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ESPAÑOLA — Being on the road, going into hostile territory and having to duke it out with an arch-rival for the top spot in the district race would seem to be a daunting task.
But Wednesday night, the Los Alamos Hilltopper volleyball team made it look easy.
Los Alamos, facing off against the Española Valley Sundevils for the early lead in the district standings, used a late surge in the first set and dominated the second set to put Española Valley back on its heels. Los Alamos’ final set was sloppy, but it was still good enough to earn a 25-16, 25-10, 25-22 win at Edward Medina Gymnasium.
With the victory, the Hilltoppers upped their District 2-4A mark to 3-0 and can finish the first half of district play on top if they can knock off Capital at home Saturday.
Española Valley, which often gives Los Alamos a decent run for its money in the 2-4A race, had gotten its district season off to a good start as well, picking up wins over Capital and Santa Fe. It was also getting back the bulk of its players back from suspension, but heading into the contest, Los Alamos wasn’t sure who would be back for Española Valley and who wouldn’t, complicating the Hilltoppers’ task of preparation.
“It was exciting, but we weren’t sure who was going to play and who wasn’t,” said Hilltopper setter Savanah Romero. “Lately, we’ve been practicing serving more. We wanted to be more aggressive with our serves. We’ve been struggling with that…even though we had a bunch of service errors, it was a step in the right direction.”
Los Alamos’ performance at the service line proved to be one of the big factors to its victory Wednesday. Los Alamos varied up its serves to Española Valley, which never got comfortable in its service-receive defense.
“We spent a lot of time working on serving either really short or really deep and nothing in the middle,” Los Alamos head coach Garry Maskaly said. “We paid for it a bit. We had eight or nine service errors and our serving percentage was less than what we want, but it kept (the Sundevils) out of system the whole time.”
Los Alamos got several big scoring runs throughout the three sets. In the first set, with sophomore Samantha Fenner serving, Los Alamos went from 19-16 up to closing out the set.
Fenner, a sophomore who had a good showing in the Hilltoppers’ opener at Bernalillo a week earlier, sent several of her serves hard and low, just clearing the net, and forced three service-return errors.
Outside hitter Alicia Rendon went on a 6-point service run to start the rout in the second set, while both Danielle Ortiz and Chase Ealey strung together several points in the third set.
Despite getting good production from its offense in the third set — Ealey had six spike kills and Rendon four — Los Alamos also misfired on several spike attempts. Additionally, Los Alamos was whistled for being out of rotation during a comeback attempt in the latter part of the set.
But the Sundevils, behind one of their top players, Maddy Romero, strung together four points to get right back into the set.
The remainder of the set was back and forth, but Rendon would hit a shot down the left sideline to put the contest away.
Rendon finished with nine spike kills, a block kill and a tip kill. Ealey once again led the way for Los Alamos with 11 spike kills, while outside hitter Erin Kirk, in addition to having a good showing at the service line herself, added four spike kills.
Maddy Romero finished with seven spike kills to pace the Sundevils (6-7 overall, 2-1 in 2-4A).
Through its first three 2-4A matches, Los Alamos (12-3 overall) has dropped just one set.
“We’re starting off at a good point,” Savanah Romero said of the team’s 3-0 district start. “We’re working on a lot of things. It’s really all coming together now.”
Los Alamos has won five contests in a row and nine of its last 10.