WEB EXCLUSIVE: Tiger spikers forced out in five at state

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RIO RANCHO – Breaking her final huddle with her Los Lunas team, coach Amy Bell took a breath, looked around and said, simply, “That was tough.”

Kenn Rodriguez-News-Bulletin photo: LOS LUNAS' Jordan Holand (2) and Carley Medina (2) defend a shot by Albuquerque Academy's Alina Vanecek during the Tigers 3-2 quarterfinal loss to the Chargers Friday in the Class 4A State Volleyball Tournament in Rio Rancho.

Bell’s No. 10 Tigers went up two sets on No. 6 Albuquerque Academy, but the Chargers came back to force a fifth game, beating Los Lunas 3-2 in a hard fought match in the Class 4A State Volleyball Tournament Friday morning at the Santa Ana Star Center.

Down early in set four, the Tigers battled back and looked poised to make set five a tussle for Academy. But the Chargers took a 5-1 lead in the shortened fifth and turned the game Tigers away to claim a 23-25, 25-17, 22-25, 25-16, 15-11 win in the Class 4A quarterfinals and snapping LLHS’ 15-game winning streak.

“It comes down to a few points here and there,” said Bell of matches that go to five sets. “We let a ball hit defensively, we had a few defensive errors. When you’re playing a team in the fifth set it goes fast. The team that wins is the team that makes the fewest mistakes.”

Down 7-3 in the deciding fifth set, the Tigers steadily chipped away at the Chargers’ lead, cutting the advantage to 12-10 on a tapped winner at the net by senior Katie Inman. But Academy scored two points in quick succession to earn a match point at 14-10. LLHS got a side out at 14-11. But, as they did in winning sets two and four, the Chargers got the Tigers scrambling defensively on the next point, and won the set and the match when the LLHS netted the return shot.

Kenn Rodriguez-News-Bulletin photo: LIBERO ALYSSA VIGIL digs a shot from during the Tigers' quarterfinal match against Albuquerque Academy Friday in the Class 4A State Volleyball Tournament.

“Right now every team here it battling,” said Bell. “These are games where you’re not going to beat anyone easily. We knew we were going to have a battle. I’m disappointed because I thought we were right there and had opportunities to win it. But at the same time I’m pleased with the effort, I thought they fought and gave themselves every opportunity to win the match.”

Los Lunas (17-7) started fast against the Chargers, taking a 6-1 lead in set one. Academy rallied to take a 14-10 lead. But Inman got the Tigers going midway through scoring three winners in a 10-4 run that saw LLHS take a 21-19 lead. Sophomores Kelsey Bell and Jordan Holland then tipped home the final two points of the set to give the Tigers a 25-23 win.

Set two saw Academy adjust to the Tigers’ finesse game. The Chargers ran out to a 10-4 lead and keep the momentum by keeping Los Lunas’ defense off balance. Los Lunas outlasted the Chargers in set three, getting key kills from Inman and fellow senior Carley Medina and Holland and Bell again closing the set with tip winners at the net.

But the Chargers again had the Tigers’ out of sorts defensively in set four and LLHS never saw a game-point opportunity because of that.

“We tried to be tougher on our hits because that seem to be helping us but they just kind of got around us with our tipping,” said Medina after the match. “They kind of learned how to get around everything we were doing.”

Kenn Rodriguez-News-Bulletin photo: SENIOR KATIE INMAN of Los Lunas hits a shot past a pair of Albuquerque Academy defenders during the Class 4A State Volleyball Tournament quarterfinals Friday morning.

“They jumped out on us early in game two and four and we dug ourselves a bit of a hole and were trying to play form behind,” said Amy Bell. “Sometimes that’s the crazy thing about volleyball, there’s such a shift in momentum. You have all energy and momentum then you change sides of the court and something happens.

“I give Academy credit,” said Bell emphatically. “They’re a good team. But the girls battled. They didn’t let them have anything easy.”

The match was Los Lunas’ second quarterfinal exit, but winning a match in the state tournament. But Medina, who along with Inman are the only departing seniors from the squad, sees positive movement for the program.

“It’s a plus going one (game) further this year,” Medina said. “Getting a step further for this program is good.”

Holland, who became one the team’s best options at the net as the season went on, agreed.

“We got everything together this year,” she said. “Next year we just need to take it farther. We can improve on everything. We just have to have the same mindset and winning attitude we finished with this year.”

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