LA's late comeback attempt falls short

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By Mike Cote

ESPAÑOLA – Just two sets in, the Los Alamos Hilltopper volleyball team looked like it might be finished.
But two sets later, nothing had been determined as the Hilltoppers mounted an impressive comeback against their arch-rivals.
Unfortunately, the comeback would come just short as Los Alamos lost a key District 2-4A contest in the valley.
Los Alamos dropped the first two sets Wednesday night against Española Valley’s Sundevils, 27-25, 25-15, before mounting its comeback. Los Alamos took sets three and four 25-20, 25-22 before Española Valley won the deciding fifth set 15-13.
The second set started out as a disaster for the Hilltoppers, who fell behind quickly 16-3. Hilltopper head coach Robin Reynolds, making his first career appearance at Edward Medina Gymnasium, said he was surprised his team struggled early in that set.
“We were just miscommunicating in the back row,” he said. “We were most confident in that rotation. We did a trial rotation with that and that was our best point-getting against Academy. We just had trouble with our communication.”
After Los Alamos fell behind big in that set, with the Sundevils scoring 8 straight points to start out behind the serving of outside hitter Kayla Romero, the Hilltoppers mounted something of a comeback to get back in the game.
Although it wasn’t nearly enough to erase the big early deficit – Los Alamos cut the lead to down to 6 points at one point in the set – the Hilltoppers got some precious momentum going to at least give themselves a chance to get back in the match despite being down 2 sets to none.
Sam Fenner also helped get Los Alamos going with her performance at the net. She became a big blocking force in the latter part of the match, collecting four big block kills in set four and two each in sets three and five.
Fenner’s performance also gave Los Alamos a shot of confidence, after Española Valley had gotten numerous open looks at the net, particularly its big hitter, Elana Salazar.
Salazar still had a monster performance Wednesday, earning a whopping 27 spike kills. Salazar, one of the most effective outside hitters in the state, blasted around and through the Hilltoppers’ net defense throughout.
Los Alamos switched up its blocking tactics more than once against her, including toward the end of the critical set four, which slowed her down just enough after Los Alamos fell behind 20-18 with Romero serving.
Fenner and Claire Stewart had big blocks late to close out the fourth set.
Española Valley head coach Damon Salazar, who likes his team’s chances to make some noise in the 2013 postseason, said he wasn’t surprised the Hilltoppers gave his team a fight, even after their rocky start.
“The top three teams are very tough in the district,” he said. “The other teams have more height than us...we’ve got to win every game, every point. We’ve got a lot of work to do. We can’t take any points off.”
Fenner had nine block kills for Los Alamos (8-6, 1-2 in 2-4A), which is now two matches behind Española Valley (9-5, 3-0) in the district standings.