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Volleyball falls in semifinals to Roswell

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By Mike Cote

ALBUQUERQUE — If, in looking back on 2007, there was one game the Los Alamos Hilltopper volleyball team wishes could have back, it will be Friday’s game three.With the match knotted at a game apiece, With a Jessica Stokes spike kill, Los Alamos moved ahead of the Roswell Coyotes 18-10 in the Class AAAA state championship semifinals.After a hard-fought win in game two, everything seemed to be going the Hilltoppers’ way.But the Roswell Coyotes, the 2006 AAAA champ and an upset winner the night before over the heavily-favored St. Pius X Sartans, jumped on the back of their 5-foot-9 middle hitter Chantale Riddle, who finished game three with five smoking spike kills to take a 25-23 come-from-behind win.Roswell would go on to take game four as well, taking the semifinal contest 25-15, 20-25, 25-23, 25-20 victory and advance to face the Moriarty Pintos in Saturday’s state title match. In the title match, the Pintos wasted little time in dispatching the Coyotes, beating them in three straight games.It was a disappointing finish to a wild ride for the Hilltoppers in their journey to the state semifinals.“I’m really proud,” Hilltopper senior Emma Myers said following the loss. “We improved so much, and it really showed in this tournament. It was fun.”Los Alamos started the tournament on a note that couldn’t have been much more sour. In Wednesday’s pool play competition, used to seed the single-elimination tournament, which started Thursday, Los Alamos managed just one win in six outings, a tight victory over the 10th-seeded Shiprock.Few were expecting the Hilltoppers to survive Thursday’s elimination play, but the Hilltoppers not only survived, they thrived. They won their third straight decision over the Española Valley Sundevils in the first round Thursday morning, then stunned the big-hitting Goddard Rockets in the quarterfinals Thursday night.But the Coyotes, who lost three times to the Rockets in the regular season, proved to be just too much for the Hilltoppers and their quest for an improbable state title.“That’s why I’m proud of them,” Hilltopper head coach Diana Stokes said. “I’m proud of everything they did.”Roswell (13-9) was spearheaded by the lanky Riddle, who had deceptive power and good control on her hits, but it was Roswell’s defense that held Los Alamos for the bulk of the contest.Los Alamos had a fairly good passing night — back row specialists Maria O’Donnell and Megan Burditt both had solid outings Friday — and was able to get the ball to middle hitter Kristina Little and outside hitters Stokes and Katie Sheppard.But the Coyote defense, particularly libero Rebecca Marrujo, picked up a good portion of what the Hilltopper hitters had to offer.Offensively, the Coyotes had just enough variation to keep the Hilltopper defense guessing. And, unfortunately, the Hilltoppers never found an effective means of slowing down Riddle, who finished with a match-high 10 spike kills as well as five block kills.Taylor Ealey, who had an enormous postseason for the Hilltoppers, finished with six spike kills and four block kills.Little paced the Hilltoppers with six block kills to go along with six spike kills.Friday’s match was the career finale for six Hilltopper seniors, Little, Myers, Burditt, Sheppard, Kristyne Schoonover and Vanessa Espinoza. The ’Topper run in the tournament will be the highlight of a rough but successful 2007, which brought the team a District 2AAAA title, snapping a two-year streak by its arch-rival Española Valley.“That was the bright side,” Myers said. “I’m really not upset, even though it’s not fun to lose.”Los Alamos finished the 2007 season with a mark of 15-10, 8-2 in district.“The finals would’ve been the ultimate, but they came a long way,” Coach Stokes said. “They’re champs in my heart.”