Volleyball: Toppers pick up win in finale, 3-0

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By Mike Cote

Despite the best efforts of the Capital Jaguars, the Los Alamos Hilltopper volleyball team finished the regular season in style.

Capital, with little to play for beyond trying to snap Los Alamos’ impressive win streak, kept pace throughout three games Saturday afternoon at Griffith Gymnasium. But Los Alamos would turn back Capital’s upset bid, holding on for a 3-0 victory in the teams’ regular season finale.

The Hilltoppers’ 16th straight regular season district victory, however, was little more than an afterthought as they are preparing for the upcoming Class AAAA playoffs.

“Right now, we’re brushing off the dust heading into (the playoffs),” Hilltopper Nicole Moore said. “We’re working on the things we know how to do and making those perfect.”

Los Alamos grabbed 13 straight victories to close the 2009 regular season, eight of those by shutout, heading into the postseason. It has already clinched a state tournament berth regardless of the outcome of Saturday’s District 2AAAA championship match.

Saturday’s win was a hard-earned one for the Hilltoppers (17-3 overall, 8-0 in 2AAAA) in knocking off the Jaguars 25-20, 25-20, 25-20.

The Jaguars (8-12 overall, 4-4 in 2AAAA) pared down the Hilltoppers’ advantage to just two points late in game one, tied the Hilltoppers at 20-all in the second game and was within three points in the final game before the Hilltoppers put the contest away.

Los Alamos’ stated goal this district season was to run the table, and it was able to do that in holding off Capital’s late-game pushes.

“We set these goals for ourselves a couple of weeks ago,” Moore said. “We went through district undefeated. Now that we’ve done that we can move on…We’re going to take baby steps, set some goals and accomplish them as we go.”

Moore had a big showing in the final regular season match of her career. Moore picked up four spike kills and three big block kills from the middle position at the net.

Her first block and spike of the afternoon, coming back-to-back in game one, gave the Hilltoppers an early 9-4 lead. The Hilltoppers led by as much as 19-13, but the Jaguars scraped their way back.

The Jagaurs took advantage of four straight Hilltopper errors late in the first game, then Capital outside hitter Stephanie Oellien dropped a couple of change-ups on the Hilltopper side of the court to get her team within two points before the Hilltoppers were able to close game one out.

Stephanie Abney, another senior, opened up the second game by serving six straight points, which Los Alamos would end up needing at the end of the contest.

It took Capital just three side-outs to cut the initial big Los Alamos lead down to just one point, although Los Alamos would work that back up to 17-10 behind some solid net play from Moore and Alex Nichols. Another Capital rally got the team even at 20-20 before Los Alamos countered with a five-point burst of its own to end the game and take a 2-0 match edge.

Hilltopper head coach Garry Maskaly, who officially clinched his first 2AAAA championship with the program Wednesday night at Española Valley, said he was relieved more than anything following Saturday’s win.

“It’s nice to have that one out of the way,” he said. “It’s good for the girls to check off their goals as they go. They’re excited to keep pushing forward.”

Nichols and Molly Willms both finished with five spike kills to pace the Hilltoppers. Nichols had three of her spike kills in game three, helping Los Alamos come back from an early deficit. Taylor Ealey finished with three spike kills and four tip kills in a solid outing for her.

Maskaly said he’s relatively confident that the Hilltoppers will grab one of the top four pool play slots when the Class AAAA state tournament bracket is announced, in part because of the team’s showing during the district season.

“They’re finishing strong and they’re playing hard,” Maskaly said. “We’re still working hard in practice. The seeding’s one of those things that’s out of our control. We’ll have to play our hardest when we get to state, no matter what.”