.....Advertisement.....
.....Advertisement.....

Toppers stun Rockets in four

-A A +A
By Mike Cote

ALBUQUERQUE — ’Topper Town will be talking about this one for awhile.Remember the time the Los Alamos Hilltopper volleyball team came back from 19-10 down in game four to upset the heavily-favored Goddard Rockets?Los Alamos punched its ticket to the state Class AAAA semifinals in the most improbable of ways Thursday, shocking second-seeded Goddard in four games, 25-22, 11-25, 26-24, 25-22 to advance to tonight’s match with the Roswell Coyotes. The winner of tonight’s 6 p.m. tilt advances to the state championship match Saturday against the winner of this afternoon’s contest between Del Norte and Moriarty.There weren’t many people giving the Hilltoppers a lot of chance to upset the Rockets, especially given a lackluster performance in Wednesday’s pool play.Jessica Stokes wasn’t one of those people.“We wanted to win,” Stoke, Los Alamos’ senior outside hitter said afterward. “We wanted to win so bad. We just wanted to do so good. We wanted to show everyone we’re better than the ninth seeding we had.”It was Los Alamos which came out as the aggressor in game one against Goddard in the nightcap Thursday, played at University of New Mexico’s Johnson Center. Los Alamos hit hard at Goddard from every angle and mixing up its speeds.Goddard, which has one of the best net games in the state, regardless of class, looked Thursday to have pretty average defense and service-receive, both of which Los Alamos was able to take advantage of early.However, the Hilltoppers got away from their aggressive style of play early in the second game, which led to some problems.“I think a couple of tips we had hit the ground, and a couple of the hitters thought that would be better,” Los Alamos libero Vanessa Espinoza said.While using small-ball tactics in the first game was effective because it was being played in conjunction with harder hits — Hilltopper big-hitting middle Kristina Little used change-ups very effectively in game one — Los Alamos was using dinks almost exclusively in game two, and the Rockets made enough defensive adjustments to pick them up.Los Alamos switched its tactics back in game three and game four to pull out the victory.The Hilltoppers (15-9) started the day making light work of their District 2AAAA rival Española Valley, beating them 25-19, 25-10, 25-12.Los Alamos, which had beaten Española Valley in two of three regular season meetings in 2007, thoroughly trounced the Sundevils, who finished third in Pool A Wednesday.Los Alamos’ showing in that match was a stark contrast to its Wednesday performance in Pool C play, where it won only one of six contests.The Sundevils (15-6) were only in the first game. They couldn’t muster any sort of attack in either the second or third games.In the first game, Española Valley took an early 6-5 lead and tied the score at 8 before Little’s four-point service run, capped by a big block from Taylor Ealey, to start to pull away.Little, who finished with eight spike kills and four block kills in the match, was happy to see her team bounce back after Wednesday morning’s troubles to top its district rival.“I think we put it back together (Thursday),” Little said after the victory over the Sundevils. “We’re not too much of morning people. Sleeping in was nice.”The Sundevils actually held a slim early lead in the second game, before a pair of Little block kills during a Jessica Stokes service run. After four straight Los Alamos points, which put it up 9-5, the Sundevils were barely heard from again.The first-round win put the ’Toppers into Thursday night’s quarterfinal match with the Rockets.Game three against Goddard turned into a slugfest from the opening serve.Stokes, who has caught fire in the playoffs, slammed down a pair of big spike kills in the third game — she finished with seven on the match — said everyone on the team bumped up their games in order to take the third game.“Our passes were really on the net,” Stokes said. “It was hard for (setter Emma Myers) to get it, and we also got timid. We had to go up and hit it hard.”Goddard, meanwhile, got its hitting game on target in the third game as well. Goddard, which committed 13 unforced errors, most of them hitting errors, in game one, finished the third game with 12 spike kills in the third game.The Rockets led for virtually all of the third game, but even with their high-powered offense clicking, led by outsides Hailee Harton and Tiffany Gibson, the Hilltoppers kept the margin within one and four points.Stokes served for Los Alamos at 17-20, and reeled off four straight points, giving the team its first lead of the game at 21-20 when Rocket Chloe Blach hit a return long.Goddard would reclaim the lead at 22-21, but Los Alamos would get it right back at 23-22 when Katie Sheppard dropped a spike right between a pair of Goddard defenders — Espinoza dug up a crushing hit from Gibson to keep the ball alive right before Sheppard closed out the point.Myers, who was battling some sort of food poisoning all day Thursday, was called for a double-hit at 24-23, but a Goddard service error gave the ’Toppers side-out for game point. Little tapped the game-winner to the floor to set up the dramatic game four.As it had in game two, Goddard took charge early with Los Alamos struggling on both offense and defense.Goddard jumped out to a quick 7-3 lead, then bumped that lead up to 16-7 at one point, then 19-10 before another Sheppard spike kill slowed Goddard’s momentum.The difference in the game may have been a timeout called by Hilltopper head coach Diana Stokes at 18-8.“When I called the timeout, they were all rambling a mile a minute,” Coach Stokes said. “I told them, ‘you talk too much, you get down. Just relax, play your game and don’t get upset.’ They went back out after that, and that’s what they did.”Espinoza agreed it was getting a bit contentious around the team prior to the timeout.“We got in the huddle, we asked ourselves why we were getting mad at each other,” she said. “We were only one game from getting into the semis.”Los Alamos got side-out at 13-20. With Kristyne Schoonover serving, Los Alamos earned seven straight points to tie the score at 20. An Ealey block and a pair of Sheppard spike kills — she had four on the game — combined with a quickly-crumbling Goddard offense worked to tie the contest.Ealey’s tip during Sheppard’s serve at 24-22 sealed the win and the trip to the state semifinal.In tonight’s semifinal, Roswell (14-8) will also be going in with ocean-liner momentum, as it stunned fourth-seeded St. Pius X in its quarterfinal match Thursday, 25-21, 20-25, 25-23, 25-16.“We’ve got to go in (tonight) wanting to beat them 10 times more than any team we’ve wanted to beat,” Espinoza said.