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The Los Alamos Hilltopper volleyball team didn’t want to make its road to a state playoff berth anymore of an uphill climb than it had already become.
Los Alamos swept its match with Capital Saturday and grabbed the District 2AAAA regular season title with its 25-15, 25-22, 25-15 win. More importantly, the Hilltoppers guaranteed themselves a spot in the Class AAAA playoffs by virtue of the win.
Heading into Wednesday’s match with Española Valley, Los Alamos could’ve come within one game win of securing the district title, but a 3-2 loss to Española Valley’s Sundevils made Saturday’s contest at Capital a must-win.
Ironically, that actually ended up to the liking of Hilltopper head coach Diana Stokes.
“It was good, because otherwise (Saturday) all we would’ve needed to do was take the one game,” she said. “I think it’s better for the kids to come in having to win, having to work hard.”
Even though they picked up the sweep, everything was hardly a bowl of cherries for the Hilltoppers Saturday.
The Hilltoppers (12-8 overall, 7-1 in 2AAAA) learned before the contest they had lost one player to grades and another that had an unexcused absence from one class. Additionally, defensive specialist Stephanie Abney hurt her neck during warm-ups and wasn’t able to start the first game.
Stokes said she had to scramble a little bit to fill in the holes but that her modified starting lineup rose to the challenge. Sophomore Shannon Burns got the starting nod at libero Saturday and responded well in her first outing.
The lineup changes, Stokes said, were actually something of a blessing in disguise.
“For all the mixing and trading we had…with our little mishaps, they came through fine,” she said. “We were actually able to mix some girls at some different positions, which we might need to do in case of an injury in the playoffs.”
Capital, which could’ve also clinched the regular season district title with a win, stuck with Los Alamos for most of the contest.
In game one, the team were deadlocked at 10-10 before Los Alamos started to pull away.
Alex Nichols, who has come up big from her outside hitting spot during the District 2AAAA season, had three spike kills to help her squad secure the first game win.
Taylor Ealey and Jessica Stokes also got into the offensive swing with a pair of spike kills each.
Capital (12-7 overall, 6-2 in 2AAAA) went up big at the halfway point of the second game, leading by as many as six at one point before Los Alamos whittled the lead down to 20-18 toward the end.
Abney, after recovering from her warm-up injury, served three big points late as Los Alamos came from behind to take the second game.
Los Alamos jumped out to a big lead, going up 10-1 at one point, and cruised to the match win.
From the service line to open the game, Nichols gave the Hilltoppers a quick 6-0 edge as well as providing four spike kills. Nicole Moore aided the cause with a spike kill and block kill.
Nichols finished with a team-high nine spike kills. Sabrina Little and Ealey finished with eight, Stokes with five and Oksana Tretiak with four spike kills and two block kills.
Los Alamos will now have a week off and will await the winner of the 2AAAA tournament semifinal match. It will host the district championship match Saturday night.
Regardless of the outcome of Saturday’s title match, Los Alamos will be the highest seeded 2AAAA team once the state playoffs start.
The big focus of the next week for Los Alamos is to get itself in playoff mode.
“We’ll be working on the little stuff we know the big teams, Moriarty, Piedra Vista, do,” Stokes said. “Those guys have the big blockers. That’s why I like playing Española (Valley), because they can block. You want to play teams that will show you that stuff you need at state.”
Stokes said she’d like to see her hitters get covered better by the Hilltopper back line. She’d also like the team in general to do a little more tipping to keep opposing defenses guessing.