Volleyball: ´Toppers pick up big shutout win over Sundevils

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By Mike Cote

Lots of streaks stayed intact Wednesday night for the Los Alamos Hilltopper volleyball team.
Los Alamos, one of the hottest teams in the state right now, picked up not only its ninth straight win at Griffith Gymnasium Wednesday, it also kept its District 2AAAA record a spotless 3-0 with just the struggling Capital Jaguars to contend with to make it a clean sweep of the first half of district play.
And, not only did the Hilltoppers win their eighth straight set – they have won 22 of their last 24 – they also continued their dominance over the Española Valley Sundevils.
With the Sundevils needing an upset over Los Alamos to keep a realistic hope of reclaiming the District 2AAAA regular season title alive, the Hilltoppers came back from a big late hole in a contentious second set to sweep Wednesday’s match 25-17, 29-27, 25-11.
Hilltopper outside hitter Alicia Rendon, who came up with a couple of big plays during that second set, in which Los Alamos trailed 22-15 at one point, said one of the things her team has learned during its current hot streak is how to pull things back together.
“We were kind of struggling in one rotation, but once we’re able to get over it, we can adapt and we come back,” she said. “Whenever we struggle, we come together, we regroup and find out what’s going to fix those things.”
In set two, Los Alamos fell behind early. Although it tied the score several times in the set, it didn’t manage to take the lead until 25-24.
Prior to that, the Sundevils (9-5 overall, 1-1 in 2AAAA) put together a solid rally with middle blocker Madlyn Romero serving, upping a 13-12 advantage to 17-12. Several points later, Romero slammed one of her best attacks of the match to the floor to give the Sundevils a commanding 22-15 lead.
Romero, Española Valley’s top hitter, had six spike kills in the second set, but her teammates started struggling late with their service-receive game. With Los Alamos’ Danielle Ortiz serving, Española Valley committed four straight unforced errors, putting Los Alamos back within striking distance.
This season, the Hilltoppers are looking for their third straight 2AAAA crown, a title most recently held by the Sundevils, who are just four years removed from a Class AAAA runner-up finish.
Los Alamos head coach Garry Maskaly, who held the head coaching job at Española Valley immediately before taking the Hilltoppers’ top job in 2009, said his team isn’t going to be able to take any sets off during 2AAAA play.
“The district competition is stronger this year than last year,” he said. “(Saturday) Santa Fe had solid swings, Española was running some crosses to get Madlyn open...that will help us going forward.”
In 2009, Los Alamos ran the district table, losing just one set in nine 2AAAA contests. Los Alamos lost two in its district opener to Bernalillo and had to fight tooth-and-nail in Wednesday’s second set.
With the teams going into extra points in the second set, both had chances to close it out, but neither could capitalize until another unforced error by Española Valley gave Los Alamos the necessary 2-point margin to win, giving it a 2-0 match lead.
Following the second set loss, the wind seemed to go right out of Española Valley’s sails and it put up only a sporadic fight in the third set, which was dominated by the Hilltoppers.
Rendon finished with three block kills in the match, second on her behind only Chase Ealey’s four, she said she wasn’t feeling all that great about her game during the first part of the match.
“I thought that I was really struggling with my hitting game,” she said. “I knew I had to step up and get a kill. The first game I was not really on, but in the second and third games I felt a lot more comfortable.”
Los Alamos (10-5 overall) has won each of its last four contests over Española Valley, all of them by way of sweeps.
Ealey and Oksana Tretiak both had six spike kills to lead Los Alamos’ offense Wednesday, while Rendon and Sabrina Little each had four.
For the Sundevils, Romero paced all hitters with 12 spike kills.