WEB FIRST: Tigers top Valencia volleyball, Eagles earn No. 2 seed

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The Valencia volleyball team brought urgency early against cross-county rivals Los Lunas, but were unable to sustain it, falling to the Tigers 3-1 Thursday night. That loss coupled with a 3-0 win by Belen over Grants (9-11, 3-7) in Belen on Halloween Night, dropped the Jaguars to third place and elevated the Eagles to the No. 2 seed in next week’s District 6-4A Tournament.

Kenn Rodriguez-News-Bulletin photo: THE LOS LUNAS VOLLEYBALL TEAM poses with the District 6-4A championship plaque while supporters take pictures following the Tigers 3-1 win over Valencia Thursday night.

No. 2 Belen (11-8) and the top-seeded Tigers (14-6, 10-0)  will each host semifinal matches at 6 p.m. next Thursday in their home gyms. The Eagles face the winner of the match between the No. 3 Jaguars and No. 6 Gallup Miyamura (1-18, 0-10) while Los Lunas will play the winner of the Grants-Gallup match. Valencia and Gallup (7-11, 5-5) will host those quarterfinal matches at 6 p.m. on Tuesday night.

Check next Thursday’s print edition of the News-Bulletin for the quarterfinal results.

Tigers top Jags to finish undefeated in district play

Valencia knew it needed to steal a win Thursday night from Los Lunas’ in the Tigers’ gym in order to keep their hold on second place in district. And early on it looked as though they would do just that.

Kenn Rodriguez-News-Bulletin photo: LOS LUNAS' KATIE INMAN (8) celebrates with teammates Amariah GAllegos, left, Kristie Sandoval, right, and Kelsey Bell, far right, after scoring the final point in the Tigers 3-1 win over Valencia High Thursday night.

But the Tigers managed to battle back in the pivotal third set and eventually claimed a 24-26, 25-20, 25-22, 25-21 win for their 12th win in a row and an undefeated finish in league play and their fourth district title since 2010.

Valencia blew out to an 11-4 lead in set one as took a while Los Lunas found their game legs. The Jaguars took advantage and led 19-10 at one point but had to fight the Tigers off in the end, scoring the set’s final two points after being tied up at 22-22, 23-23 and 24-24.

“I felt we came out a little uptight, a little nervous,” said LLHS coach Amy Bell. “You know, it’s a rivalry game, you want to do well. I felt we made a few uncharacteristic errors. In game two, we cleaned it up a little bit. It was a battle. I give Valencia a lot of credit. They made us work.”

The two teams played evenly in set two, but with the score tied 16-16, LLHS closed the with a 9-4 flourish powered largely by the hitting of senior Katie Inman to turn away the Jaguars 25-20.

In set three, the Jags looked to be in control at 22-19. Los Lunas was able to turn the tide with the help of sophomore hitter Jordan Holland who scored the Tigers’ final three points as they claimed a 25-23 set win.

Kenn Rodriguez-News-Bulletin photo: DAYANNA ITURRALDE (4) of Valencia High hits a shot between the blocks of Los Lunas' Katie Inman (6) and Kristie Sandoval durinf the Tigers'Jaguars match Halloween night.

The Tigers set the pace early in set four and kept the lead throughout. Valencia found itself down 24-16 with match point looming and were able to fight through five match points until Inman tapped the ball to an empty spot in the middle of the Jags defense to end the match.

“I remember my freshman year, being district champs and just waiting for my senior year,” said Inman. “And I just knew we were not going to let up. It’s a great feeling to be a senior and win the district championship. It feels great to win and to be challenged, like Valencia did (tonight).”

Valencia coach Connie Campos praised her team’s fight in the loss.

“We did well early, but we didn’t do well against their tips,” said Valencia coach Connie Campos. “We were so busy concentrating on their hitting that we forgot about their tips. Out kids worked hard, they played hard. We get another chance (in the district tournament). We need to get past Miyamura and see what we can do Thursday.”

 

Eagles lay claim to No. 2 seed by pounding Pirates

Fresh off their five set win over Valencia on Tuesday, Belen jumped on visiting Grants immediately and never let up in beating the Pirates 25-12, 25-23, 25-15 on an emotional senior night at the Belen High gym.

“I don’t think I’ve seen the girls play any better this season,” said BHS coach Dominick Romero. “We got out really quick all three sets. We served well. I thought that was real helpful. We got them out of their system and were able to keep Victoria (Spragg) in the front row, which was definitely a good thing.”

Spragg and fellow senior hitter Maria Montoya, as well as senior setters Alex Silva and Brittany Padilla, were instrumental in the win. The victory vaulted the Eagles into second place in the league, something that seemed unlikely back on Oct. 3 when Belen lost their second district match in a row to Gallup and sat in last place.

“I’m proud of the girls and how they responded to those losses, they showed some fight and some togetherness,” Romero said.

Romero said Thursday that the Eagles now must win the district tournament title in order to make the 12-team field in the Class 4A State Tournament, which begins on Thursday, Nov. 14  in Rio Rancho.

“I think getting an at-large bid will be difficult,” he said, emphasizing that up to seven teams are fighting two potential spots. “There are a lot of teams ahead of us.”