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On a neutral court, after a long, grueling weekend, the Los Alamos Hilltoppers played tough against the Las Vegas Robertson Cardinal volleyball team.
So Tuesday, the Hilltoppers were expecting quite a bit better showing than it got against the Cardinals.
Los Alamos led in every game Tuesday, holding late leads in the first two, but fell to Robertson, 3-0.
In the first game, Los Alamos held a seemingly-comfortable 22-18 lead and had two game points before falling. In the second game, Los Alamos led 20-17 at one point but couldn’t hold on to that lead either.
Robertson, the state Class AAA runner-up in 2007 and considered a contender again this season, took the 27-25, 25-23, 25-16 decision at Griffith Gymnasium.
The Hilltopper offense was inconsistent throughout most of the first half of Tuesday’s match. Compounding the problem was that, after its slow start, the offense started playing tentatively, dinking and dunking instead of swinging away.
That timidity played right into Robertson’s hands.
“That really hurt us,” Hilltopper head coach Diana Stokes said. “We’ve got to keep on top of it.”
Stokes said that after the slow start, many of her hitters got down on themselves and played not to make mistakes. That is a mindset she was hoping most of her players would be past at this point of the season, with just one match remaining until District 2AAAA play starts next week.
It doesn’t help that the Hilltoppers will be hosting Class AAAA’s top-ranked Moriarty Pintos Thursday.
Tuesday’s match was the first home appearace of the season for Los Alamos.
With Los Alamos not putting down the big hits as it had in previous contests, particularly the 3-0 win it earned at St. Michael’s Sept. 16, Robertson’s upfront blocking got a lot more aggressive.
Robertson recorded seven blocks in the first game, including a big one by Brooke Knezevich to make the score 22-21, one of the big turning points of the opening game.
Los Alamos picked up just four spike kills in the first game, six in the second and six more in the third.
Despite the sluggish showing upfront, Los Alamos’ defense continued to play well Tuesday, limiting the Cardinals (6-3) to just two spike kills in game one and just four more in game two.
Stephanie Abney had a good evening at the back line, including picking up a big early dig, which she put right at the hole in the middle of the Robertson defense.
Setter Jessica Stokes had a solid night as well, but had little to show for it assist-wise, with Los Alamos (5-6) returning numerous free balls on the evening.
Alex Nichols had the best hitting performance of the night for Los Alamos, earning seven spike kills and three tip kills. No other Hilltopper finished with more than four spike kills.
The Cardinals and Hilltoppers met in the consolation final of the Zia Classic tournament Sept. 13. In that contest, the Hilltoppers battled back from a 2-0 deficit to force a game five, in which the Cardinals eked out a 16-14 win.
Along with the close contest the two teams had at Zia, coach Stokes said Robertson also gave her team plenty of chances Tuesday.
“Robertson made several hitting mistakes and made a lot of service errors,” she said. “We didn’t take advantage of those.”
The Cardinals had eight service errors in game one to the Hilltoppers’ one.
Oksana Tretiak finished with a pair of block kills Tuesday, the only Hilltopper to earn more than one. Los Alamos had no block kills in the third game.
A tentative showing at the net Thursday could well mean a short night for Los Alamos against Moriarty.
The defending state champion Pintos (8-2) boast arguably the toughest front line in the state, spearheaded by last season’s AAAA Player of the Year Kristin Valencia and first-team All-State selection Brandi Valencia.
Both of Moriarty’s Valencia sisters are listed at 5-foot-11 and have plenty of height around to support them — two others are listed at 5-foot-10.