 21 at Moriarty.
Pool play contests this year are two sets to 25 points. The top two teams coming out of pool play advance to the main bracket. The winner of each pool has a bye to Friday morning’s quarterfinal round.
Los Alamos, which is prone to getting off to slow starts, may not be able to afford to do so Thursday.
“We’re going to have to start off playing well,” Maskaly said. “Pool’s going to be pretty tough. Moriarty’s tough. When we played them, we were close in all of our games.”
The Pintos (13-9) finished third in a tough District 5, facing off against the likes of St. Pius and Academy.
Gallup’s Bengals (15-6) were second in District 6 behind Los Lunas (18-1).
In Class 3A, the Pojoaque Elks (21-0) are the top overall seed. The Elks missed out on perfection by exactly one set — Los Alamos was the only team to take a set off Pojoaque in 2011, that occurring in late August.
Pojoaque is the two-time defending Class 3A champ and also won the 3A crown in 2006. All three of those titles came under the tutelage of head coach Brian Ainsworth.
Class 4A State Pool Play Match-ups
(9) Kirtland Central
(2) St. Pius X
(7) Los Lunas
(3) Los Alamos
(5) Piedra Vista
(12) Santa Teresa