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Volleyball: Toppers pick up wins over Estancia, Cibola

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By Mike Cote

Things may just be looking up for the Los Alamos Hilltopper volleyball team.

After starting the 2008 season with a pair of losses, one of them a 5-set heartbreaker against St. Pius X, Los Alamos has followed those up with a win Thursday over Albuquerque Academy and a good showing at this weekend’s Moriarty Invitational.

Los Alamos took two out of three pool play matches at the two-day tournament, hosted by the defending Class AAAA champion Moriarty Pintos, then followed that up with two wins in three bracket play contests.

After winning its pool, taking five of its six pool play sets, Los Alamos came back in a short turnaround Friday night to down Estancia in straight sets.

The Hilltoppers would fall in the tournament semifinals Saturday against the Pintos, who are the early-season favorite to repeat as AAAA champs. After that straight-set loss, Los Alamos rebounded to knock off a tough Cibola squad in a consolation match.

The weekend’s effort was a lot more of what Hilltopper head coach Diana Stokes had in mind going into the season.

“I think they’re getting better each time they play,” Stokes said of her young squad. “We’re still going to get better because we want to get better. That’s what you want to see. The team’s going to keep trying.”

Jessica Stokes, the team’s lone senior, had a big showing during the tournament from her setter position.

Stokes collected 34 assists in the first round win against Estancia, a scrappy AA team. She was a big part of a big hitting effort Friday night, which saw Alex Nichols pick up 14 kills and Taylor Ealey earn 12 more.

The Hilltoppers downed Estancia’s Bears 25-18, 25-19, 26-24.

Everything seemed to be clicking for the Hilltoppers against the Bears. They also finished with eight ace serves on the match, three of them provided by Nichols.

Nichols also had 11 digs on the match, second on the team behind Sara Scott.

Sabrina Little and Oksana Tretiak had eight kills between them.

Coach Stokes said she thought the turning point of the tournament was Los Alamos’ pool play contest against Mesilla Valley Christian, another tough Class AA squad.

In pool play, the Hilltoppers knocked off West Mesa convincingly to open the tournament, but came out flat in their second pool play contest against Dexter.

Against Mesilla Valley, however, Los Alamos got its potent offense going. Ealey finished with 11 spike kills in two 21-point sets en route to a 21-15, 21-11 sweep, clinching the pool’s top spot.

Los Alamos ran into a buzzsaw in the semifinals, however, facing off against the defending champs.

The Pintos, who boast one of the tallest and biggest-hitting lineups in the state, took Los Alamos in straight sets, 25-11, 25-10, 25-13.

Stokes said she thought her team played on its heels against Moriarty for most of the three sets.

When Los Alamos was able to relax and play, something it did early in the second and third sets, it hung with Moriarty fairly well, but Moriarty got hot in the middle part of both sets to earn the sweep.

Stokes said she hoped her team came away with its first shot at Moriarty this season having learned something.

“They have a big blocking team,” she said. “That’s really what slows you down. As a team, they need to learn how to hit around blocking.”

Against Cibola, Los Alamos continued with its solid service game and was able to spread the ball around its hitters.

Jessica Stokes once again came through for the Hilltoppers against the Class AAAA Cougars, dishing out 24 assists. Stokes also picked up five spike kills and a pair of block kills.

Ealey and Nichols finished with nine kills each, with Ealey also earning five block kills.

Little chipped in six spike kills.

Defensively, Scott had 16 digs for the Hilltoppers (3-3).

Los Alamos now has a week to prepare for another tournament, the Zia Classic, hosted by Roswell and Goddard High Schools.

The Zia Classic is among the toughest tournaments of the season anywhere in the state. Stokes said that will be another good test for her squad.

“The main thing about tournaments is you learn a lot,” she said. “In a big tournament, you have your ups and downs. You hope you learn from your downs.”