Volleyball: Toppers swept in state 4A semifinal

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By Mike Cote

RIO RANCHO — For the third year in a row, the Los Alamos Hilltopper volleyball team ends its season with a loss to the St. Pius X Sartans.
After surviving a back-and-forth contest Friday morning against the Roswell Coyotes in the Class AAAA quarterfinals, the Hilltoppers took the Sartans down to the wire in each of the first two sets in Friday night’s semifinal.
However, the top-seeded Sartans, who advanced to Saturday night’s Class AAAA championship match, prevailed in each of the first two sets despite Los Alamos’ best efforts. They would go on to win in three games Friday, 26-24, 27-25, 25-16.
The Class AAAA championship tournament concluded Saturday night with the Sartans taking on the second-seeded Artesia Bulldogs for the 2010 state title. Results from the title match were unavailable as of press time.
St. Pius featured tall, quick hitters up front who excelled at directional hitting, complicating matters considerably for Los Alamos, which put together some spurts offensively to counter but was able to land very few of the big shots it was able to do throughout its regular season.
Los Alamos head coach Garry Maskaly, who has guided the Hilltoppers to a pair of postseason wins in two seasons helming the program, said he couldn’t fault the effort his team put out Friday night.
“They fought with everything they had the whole way,” Maskaly said. “Oksana (Tretiak), her last two games were the best she’s ever played...it was really, really awesome.”
Tretiak, a senior for Los Alamos, had four block kills in the first set against St. Pius, the third giving Los Alamos a momentary 23-22 lead and the fourth, on which she stuffed the Sartans’ Sara Weber at the net, tied the score at 24.
Los Alamos, unfortunately, couldn’t get much going with its ensuing side-out and St. Pius closed out the first set immediately afterward.
A kill by Tretiak late in the second set gave Los Alamos its first lead since the early going, putting the Hilltoppers up 21-20 as they tried to even things up.
For the match, Tretiak finished with six spike kills and an equal number of block kills.
After falling short in the first two sets, however, the Hilltoppers didn’t seem to have much wind in their sails left for the third set. Even after getting up on the Sartans early, the Sartans came back to take a 5-4 advantage and wouldn’t relinquish the lead for the balance.
St. Pius’ setters spread the ball around liberally to the front row, with Weber and middle blockers Lauren Roveto and Hannah Grazda all getting into the act throughout. S9 finished with a match-high 10 spike kills, while Alexandria Biondi added five more.
Hilltopper Chase Ealey, a junior, finished the night with five block kills. Sabrina Little, a senior, had a team-high seven spike kills from the outside.
Los Alamos advanced to the state semifinals for the second time in four years after topping Roswell 3-2 in the quarterfinals. Roswell beat Los Alamos in its last semifinal appearance.
In 2010, the Hilltoppers finished with a record of 17-6. They won a remarkable 16 matches in a row before their loss to the Sartans, dropping just nine sets during that streak.
Saturday’s match was the finale in the careers of Hilltopper seniors Little, Tretiak, Rachel Ehler and Brooke Romero.


Los Alamos 3, Roswell 2

The Hilltoppers picked up a come-from-behind victory over Roswell’s Coyotes Friday morning to advance to Friday night’s semifinal with St. Pius.
Los Alamos dropped sets one and three Friday morning to put itself in a 2-1 hole, but started using the wide-open attacking scheme that had worked so well for it all season to earn the comeback victory. Los Alamos took the decision 22-25, 25-17, 21-25, 25-13, 15-10.
The Hilltoppers seemed thrown off early by the Coyotes’ frenetic type of offense — in several instances during the match the Coyotes resorted to the “jungleball” style of play, which Los Alamos got sucked into playing more than once — and struggled to find a good rhythm of their own.
However, once the Hilltoppers started to move their block toward the Coyotes’ big-swinging middle blocker Shanice Steenholdt, they were able to slow down her production and make some effective counterattacks.
Alicia Rendon said the team had to sweat through the whole contest, particularly after Roswell jumped out to the lead.
“It was so back-and-forth, I was hoping we could do it, but I didn’t know how it was going to get done,” Rendon said. “But we were so pumped for it, we knew we could do it.”
Friday morning’s match was the second time this season the two teams had met, with the Hilltoppers winning their initial meeting 3-0 in the finale of the Zia Classic Invitational in Roswell Sept 15.
But with Steenholdt crushing four spike kills in the first game, along with her counterpart on the outside, Desiree Allen, Roswell didn’t seem to be taking much stock in that regular season victory — Allen missed the first contest with an ACL injury.
The timely hitting of the Hilltoppers front line, however, and the shifting Hilltopper block proved to be the difference.
Rendon got going from the outside, picking up five of her match-high 17 spike kills in the second set, while Ealey came back with four spike kills in that same set.
Little recorded nine of her 16 spike kills in sets four and five as Los Alamos, which dominated the final two frames. Los Alamos took the lead at 3-2 in set four and wouldn’t trail again in the match.
For the Coyotes, Steenholdt finished with 11 spike kills.
Deja Riddle, younger sister of Roswell’s former superstar outside hitter Chantelle Riddle, had a match-high six block kills.