Volleyball: ´Toppers come back to win 2-4A opener, 3-2

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By Mike Cote

Los Alamos volleyball head coach Garry Maskaly has said for a couple of years that the Bernalillo Spartan program was showing signs of improvement.
Wednesday in their District 2AAAA opener, the Hilltoppers got a first-hand look at Bernalillo’s building program.
Despite struggling to generate a big attack upfront, the Spartans played very good defense at Griffith Gymnasium and dinked and dunked their way to taking sets one and three.
With its back to the wall, Los Alamos put together its two best sets of Wednesday’s match to take the contest 3-2.
“That was a relief,” said Maskaly following his team’s district-opening victory. “We’ll see what happens. Teams have good nights and teams have bad nights, but (the Spartans) are solid.”
Los Alamos needed every bit of a career night from outside hitter Sabrina Little in the contest.
Little, a senior and Los Alamos’ main offensive weapon, finished with 29 spike kills in the contest. While no known official stat book exists, Little may well have been flirting with a one-match school record with her performance.
Little earned 14 of her successful spike kills in sets two and three and five during the decisive fifth set, which was dominated by Los Alamos.
Los Alamos held on against Bernalillo to win 22-25, 25-10, 25-21, 25-15, 15-1. Bernalillo, which came back from deficits in both sets it won, simply ran out of gas in the final set and a half.
To spring Little, Los Alamos used a lot of crosses in the front line and fed Oksana Tretiak and Chase Ealey in the middle enough to keep the Bernalillo defense guessing where the ball might go.
Little said that while that kept Bernalillo’s block off her for a good portion of the night — even after a big early hitting performance, the Spartan front line never rotated consistently enough to get much of a block on her — she said the longevity of the match helped her stat line as much as anything.
“I think going to five (sets) I had a lot more opportunities,” she said. “I was able to hit. We were running a lot of plays…it helps when there’s not a big block on me. It helps me hit a lot harder and place it a lot better.”
Little crushed a ball from the right side early in the second set to give the Hilltoppers control after a lackluster first set. Her spike, placed right between a pair of Spartans on the back line, put her team up 8-4 and prompted a Bernalillo time out.
Even with Los Alamos putting together its most balanced offensive set of the night, that momentum didn’t carry into the third set, which with the two teams playing nip-and-tuck throughout.
Bernalillo cracked the third set open late, with Brenda Montaño serving. A pair of big blocks by Chelsea Darnell — including one of the few good blocks the Spartans got on Little in the match — helped Bernalillo move out from an 18-18 tie to a 24-18 advantage.
The win in the third set by the Spartans appeared to send the Hilltoppers reeling, but they regrouped by the midway point of the fourth set and never looked back.
Wednesday was also a big night for Hilltopper sophomore setter Savanah Romero. Romero not only handed out most of the assists on Little’s attacking game, she was also the team’s lone effective server Wednesday.
One of the things that had carried the Hilltoppers during their current impressive win streak was the fact they could string together points during their side-out opportunities, but Los Alamos didn’t score a single point on side-outs until Romero served at 7-11 in the first set.
Romero finished with 24 points off her serves Wednesday, more than the rest of her team combined through the first three sets. She served 10 straight winners during the final set to give the Hilltoppers an 11-1 lead and effectively close out the match.
Despite earning a victory the hard way, Los Alamos (8-5 overall, 1-0 in 2AAAA) kept its winning streak of seven straight matches alive. Its 14-set win streak, however, was snapped by the Spartans.
“I felt like we didn’t underestimate them, but we didn’t know they’d improved that much,” Little said. “We weren’t playing as well as we should’ve.”
Leading the near-upset for the Spartans (3-6 overall, 0-1 in 2AAAA) were Scarlett Reano, a libero who picked up several big digs on the contest, and Cedar-Rain Yellowmule, who provided much of the team’s offense from her outside hitter spot.
Following the contest, Maskaly said his team wasn’t mentally on its game and very nearly paid a big price.
“There are some wins you don’t feel good about and some losses you’re OK with,” he said. “We talked about that in the locker room. This wasn’t a good win for us…we had a lot of breakdowns in discipline.”
Also for Los Alamos Wednesday, Ealey finished with 11 spike kills and five block kills and Alicia Rendon had five spike kills.