Toppers rally to beat Sandia Prep

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By Mike Cote

One set of Sundevils down. One set of Sundevils to go.
Coming back after struggling in a District 2-4A road contest Saturday, the Los Alamos Hilltopper volleyball team couldn’t seem to find its rhythm until the very end of its contest against Class 3A Sandia Prep.
That rhythm, however, carried the Hilltoppers to a 3-1 win over the Sundevils Tuesday night at Griffith Gymnasium.
Los Alamos trailed 15-10 in the fourth set of its home contest with Sandia Prep holding serve and was down 16-13, but reeled off 12 straight points to win, 11 of them with veteran Erin Kirk at the service line.
Samantha Fenner and Brianna Montaño had block kills during Kirk’s run at the service line to help secure a 25-18, 20-25, 25-22, 25-16 victory.
“I just trust in what I’ve been trained and just not think about it,” said Kirk of her string of 11 straight points, which came just moments after the Sundevils had taken a five-point lead and seemed to have the momentum on their side. “Just get a consistent serve and a consistent toss every point.”
The big showing at the service line came on the heels of two subpar serve performances in consecutive losses to Albuquerque Academy and Santa Fe, the latter knocking Los Alamos out of the top spot in the District 2-4A race.
Los Alamos will have a chance to regain a share of the district lead tonight, but it will have to get through the Española Valley Sundevils.
Match time is schedule for 6:30 p.m.
Española Valley is currently on top of the district standings with a record of 2-0, having beaten both Santa Fe and Capital so far. The Sundevils (8-5 overall) are also the last team other than the Hilltoppers to win the district championship.
Los Alamos head coach Garry Maskaly said Española Valley’s Sundevils use their middle hitters effectively, something that the Hilltoppers have seen in their past three outings.
Tuesday, Sandia Prep middle blocker Dixie Cooper got off to a fast start, picking up seven spike kills in the first two sets. Cooper would get just three more in the final two sets, however, as the Los Alamos defense used its block against Cooper more effectively to slow her down.
But the Hilltoppers, who got away from their signature service game, was only successful with it in spots prior to Kirk’s long run at the end.
“It really goes back to serving,” said Maskaly. “We have to trust our serves the way we work on them in practice. Both against Academy and Santa Fe, we backed off. We were not as consistent.”
Kirk was asked to take height off her pre-serve toss in practice this week. For others, it was simply a matter of making sure the mechanics were there.
Offensively, Kirk led all hitters with 13 spike kills from the outside.
Fenner had nine spike kills and three block kills, coming up with two block kills and two tip kills in the final set.
Sandia Prep (4-9) couldn’t get any traction during the early part of its season but had seemed to bounce back as of late. Tuesday, it led at least at one point in all four sets.
The Hilltoppers improved to 7-6 on the season and are hoping Tuesday’s win will help carry them into tonight’s contest against a Sundevil squad that will most likely be primed and ready.
“We have to play our game,” Kirk said. “We’re really good at that. We have to trust our training and we have to have confidence. That’s our biggest weapon.”