Volleyball: Tigers defend home court vs. Jags, Eagles

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Despite all the action this week in the Tiger Activity Center, not much changed in the District 6-4A high school volleyball standings.

The Los Lunas Lady Tigers defended their home court with a 3-1 victory over Valencia on Tuesday and a 3-0 sweep of Belen on Thursday.

Jason W. Brooks-News-Bulletin photo: Belen’s Lorena Chavira, foreground, sets a ball as Katie Inman, of Los Lunas, keeps her blocking hands in the way in Thursday’s match. Los Lunas beat both Valencia and Belen this week in District 6-4A matches at LLHS.

The wins were the 12th and 13th consecutive victories for the Tigers, made LLHS 14-1 overall and 6-0 in District 6-4A. Los Lunas, which is 26-0 in 6-4A regular-season matches since joining the district, is set to play at Grants on Tuesday.

“This was a highly emotional week against fun, tough rivals,” said LLHS coach Leah Newton. “There’s a lot of pressure at the end of a close match, but I’m proud of our girls keeping their poise, and still being aggressive.”

Los Lunas has beaten Valencia in eight of their nine meetings, with the Jags winning a 3-2 thriller in the championship of the 2011 Belen Invite.

Valencia (13-3, 5-1) needed five games Thursday to earn a 3-2 home win over Gallup. Belen (5-11, 1-5) lost 3-1 at home on Tuesday.

Tuesday, Valencia heads to Miyamura and Belen goes to Gallup.

On Thursday, Oct. 25, all three teams are at home. Belen hosts Miyamura, while Los Lunas faces Gallup and Valencia entertains Grants.

Tuesday’s Los Lunas-Valencia match was a Dig Pink fundraiser, designed partly to promote breast cancer awareness. After next week’s matches, Belen hosts Valencia on Tuesday, Oct. 30, which will be the Dig Pink fundraiser night for the Eagles.

Los Lunas 3, Valencia 1

In front of possibly the county’s biggest crowd to see a volleyball match so far this year, the host Tigers overcame Valencia’s 25-19 game-one win Tuesday to take the rest by 25-17, 25-21 and 25-22 scores at Los Lunas High.

“These girls have known each other since elementary school,” said VHS coach Karen Vanessa Chavez. “We need to improve our second attack. But I thought for our tallest girl being (5-feet, 8-inches), we did pretty well.”

Tuesday’s intense match between school-district rivals began with strong defense by both teams in game one. Solid blocking and floor coverage helped the Jaguars eventually creep ahead 18-12, and 23-19 was the closest Los Lunas would get after that.

In game two, the Tigers took more control of the net, and the serving of Kelsey Bell and others helped Los Lunas stake out a 20-13 lead. Valencia cut it to 21-17 before the Tigers hot the final four points of the game.

The Tigers surged ahead similarly in game four, and led 20-13 again, but VHS rallied once again. The Jags pulled to within 24-21, capped by an Aizlinn Gutierrez kill, and after Newton called a timeout, Valencia’s next serve went into the net to end the game.

The final game was a fierce battle with neither team leading by more than four points. Los Lunas led 23-21 when the Tigers let a ball drop at the net, making it 23-22, and Newton again called a timeout.

Natalie Baca ended the next rally with a kill, and a bad dig by the Jaguars on the match-point serve ended their chances of forcing a fifth game.

“Our plan was to come out strong,” said Chavez. “This was a place where we wanted to show our best game, but it’s tough; those boys (in the LLHS student section) were calling them by their first names. We need to show extra mental toughness for that.”

Newton said it seemed like her team played more calm after the game-one loss.

“We just relaxed, and went out and played,” said Newton. “And worried about what was going on, on our side of the net. We communicated well, and identified the hitters.”

Los Lunas 3, Belen 0

Thursday at LLHS, the Tigers roared to huge early leads in the first two games, but had to outlast the Eagles in a marathon game-three comeback, winning, 25-11, 25-13, 31-29.

Los Lunas won the first game going away, and the second one after leading by as many as 13 points, but Belen’s defense and passing seemed to come alive in game three.

Belen forged a 16-8 lead in game three, but couldn’t hang on. The Tigers crept back into it, and were even down 24-21 at one point. The Eagles had several match points where they could have put the game away.

The match finally ended on kills by Mykayla Moody and Teige Zeller that gave Los Lunas the 31-29 win.

“I think we relaxed a little too much in the third game,” said Newton. “The enthusiasm and the energy went down. But I’m proud of how the girls came through.”

Belen coach Barabara Rodriguez looked exasperated after her team had lost its fourth close final game in nine days.

“We have got to finish,” said Rodriguez. “We all have to do it as a team.”

Belen’s Victoria Spragg had a number of powerful kills in the match, as did Moody and Katie Inman of Los Lunas.

Rodriguez is still without hitter Keiana Sanchez-Chavez, who is academically ineligible. She hopes to have the senior eligible for the District 6-4A tournament.

Valencia 3, Gallup 2

In Thursday night’s District 6-4A volleyball match at Valencia High, it almost seemed as if only one team allowed itself to show up for each of the five games. Valencia won 25-12, 25-13, 25-27, 20-25 and 15-7.

Chavez said the Jaguars had a chance to close out the Bengals (4-11, 2-4), and the Jaguars were serving for the match in the third game, but ended up losing it. The Bengals then took games three and four.

Valencia got to more of the loose balls in game five.

—Jason W. Brooks

Grants 3, Belen 1

Belen won the first game handily, 25-16, and it looked like it would be an easy night for the Eagle faithful. However, the Eagles lost the next three games by 26-24, 25-18 and 26-24 scores.

But Belen came out inexplicably flat in the second contest, getting an occasional block or kill at the net, but could not put together any consistent attacks.

Grants led 22-19 when a net error pulled Belen within two points. The Eagles tied the game at 23-all on a four-hit violation on Grants, and Victoria Spragg’s kill made it set point at 24-23. Grants scored three straight points to make it 26-24.

Grants gained momentum from the second-game win and dominated 25-18 to take a 2-1 set lead.

Belen seemed to get some urgency in the fourth set, going up 13-10 on a block at the net. Grants came back to tie the game 19-19.

Alex Silva served four straight points to put Belen within a point of forcing a game five, but then things fell apart.

Belen lost a return in the net to turn the serve over to Grants. The Pirates tied the set when Spragg’s kill attempt sailed just beyond the end line.

Grants scored two straight to take a second 26-24 and take the match.

—Mike Stearns


-- Email the author at jbrooks@news-bulletin.com.