Jags’ streak stricken by tenacious Eagles

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In a must-win game last Thursday at Belen High, the Eagles volleyball team came up with an inspired performance against Valencia, defeating the Jaguars in an epic five-set match to snap VHS’ nine-game winning streak.

Coming off a 3-0 league win over Gallup Miyamura on Tuesday, Oct. 8, the Eagles rode a dominant performance by UNM-bound senior outside hitter Victoria Spragg.

Kenn Rodriguez News-Bulletin photo: BELEN JUNIOR CHARLENE MIER, right, attempts to block a ball tapped over the net by Valencia’s Dani Rae Martinez, left, during the Eagles four-set win over the Jaguars Thursday night in Belen. The loss was the first in league play for Valencia.

Spragg registered 33 kills, 27 digs and six blocks in the match as Belen took the first two sets then lost two highly-competitive sets to the Jags before taking the final set for a 25-21, 25-14, 23-25, 23-25, 15-12 win. The Eagles moved to 7-6 and 2-2 in District 64-A, while Valencia fell to 9-4 and 2-1.

“I think we were extra-motivated this week,” Spragg said after the match. “Valencia’s a big rival to us and we wanted to show them we’re a force to be reckoned with. Our service was really good in the first two sets and that’s what really got us going, that and we had great ball control.”

Belen wasted no time in the first two sets, taking early leads behind the hitting of Spragg and junior Tori Morgan. The Jags fought back in set one as senior Brenda Baeza registered four kills in a 6-1 run that narrowed the gap before the Eagles closed out the set. Belen dominated set two, again riding on Spragg’s hot hand.

Valencia showed more spirit in sets three and four, keeping set three close throughout before edging the Eagles in the final three points to take the set. Set four was more of the same, with sophomore Peyton Linthicum coming through to score two of the final three point as Valencia forced the decisive fifth set.

But Spragg, set up efficiently by juniors Kaylyn Gomez and Adrian Baldonado, carried the Eagles through set five. The Jaguars fell behind early in the set but fought back to take an 11-10 lead, but were out-scored 5-1 down the stretch as Spragg registered three kills to take the set and the match.

“If you can’t stop Victoria, you can’t do anything else. That was the match,” said VHS coach Connie Campos. “First and second sets, we were out of sync, but we fought back. We just couldn’t keep Victoria off the net.”

Gomez finished the match with 33 assists and 16 digs while Baldonado tallied 14 assists for Belen. Senior Maria Montoya led the Eagles with 32 digs.

Kenn Rodriguez-News-Bulletin photo: BELEN SENIOR OUTSIDE HITTER Victoria Spragg, left, sends a shot past Valencia High’s Peyton Linthicum, center, and Dani Rae Martinez, right, during the Eagles’ exciting five-set win Thursday night at Belen High School.

“It was just a battle of wills and it became more psychological than anything,” said Belen coach Dominick Romero. “I was proud of the girls’ mental toughness to close it out.”

Valencia (9-3, 3-1 as of Monday) entered the match with Belen tied for the league lead after a 25-16, 25-14, 12-25, 15-14 win at Grants on Tuesday, Oct. 8, and had not lost a match since falling in three games to Roswell High in the gold bracket of the Moriarty Tournament on Sept. 7.

By contrast, Belen (7-6, 2-2) lost their first two district matches before beating Miyamura 25-11, 25-11, 25-8 in Gallup last week. Spragg registered 20 kills against the Patriots while Gomez dished 23 assists.

Belen traveled to Grants Tuesday night and hosts league-leading Los Lunas (8-6, 4-0) tonight. Valencia hosted the Tigers Tuesday and entertains Gallup tonight at home.

The Tigers beat Gallup in three sets at home on Tuesday, Oct. 3, then beat Miyamura in Gallup on Thursday to remain in first place with a record of 8-6 an 4-0. Senior Katie Inman and freshman Jordan Holland led LLHS with a total 43 and 20 kills, respectively, in the two matches.