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Volleyball comes up short at state tournament

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By Phil Scherer

When the Los Alamos High School volleyball team looks back on its performance in the 2018 state championship tournament, it will see plenty of missed opportunities. 

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After rolling through district play to earn the No. 5 seed in the Class 4A tournament, the Hilltoppers struggled to close out opponents. In every set played last week, LAHS had a lead, yet went home empty handed in the Round of 12 as the last five points of every set proved to be hard to come by. 

In pool play, which took place Thursday, LAHS was matched up against No. 4 seed Goddard and No. 9 seed Los Lunas. Both teams had plenty of talent, and were tough to score on. After the two teams split their match, the Hilltoppers took on Los Lunas hoping to gain the edge in the pool. 

For most of the first set, LAHS looked like the stronger team thanks to the attacking skills of Natalie Gallegos, Sophia Salazar and Elodie Thelliez. The Hilltoppers took a big lead in the set, and led 21-17 late. That’s when the Tigers made an impressive comeback, and the Hilltoppers had trouble responding. 

After shooting balls long repeatedly, Los Lunas took the first set 26-24, putting the Hilltoppers in a hole. LAHS responded at the beginning of the second set, once again jumping out to a big lead. Despite Los Lunas’ attempts to make another comeback, the attempt fell short as the Hilltoppers earned the split with the Tigers with a 25-20. 

Heading into the match against Goddard, the Hilltoppers needed to earn at least a split to take the top spot in the pool. That was easier said than done, though.

As was the case in the match against Los Lunas, the Hilltoppers jumped out to the early lead and held it until the final stages of the match. 

After reaching 20 points, the Hilltoppers had trouble closing out the set. Goddard was able to get the score evened, and closed it out at the end for the 25-23 win. 

The second set against Goddard was the same story, as the Hilltoppers had an opportunity to close it out late. The killer instinct that existed within the Hilltoppers throughout district play was missing, though. Goddard got back into the match, and didn’t let off the gas with a chance to win the set. Goddard won the second set 25-23, giving LAHS the No. 3 seed in the pool.

Following pool play, the bracket was reorganized based on the results. It did not work in LAHS’ favor. 

The Hilltoppers were matched up against Hope Christian, which entered the tournament as the No. 2 overall seed due to its 18-3 record. 

Though the odds were stacked against LAHS, the Hilltoppers came out strong when the match began. The Hilltoppers picked up the first five points of the first set and jumped out to a big lead, much like in pool play. 

And just like in pool play, the Hilltoppers surrendered that lead at the end of the match. Despite a 21-17 lead late, LAHS took the foot off the gas and Hope Christian took advantage. 

The Huskies went on a scoring run and LAHS had no answer as Hope won the set 25-22. 

It appeared like everything would unravel for the Hilltoppers, as Hope took an 11-3 lead in the second set. LAHS responded, though, and evened the score at 17-17. This time, LAHS was able to close out the set with a 25-21 win to even the match 1-1. 

The third set was close, throughout, and the Hilltoppers had opportunities to close it out, but Hope proved to be too strong. The Huskies took the third set 26-24 to take a 2-1 lead in the match. 

Once again, LAHS responded in a must-win situation. In the least stressful set of the day for the Hilltoppers, the team own the set 25-20, setting up a winner-take-all fifth set. 

In the final set of the match, LAHS came out strong and appeared close to winning multiple times. 

The Hilltoppers held a 13-8 lead and were only two points from advancing. Hope had other ideas, though. The Huskies stormed back and tied the score, and ultimately won 17-15 to advance to the quarterfinals, eliminating LAHS. 

The Hilltoppers end the season with a 13-9 record, and finish as the District 2-4A champions despite starting the season 3-7.