Volleyball: LA earns sweep, control of 2-4A

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By Mike Cote

With the District 2AAAA lead on the line Wednesday, the Los Alamos Hilltopper volleyball team turned in what may have been its most complete performance of the season.

The Hilltoappers rolled through the first two games of Wednesday’s contest against the Capital Jaguars, then came back from an early deficit in game three to pick up a big district sweep.

Los Alamos had a big showing at the net while its defense handled the Capital offense well in a 25-13, 25-19, 25-20 win at Griffith Gymnasium.

With Wednesday’s victory, the Hilltoppers now have sole possession of first place in the district.

“It was pretty good,” Hilltopper outside hitter Alex Nichols said. “We knew they were the hardest team in district. We wanted to win this one bad and we did.”

They have four regular season games remaining, including a rematch at Capital in the regular season finale Nov. 1.

As an added perk, Los Alamos picked up a clean sweep of Capital. Should both teams win out in between now and the season finale — a likely scenario given that other district squads have struggled against both the Hilltoppers and Jaguars — Los Alamos would need to take just one game from Capital to clinch the district title and a trip to the state Class AAAA playoffs.

Hilltopper head coach Diana Stokes saw early in Wednesday’s match that her team came ready to play. In most of its contests this season, Los Alamos has been slow coming off the blocks, but in game one Wednesday Los Alamos got out to a quick 8-4 lead and never looked back.

The Hilltoppers kept that edge at 11-7 before Molly Willms, who had a match-sealing run Oct. 1 against Taos, reeled off eight straight service points. Following Willms’ run, which included two big spike kills by Nichols and another by outside hitter Sabrina Little, Los Alamos cruised to the finish.

Game one was only the beginning of a monster night for Nichols, who caught fire in the second game, posting seven of her match-high 15 spike kills.

Nichols was the highlight reel star of a dominating net performance by the taller Hilltoppers.

“All our hitters were doing pretty well,” Stokes said. “With (setter) Jessica (Stokes) in the back row, we had to get the ball to our hot hitters. She played it smart and went to the hitters who were hitting well. Alex hit well, Taylor (Ealey) hit well and Sabrina (Little) hit pretty well.”

The Jaguars (9-6 overall, 3-1 in 2AAAA) have just one player on the roster — sophomore Sarah Romero — listed over 5-foot-8. While the Jaguars’ defense was digging pretty well throughout the match, Los Alamos had plenty of big swings and consistently found the holes on the Jaguars’ side of the floor.

“We’ve been working on placing our hits in practice,” Nichols said. “We came to play (Wednesday). We knew where the hits had to go.”

Ealey finished with seven spike kills from the middle, while Little added six more from the outside.

Capital made a run at Los Alamos at the tail-end of game two in an attempt to capture some momentum. Los Alamos led 21-15 late in the second game, but a spike kill after an extended rally from Capital’s Vandora Montoya gave her team a much-needed side-out.

An ace by Paolo Franco and a spike kill by Karla Gallegos put the Jaguars within two points, but a crushing spike by Nichols ended the Jaguar threat.

Spurred by the late game two rally, Capital jumped out to a 9-3 lead in the third game. Romero had a pair of block kills to help keep the momentum going in her team’s favor.

Slowly, Los Alamos would trim into that lead, however. Ealey would get a short set from Stokes to tie the game at 12, then Los Alamos would take its first lead of the game on the next point.

Capital didn’t go away throughout the final game, rallying from a 20-16 deficit to tie the game at 20.

But a spike attempt by Regina Ritchie on the next point went into the net and Los Alamos won the next four points to take the match.

“I had confidence,” coach Stokes said. “If they got past us and got to 21-20, I would’ve called a time out to calm them down. But they decided to play their game and not let the score get to them.”

Through the first four matches of the 2AAAA season, Los Alamos (9-7 overall, 4-0 in district) has lost just one game, that coming in the first game against Española Valley Saturday.