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JACONA – In its season debut Saturday, the Los Alamos Hilltopper volleyball team seemed to be off to a good start.
After taking the first set off a very tough opponent, the Pojoaque Elks, and jumping out to a big lead late in the second set, things started to go awry.
Despite its promising start, the Hilltoppers couldn’t keep their early momentum going and fell 3-1 at Ben Lujan Gymnasium.
The Elks took their time getting into any kind of rhythm, but when their opportunity presented itself, they took advantage.
For the Hilltoppers, they led late in both games two and four but couldn’t put the Elks away, with the Elks taking a 20-25, 25-23, 25-20, 25-23.
“That’s something we’re working on, the mental side of the game,” Los Alamos second-year head coach Garry Maskaly said. “When the other team gets a run of points, how do we take back control of the game?”
Los Alamos (0-1) and Pojoaque (2-0) often play each other early in the season, mostly because the two teams usually have tough, nip-and-tuck matches against each other. Saturday’s contest was no exception.
The Hilltoppers’ offense, which has been working on some quicker sets and attacks, was initially successful against the smaller Elks. To start the contest, Hilltopper middle Chase Ealey, who is taking over that position from her sister, Taylor, who wrapped up her Hilltopper career last season, picked up four spike kills and a block kill.
Los Alamos had a strong, balanced attack through the first set with six different Hilltoppers getting into the offensive stat column.
After the Hilltoppers took a slim lead early in game one, the Elks tied the score several times but could never retake the edge. With Savanah Romero serving late in the first set, Ealey and returning outside hitter Sabrina Little earned back-to-back spike kills, then Little finished off set with a spike kill on Pojoaque’s final side-out.
Los Alamos looked well on its way to picking up a 2-0 edge over Pojoaque. It held a 10-point lead at one point in the contest and a comfortable 22-15 advantage along with the serve.
However, the Hilltoppers simply couldn’t put set two away.
Veteran Pojoaque head coach Brian Ainsworth, who has led his team to a pair of Class AAA state championships — including defeating Portales 3-1 in last season’s title match — said that while his team was thankful not to fall behind two sets to Los Alamos, it was due more to Hilltopper miscues than anything his team had done.
“That second game, basically, we were fortunate when they started making mistakes,” Ainsworth said. “They lost their composure and made some uncharacteristic errors…I thought we were able to get the momentum after that game and it took some of the confidence out of Los Alamos.”
With Pojoaque libero Kiana Vigil serving, Los Alamos committed five unforced errors. Pojoaque turned a big late deficit into a 24-22 advantage before Alicia Rendon’s back row kill quelled the Pojoaque rally. The next point, however, resulted in another Hilltopper error, tying the match score at 1-1.
Pojoaque led virtually the entire way in set three with middle hitter Elizabeth Gomez picking up two spike kills, two tip kills and two block kills.
Gomez finished with seven spike kills on the contest, second on her team behind only Kristin Woody, who finished with nine.
For Los Alamos, Little led the way with 14 spike kills. Ealey had 10 spike kills and Oksana Tretiak added nine more.
Maskaly said that his team was hoping to earn the victory in its 2010 opener. While he’s expecting big things from his squad this season, he said Pojoaque is a good opponent to open the season with.
“The games were all close,” Maskaly said. “We were right there in all of them. Pojoaque is an excellent team and to be right there with them is good to see.”