Gutierrez’s North-South selection highlights VHS honors
As the recent volleyball season drew to a close, Valencia coach Karen Vanessa Chavez reflected on the improvement seen in the two years she has been at the helm.
Valencia got its first district tournament championship, beating Los Lunas on the Lady Tigers’ home court. The Jags advanced to the state tournament for the first time in their five-year history, losing in the quarter finals to eventual Class 4A state champion St. Pius.
The Jags posted their best regular season ever, going 17-4 after finishing 15-7 in 2011-12.
Chavez credits the closeness of the team, especially the six seniors, for the team playing so well this past year.
“In any team sport, you can not recognize every single person for every achievement,” Chavez said of the intensity that Valencia brought to the court against St. Pius. “I saw a whole other level of play at the state level.”
Valencia had two of those seniors recognized on the 6-4A All-District first team. Aizlinn Gutierrez and Alexis Montaño, along with junior Brenda Baeza, made the list as voted by district coaches.
The State Farm All-Metro awards and the all-state teams had not been announced as of News-Bulletin press time.
“Our girls were really encouraged to work on our teamwork and not individual achievement,” said Chavez. “It is a huge team win for any of our girls to get recognized. People didn’t even know where Valencia High School was a few years ago.”
Gutierrez was an offensive leader for the Jags last season. Her exceptional play, particularly at the net, earned her a place on the South team in the prestigious 4A/5A All-star volleyball match, to be played next July.
“She was our ‘put it away’ player,” said Chavez of Gutierrez. “She did play club volleyball last season and that helped advanced her to a higher level.”
Chavez appreciated Gutierrez’s efforts during the off-season.
“She was the one who really pushed for our team to compete in the New Mexico Games last June,” said Chavez, noting that Valencia was the only team in the district to compete.
Montaño was more the on-court quarterback, and led the Jaguars in assist percentage.
“She was incredibly fast on defense, and had several solo blocks and kills,” said Chavez.
Chavez noted that the team could not have succeeded without the play of all of the seniors. Caroline Lucero, Julia Herrera, Aires Marquez and Tori Torres all played vital roles in the team’s success during the recently concluded campaign.
“Caroline really improved on defense and gave a lot of hustle,” said Chavez. “She was a huge backbone for our team. Anyone who was around our team knows what kind of leadership she provided.”
Chavez explained that Herrera added a dimension on offense that most teams do not have.
“She had one of the highest percentages of blocks,” said the Valencia coach. “She completed our arsenal, because we could definitely attack from the right side. That was really nice when she would put it away for us.”
Torres and Marquez provided energy and consistent play, especially in the serve part of the attack.
“Aries (Marquez) was our spark plug,” said Chavez. “She is known for her signature jump serve.”
Chavez was pleased with Torres’ improvement after sitting out from volleyball for a couple of seasons.
“She had a significant improvement,” said Chavez. “I would say that she was our most improved player. She came back and really dedicated herself. Every single play she really tried her best.”
Chavez pointed to a very key moment for the seniors.
“These girls were so emotional after our district championship,” said Chavez. “They had been waiting six years, since the seventh grade, to beat Los Lunas and win a district championship. It was the most challenging season in my 19 years of coaching. And yet, it was the most rewarding, too.”
The remarkable season, the district win and the state tournament appearance, are considered by Chavez a gift that the coach and the girls shared.
“This was the best Christmas gift that the girls could have given me,” said the Jags’ mentor of the team’s dedicated effort. “Even the younger girls pushed hard for it, because they knew that I wanted it (for them).”
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