Tigers tap their way around Eagles to take title
Sometimes you can’t just go through an obstacle, you have to go around it.
That’s exactly what the top-seeded Los Lunas Tigers did Saturday night, tapping balls around oft-obstructive senior middle blocker Victoria Spragg and the Belen High front line to beat the Eagles 3-1 and win the District 6-4A Volleyball Tournament championship match Saturday night at Los Lunas High School.
“That first set, is what we’re capable of,” said BHS coach Dominick Romero. “We’ve shown a lot of sparks like that all season long. Our power defense was solid. It was the finesse and tip defense that we struggled with, and they took advantage of it.”
The 15-25, 25-18, 25-15, 25-20 win, the Tiger’s 14th in a row, earned Los Lunas (16-6) an automatic bid into the Class 4A Volleyball Tournament, which begins Thursday morning at the Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho.
The Tigers were the only team from District 6-4A selected for the tournament. Belen (12-9), which was ranked 14th in Class 4A by maxpreps.com after Saturday’s match, was left out of the 12-team post-season tournament despite finishing second in both regular season and post-season play in the six-team league. No. 15 Valencia (13-8) was also subbed by the selection committee.
On Saturday, the eager Eagles came out of the gate quickly, taking an early 8-2 advantage before closing out set one with a strong showing from Spragg and outside hitter Maria Montoya.
“It was a battle for every point,” said LLHS coach Amy Bell. “They came out on fire and Victoria was just dominating. We had to really make an adjustment and to find a way to tip and find a space to score.”
The Tigers changed up tactics in the second set, beginning to find open spots between Belen’s front and back row as sophomore setter Kelsey Bell and senior outside hitter Katie Inman began to make sharp, diagonal taps and tips for winners.
“Katie helped me a lot, he told me what to run,” said Kelsey Bell. “They’ve covered me well before so it was a shock when they didn’t cover me (tonight.) We were so positive in the third and fourth sets and were just positive that we weren’t going to lose.”
Belen, which had been stifling LLHS’ Inman and sophomore outside hitter Jordan Holland at the net, began to falter and the Tigers took advantage taking early leads in the second and thirds sets, then holding off the Eagles’ brief rallies in those sets.
“With Victoria there, sometimes it’s not just about crushing it. It’s about playing smart volleyball,” said Inman. “They obviously weren’t ready for our tips and our placement. So that really worked a lot.”
The two teams battled evenly in set four, but the Tigers kept the ball alive through several rallies as Spragg, Montoya and junior hitter Tori Morgan continued to hit against Los Lunas. But in the end, Spragg was unable to will the Eagles to the win, sending the final shot of them match wide.
“I thought Carley (Medina) came up big serving at the end of the game and Jordan had a big game,” said Amy Bell. “We played with good energy and enthusiasm and I hope that carries over into next week’s state tournament.”
Los Lunas was named to the 12-team State Tournament field Sunday afternoon, joining No. 2 Roswell Goddard (16-5) and No. 7 Farmington (14-7) in Pool B.
Farmington Piedra Vista (19-2), ranked No. 1 in Class 4A and No. 2 overall in the state, is the tournament’s top-seed. Artesia and Las Cruces Centennial round out the top four seeds at No. 3 and No. 4, respectively. Defending state champions, St. Pius X of Albuquerque, are the No. 8 seed.
“We have a lot more positive energy this year,” said Inman of this year’s team. “Last year we weren’t good with adversity.”
Belen senior middle blocker Victoria Spragg and Los Lunas sophomore setter Kelsey Bell were named co-Player of the Year by the district’s coaches Saturday night
Los Lunas coach Amy Bell was named District 6-4A Coach of the Year.
Joining Bell and Spragg on the All-District first team were Belen senior outside hitter Maria Montoya, Los Lunas senior outside hitters Katie Inman and Carley Medina, and sophomore middle hitter Jordan Holland as well as Valencia middle blockers Brenda Baeza, a senior, and sophomore Payton Linthicum, a sophomore.
Local players named to the All-District second team included BHS junior setter Kaylyn Gomez, LLHS junior libero Alyssa Vigil and junior right-side hitter Kristie Sandoval and VHS junior outside hitter Mallory Munson.
Honorable Mention honorees went to Belen senior libero Michelle Benavides, Los Lunas sophomore defensive specialist Kimberly Duran and freshman outside hitter Miranda Jaramillo, as well as Valencia junior hitters Dayanna Iturralde, a junior, and Gabriella Calderon, a sophomore.