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SANTA FE — Did the Los Alamos Hilltopper volleyball team finally find an identity?
It may have, but it took some sifting to secure it.
Following a disastrous opening set against Deming at Roswell’s Zia Classic this weekend, the team had a bit of bloodletting.
“We healed a lot of wounds at Roswell,” Los Alamos head coach Garry Maskaly said. “We struggled through some issues, but I think those have been resolved. There was a big turning point at Roswell against Deming.”
Following that, the Hilltoppers have been a completely different team. Case in point, Wednesday night against an old nemesis, the St. Michael’s Horsemen.
The Class AAA Horsemen, who have long given the Hilltoppers problems during the nondistrict season, were little more than a speed bump Wednesday night.
The Hilltoppers thoroughly dominated the contest, giving the Horsemen few chances at the net, while the spotty offense the Horsemen did muster was largely quelled by an impressive performance by the Hilltoppers’ back line.
“With the offense, we were running a lot of quick stuff,” Hilltopper senior Oksana Tretiak said. “We we’re running a lot of 1s in the middle, always quick. The setters are doing really well. I guess it’s just discipline…we control the game with our tempo.”
Los Alamos picked up a rare sweep over St. Michael’s Wednesday at Perez-Shelley Gymnasium, taking the contest 25-20, 25-14, 25-22.
Only in the third set, in which Los Alamos was trying several lineup and tactical changes, did St. Michael’s get any kind of offense going.
Through the first two sets, St. Mike’s managed only a total of nine spike kills — the Hilltoppers had 11 in set one alone.
The Hilltoppers went into their contest with the Horsemen fresh off a big win at the Zia Classic tournament. The Hilltoppers (5-5) turned away two very tough programs, Deming and Tularosa, by counts of 3-1, before sweeping through host Roswell in the finale.
Against St. Mike’s, Los Alamos showed off a balanced attack, getting six players into the stat line in both the first two sets. Meanwhile, St. Mike’s managed just four spike kills in the opener with no player tallying more than one.
Sabrina Little, who is quickly evolving into Los Alamos’ main threat upfront, finished with 10 spike kills, four in each of the first two sets. Little, coming from the outside, put several shots away inside the far sideline.
To keep Little open, Los Alamos moved her and Chase Ealey around the front line quite a bit, while St. Mike’s struggled to maintain a block on either hitter.
Tretiak, meanwhile, finished with a match-high seven block kills, she added four spike kills as well. Alicia Rendon added six spike kills and Ealey finished with four.
Maskaly said the team is generally making good choices with the ball, which has helped get it on its current hot streak.
“We’re hitting the ball when that opportunity’s there,” he said. “When it’s not there, we’re giving it back in a tough place for (the other team) to use it.”
For the Horsemen, Monique Romero finished with six spike kills and Alexa Chavez had four.
Defensive specialist Danielle Ortiz of Los Alamos, who was named to the Zia Classic’s All-Tournament team, continued her solid start to the 2010 season with a good back line showing and even chipped in on offense with a back row spike kill — Ortiz is by far the smallest member of the team.
Prior to the match, Los Alamos looked about as loose and upbeat as a Hilltopper team had in several seasons. Tretiak said the team has some swagger right now and is hoping to keep it up for at least the next couple of contests prior to its District 2AAAA opener against Bernalillo Sept. 29.
“I feel like we’re confident but not cocky,” she said. “We know we can win. We have to try our hardest every game, lay it on the line and just fight.”