VHS beats Tigers; both head to state

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There will be no more amazing, unpredictable, head-scratching moments in this District 6-4A volleyball tournament this season.

That’s only because the tournament is over.

On the heels of their historic 3-0 win over host Los Lunas in Saturday’s 6-4A championship match, the Valencia Lady Jaguars head into the Class 4A state tournament with as much momentum as they’ve ever had. Los Lunas, on the other hand, hopes to regroup from what was only its second loss of the season, and make a deep state-tourney run.

Jason W. Brooks-News-Bulletin photo: Valencia senior Aizlinn Gutierrez, center, taps the ball over Katie Inman, left, and Kelsy Bell of Los Lunas in Saturday’s District 6-4A championship match. The Jaguars won to claim the tourney title, and both teams are slated to to compete in the Class 4A state tournament in Rio Rancho, beginning Thursday.

The state tourney runs Thursday through Saturday, and all competition will be at the Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho. Pool play begins at 10:30 a.m. Thursday.

Valencia’s win in the 6-4A title match was easily the biggest in its four-year history. The Jags accomplished a number of firsts with their win over the Tigers.

It was the first time the Jags had beaten the Tigers in a district match of any kind. It also clinched their first postseason berth in volleyball (though the 19-4 Jags would likely have received an at-large berth anyway), their first win at LLHS, and it was the first time a VHS girls squad had secured a district title of any type in a team sport.

“We wanted this really bad — for our school,” said VHS senior setter Aries Marquez. “We did this together. We’re amazed at how far we’ve come, and the fact we are seniors gives us the fire to keep pushing.”

The Jags certainly kept pushing on Saturday, taking advantage of Tiger mistakes, and looking confident throughout the 27-25, 25-13, 25-23 victory.

Neither team served particularly well, although Los Lunas (19-2) struggled more in that area. The first game was close throughout, though Valencia led 20-15 at one point before the Tigers surged.

The first game ended on a Tiger serve into the net, followed by ace by Valencia freshman Peyton Linthicum.

Game two was all Jaguars, who won going away. The Jags’ passing game was clicking, and the Tigers were caught out of position several times. Over one stretch, Los Lunas misfired on four consecutive serves.

The Tigers started out well in game three, especially in blocking, and led 11-3. But the momentum started to swing toward the visitors, as they made a 13-5 run. They even led 24-20 before Los Lunas grabbed a couple of points to make it closer.

Up 24-23, the Jags received serve, and Aizlinn Gutierrez’s hit was blocked out of bounds, and the Jags and their large number of fans started celebrating.

Some of the Los Lunas players were tearful, while others looked stunned.

“Our whole concept is ‘believe today,’” said Valencia’s second-year coach, Karen Chavez. “I’d like to thank all of the seniors, all the girls, the parents, and the rowdies that help boost up the energy.”

The Tigers played the match without two of their best servers, seniors Isabella Olguin and Melissa Gamez. The two were in uniform an on the bench, but LLHS coach Leah Newton said “both were suspended one match for violating team rules.”

Not only did Newton not blame the loss on the suspensions, but she also wants to use it as a learning experience. The Tigers are making their third consecutive state tourney appearance.

“We will take this loss and be a better team from it,” said Newton, also in her second year at the helm. “It is a team game, and we didn’t perform to the best of our abilities as a team. We had too many unforced errors. Valencia played well and limited their mistakes.”

Both the Jaguars and Tigers are the “middle” seed in their pools for the state tourney. Valencia is the No. 10 seed, in Pool B alongside No. 2 Albuquerque Academy and No. 10 Roswell High, and No. 6 Los Lunas is in Pool C with No. 3 Goddard and No. 11 Farmington High.

“We played Goddard this past off-season, and they are a solid all-around team that serves tough, and is defensively sound,” said Newton. “Farmington is a good-serving team, and their offense is focused on getting hitter Sarah Long the ball.”

Valencia’s toughest task in pool play will be dealing with battle-tested Academy. The Lady Chargers split four matches with perennial state finalist St. Pius in recent weeks.

The top teams in each pool get byes to the quarterfinals, which are set for 9:45 a.m. on Friday. The No. 2 and No. 3 finishers in each pool must play in first-round matches at 5:15 p.m. on Thursday.

The semifinals will be at about 4:45 p.m. on Friday. The championship match is set for 3 p.m. on Saturday.

“It will come down to the teams that play tough, confident, and with heart,” said Newton. “Every point and play matters.”


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