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As Garry Maskaly said heading into Saturday’s opening match for the Los Alamos Hilltopper volleyball team, getting over the mental stumbling block that is the Pojoaque Elks would be its big challenge.
Unfortunately, Los Alamos wasn’t able to clear it.
Los Alamos put together several good attacks throughout, but couldn’t string enough together to keep pace with Pojoaque’s big rallies.
Pojoaque, the top-ranked team in Class 3A heading into the regular season, showed it was worthy of that ranking with an impressive 25-20, 25-13, 25-27, 25-14 victory in Griffith Gymnasium Saturday afternoon.
Maskaly, the head coach of the Hilltoppers, said his team got nervous in several spots throughout the match and wasn’t making the adjustments it needed to. Its lack of adjustments contributed to some big runs by the Elks (2-0) throughout the match.
In all three of its set wins and even in the set it lost, the Elks scored a big chunk of their points in bunches.
Los Alamos actually led during the early part of the three sets it lost, but Pojoaque would come back.
“That’s something that’s good to see at this point of the season,” said Pojoaque head coach Brian Ainsworth, who has guided the program to back-to-back 3A championships. “We’re not panicking early. The thing we’ve noticed with this group here and at Capital (Thursday) is that we start out slow. We feel you out and we’re able to take advantage of your weaknesses.”
Pojoaque topped Capital, a District 2-4A rival of Los Alamos’, in straight sets to kick off the season.
Los Alamos (0-1) led 11-7 in the first set, 5-4 in the second set and 8-7 in the final set. However, Los Alamos made some costly mental mistakes that would go a long way to deciding the sets’ outcomes.
“We fell short,” said outside hitter Danielle Ortiz. “We could’ve done a lot better than we did. They played a really fast game.”
Taking advantage of its speed at the net, Pojoaque was able to move the ball to its middles and its outsides effectively, keeping the Hilltopper blockers scrambling. On defense, Pojoaque was able to shift personnel around to get an effective double block up in all areas of the net.
With Los Alamos trailing 2-0 in the match, it again jumped out to a lead early, only to see it disappear. The difference in the third set, however, was that Los Alamos was able to put a late rally of its own together with its back against the wall.
Hilltopper libero Allyssa Tedder served on a side out after Pojoaque had taken a 24-17 lead. With Tedder at the line, the Elks struggled with their service-return, setting the Hilltoppers up with several free balls. Outside hitter Alicia Rendon finished with two spike kills and a tip kill during the rally that gave Los Alamos a brief 25-24 advantage, while middle blocker Chase Ealey picked up three blocks.
Ealey, Los Alamos’ most dominant player, crushed a spike attempt to give Los Alamos a 26-25 edge, while an ensuing Pojoaque spike attempt sailed wide.
Aside from the third set rally, Los Alamos left the match disappointed.
“Because it was our first game, everyone was really nervous,” Ortiz said. “It’s hard because it’s Pojoaque, it’s our rival and because it was our first game there was even more pressure.”
Pojoaque’s swagger is something Los Alamos hopes to have before the 2011 season wraps up.
“They walk on court confident that the can beat everybody,” Maskaly said. “When they make mistakes, to them, it’s a fluke and they move past it….(we) were freezing in the moment. Working on that is something we need to do.”