'Toppers sweep in district opener

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BERNALILLO – In what figures to be a highly competitive District 2-4A season, the Los Alamos Hilltopper volleyball team wanted to make a statement to begin district play.
And while their statement took a little longer to get started than they’d hoped, the statement was delivered nonetheless.
Los Alamos got off to a rocky start Wednesday night against the Bernalillo Spartans, falling into a sizeable hole early, but dug itself out quickly and took a 3-0 victory.
Behind the hot hands of middles Claire Stewart and Sam Fenner, Los Alamos picked up a 25-20 win in the first set. Los Alamos then breezed through the second set to win 25-11 and held on through a mini-comeback late by the Spartans in set three to win that one 25-16.
After a disappointing showing last weekend at Rio Rancho, Los Alamos didn’t want to get involved in a long, drawn-out battle against the Spartans, who have shown a knack in recent years for giving the Hilltoppers headaches.
“We knew we needed to work hard this game,” Los Alamos outside hitter Brianna Montaño said. “But we came together as a group, played hard, played aggressive. That’s what won this game.”
Montaño got red hot in the third set as the Hilltoppers (6-4 overall, 1-0 in district) attempted to but the match to bed. She finished with six spike kills in the final set, all from the left side of the Hilltopper offense, punishing the Bernalillo defense at the net that struggled to get out to her to put up a block.
Sam Melton and Michaela Pigue split the setting duties for most of the match and were both effective in running the offense. When one was setting, the other was chipping in with the hitting duties and helped make the attack that much more effective.
However, it took some time for Los Alamos to get settled in.
It was Bernalillo (5-6, 0-1) that controlled things early on. Bernalillo, which combines solid defense with timely small-ball attacks, had that combination working well to start the contest.
Spartans Rachel Duran and Anelisia Peña had some well-placed tip kills early, while at the same time Los Alamos struggled to get its passing game going.
With that combination, Bernalillo moved out to a quick lead and expanded that lead to 15-8 at one point.
That, however, would be the Spartans’ high water mark of the contest.
“In that first game and midway through the second game, we had a dominant middle attack,” Los Alamos head coach Robin Reynolds said. “That made a big difference.”
Fenner finished with six spike kills through the first two sets, running along with Stewart, a couple of devastating short-set attacks that Bernalillo simply had no answer for. Sierra Foley had four spike kills through two sets and Pigue had a pair of spike kills in the second set.
Los Alamos jumped out to an 8-1 lead in the second set – libero Alyssa Tedder had a 6-point run at the service line to get things going – and it was Bernalillo that never got on track.
In the third set, Los Alamos again got up early, 9-2 at one point, and moved that out to an 18-8 advantage. Bernalillo tried to make a move to get back into the set with Peña throwing down two spikes late, but it wasn’t nearly enough.
Montaño crushed several shots at the feet of the Spartans in the third set. When she gets dialed in, Montaño becomes very tough to defend against, and found that groove late to seal the victory.
“For me, I get on top of the block,” she said. “I was getting a lot of long, high sets.”
Los Alamos won’t have a ton of time to celebrate its victory, however. It comes right back for a match tonight at home against Albuquerque Academy, which has been a top-five team in Class 4A most of the season, then must face a very good Santa Fe squad in its second match of the district season Saturday on the road.