Third-seeded Toppers may see Sartans again this year

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Volleyball: St. Pius has knocked LA out 3 straight seasons

By Mike Cote

The recent history of the Los Alamos Hilltopper volleyball team in the postseason can be summed up in two words: Saint Pius.
In 2011, the Hilltoppers are hoping to avoid a repeat of history, but another playoff run-in with the St. Pius X Sartans could well be in the team’s immediate future.
The Class 4A state tournament starts at 8 a.m. Thursday at the Star Center in Rio Rancho. Los Alamos, the No. 3 overall seed, will take on sixth-seeded Moriarty and 11th-seeded Gallup in Thursday’s pool play round
Depending on the outcome of Pool C, Los Alamos could play again Thursday afternoon or may not play until Friday morning. Or not at all. The top two teams in pool play advance to the direct elimination bracket, while the bottom team coming out of each pool will be finished.
Los Alamos will take on Gallup first thing Thursday morning. Gallup will then play Moriarty before Los Alamos and Moriarty face off — the biggest perk a top pool seed gets is a break in between its two matches.
The key, Hilltopper head coach Garry Maskaly said, is to get started on the right foot.
“You have two normal games, but you can’t hope to drop one game and get those points back,” he said.
The Hilltoppers and Gallup’s Bengals didn’t face off in the regular season, although the Hilltoppers (18-3) did considerably better against the teams’ few common opponents. The Hilltoppers and Moriarty’s Pintos, however, are familiar with one another.
The two teams met Sept. 16 in Moriarty. Los Alamos escaped that contest with a 3-2 victory, with each of those sets being tight.
Going in as one of the top-ranked teams, as it has done for each of the past four seasons, doesn’t provide the Hilltoppers with much comfort, said Los Alamos senior middle blocker Chase Ealey.
“It’s nerve-wracking, especially being in the top three,” said Ealey, who was named Most Valuable Player of District 2-4A for 2011. “They’re all out there to beat you, like you’re out to beat Nos. 1 and 2.”
And this year, sitting at No. 2, are the St. Pius Sartans.
The Sartans (18-2) have knocked out the Hilltoppers in each of the past three seasons at the state tournament.
In 2010, the two teams met in the semifinals.
Los Alamos had chances to take both of the first two sets off St. Pius, but St. Pius won both, 26-24 and 27-25. St. Pius won the third set relatively convincingly, 25-16.
The top overall seed in the tournament is Artesia (18-3), the defending Class 4A champion.
St. Pius has been one of the biggest and hardest-hitting teams in the state for the past several seasons, but doesn’t have a state title to show for it.
It has advanced to the state title match each of the past three seasons, but fell to Moriarty in 2008, Goddard in 2009 and Artesia’s Bulldogs last year.
Los Alamos has made several personnel and rotation changes throughout the regular season, but still managed to put together an 11-match win streak heading into the playoffs.