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ESPAÑOLA — While Los Alamos head volleyball coach Garry Maskaly had to work through some nervous energy Wednesday, his team had to work through a couple of slow game starts.
But everything would work out fine for the Hilltoppers Wednesday night in their next-to-last regular season contest against Española Valley.
In what has been something of a rarity during this District 2AAAA season, Los Alamos fell behind and trailed for a good portion of both games one and two Wednesday night at Edward Medina Gymnasium. But, despite falling behind, Los Alamos never trailed by more than four points, that coming early in the second game, and was able to bounce back to take a 25-19, 25-19, 25-11 victory.
“I knew this was going to be a fight,” Maskaly said. “Recently, we’ve struggled with rotations 1 and 2, but we talked between the second and third game. We started out a lot better in the third game.”
Wednesday’s win secured the 2009 District 2AAAA regular season title for the Hilltoppers (16-3 overall, 7-0 in 2AAAA). It was their second win of the district season over Española Valley’s Sundevils, whom the Hilltoppers swept Oct. 10 as well.
Los Alamos will not only get to host the district tournament championship match, which will be held late next week, it also secured a state playoff spot with the victory regardless of what happens in the district tournament.
Española Valley (10-8 overall, 5-2 in 2AAAA), meanwhile, will finish as the 2AAAA runner-up regardless of what it does against Bernalillo in its season finale Friday. It owns the head-to-head tiebreaker over third-place Capital and will host the district tournament semifinal.
Wednesday night was not only a chance for Los Alamos to secure its second straight regular season district title, it was also a homecoming of sorts for Maskaly, who coached at Española Valley last season before taking the top job at Los Alamos this past spring.
Maskaly paced back and forth in front of the Hilltopper bench early in the first game. Unfortunately, his team didn’t do much to calm his nerves, making three service errors to help the Sundevils grab an early lead.
“I’m really surprised we could pull out this match with eight or nine service errors,” Maskaly said afterward.
The Hilltoppers trailed 10-8 in the first game before picking up three straight points to grab the lead. Freshman Savanah Romero, the team’s setter, dinked a ball down in the center of Española Valley’s court, then scored a spike kill on the next serve to tie the score at 10-10, giving Los Alamos the spark it was looking for.
Romero finished the contest with a pair of tip kills and block kill.
Los Alamos’ powerful offense proved to be too much for Española Valley’s defense, which is usually very difficult to crack but performed spottily Wednesday.
Hilltopper outside hitter Alex Nichols, the District 2AAAA Player of the Year in 2008, said she wasn’t surprised Los Alamos was able to come back after slow starts in games one and two to earn the sweep.
“We don’t let ourselves play to their level,” Nichols said of Los Alamos’ district competition. “We push ourselves to do the best we can. That’s a big factor.”
Los Alamos was able to spread the offense around effectively throughout the contest. Nicole Moore had four spike kills Wednesday night to lead the Hilltoppers, while Nichols, Taylor Ealey, Molly Willms and Sabrina Little all finished with three.
Española Valley led as late as 12-11 in the second game, going up 8-4 at one point but never pulling away. Sundevil senior Marisol Peña started off hot in game two, with two quick spike kills — one coming from the back row — and a block kill to help give her team the advantage.
But Los Alamos moved the ball around effectively at the net throughout the second game, with six different Hilltoppers scoring. Little had two of her spike kills in the second game, as did Moore, who also added a tip kill.
In the third game, Los Alamos took the lead at 4-3 and never surrendered it. With Oksana Tretiak serving, Los Alamos scored six straight points to pull ahead 11-4 and never looked back. Tretiak also served up four straight points to end the game and give Los Alamos the victory.
Peña finished with six spike kills to pace the Sundevils.
In its seven district wins, Los Alamos has dropped just one game, that coming Saturday against Bernalillo with the Hilltoppers again getting off to a slow start and losing the opening game. Los Alamos took the next three games in a row to pick up the victory.
The Hilltoppers have won 12 straight contests heading into their final game of the season Saturday when they host Capital. They have lost just seven games in that 12-game streak.
“I’m pretty pumped,” Nichols said after Los Alamos clinched the district and a state tournament spot. “I think that we’ll do well this year. I hope I do.”
The state AAAA playoffs are scheduled to start Nov. 12 in Rio Rancho.