Tigers maul Aztec clipped by Chargers

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The Los Lunas volleyball team fell a few points short of the semifinals in the Class 4A State Volleyball Tournament last week at the Santa Ana Star Center.

The Tigers overcame a low placement coming out of Pool Play Thursday morning to defeat Aztec 3-0 Thursday afternoon to advance to the quarterfinals against No. 6 Albuquerque Academy.

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.

The Chargers broke the Tiger’s 15-match winning streak and eliminated LLHS from the post season Friday morning with a closely-fought 3-2 decision.

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

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 Tigers away to claim a 23-25, 25-17, 22-25, 25-16, 15-11 win in the Class 4A quarterfinals.

“It comes down to a few points here and there,” said Bell of matches that go to five sets. “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.”

Trailing 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: LOS LUNAS’ Kelsey Bell (1), Alyssa Vigil (5) and Carley Medina (4) celebrate match point against Aztec during the Class 4A State Volleyball Tournament on Thursday, Nov. 14. The Tigers beat Aztec 3-0 in the first round but lost 3-2 in a thrilling five-set match against Albuquerque Academy at the Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho Friday morning.

“We knew we were going to have a battle,” Bell said. “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 came back to take a 14-10 lead, but the Tigers rallied and 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 seemed 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.”

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

Kenn Rodriguez--News-Bulletin photo: LIBERO ALYSSA VIGIL of Los Lunas, top, digs a serve during the Tigers’ quarterfinal match against Albuquerque Academy Friday.

The match was Los Lunas’ second quarterfinal exit in a row. But Medina, who along with Inman are the only departing seniors from the squad, said winning a match at state is 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.”

Following a tough morning of pool play, the southern Tigers swept away the Tigers from the north with a strong 3-0 sweep.

It was a quick moving match that featured LLHS playing some of its strongest volleyball of the season according to Tigers coach Amy Bell, winning their first round match 25-13, 25-23, 25-22.

“I am so proud of our girls — we had to fight and battle,” Bell said. “I thought that was the best match of the whole season. At state you have to be able to put together a complete match and that was as close as we’ve come to putting together a complete match all season.”

The Tigers advance to Friday’s quarterfinals, where they’ll meet No. 6 seed Albuquerque Academy.

Los Lunas (16-6) came into the match seeded No. 10 in the tourney but finishing third in Pool B play against No. 2 Goddard and No. 7 Farmington early Thursday morning. The Tigers played both teams even, but fell to third because of the tie-breaker, said Bell. No. 12 Aztec finished ranked No. 2 in Pool D.

The Tigers exited pool play disappointed, but senior outside hitter Katie Inman said Bell talked to them after the morning session.

Kenn Rodriguez--News-Bulletin photo: LOS LUNAS’ Jordan Holland (2) and Carley Medina (3), bottom, defend a shot by Academy’s Alina Vanecek during the Tigers 3-2 state tournament quarterfinal loss Friday.

“(Coach) kept reiterating, ‘It’s just pool play and it doesn’t matter,’” Inman said. “We shook it off and came out stronger.”

Stronger is an understatement. Los Lunas traded shots early with Aztec, but were clearly energized. Up 10-9, the Tigers surged forward on a 10-0 run, fueled by the tight service of sophomore Kelsey Bell and deft hitting by seniors Inman and Carley Medina.

Aztec salvaged a few points but LLHS swept to set point as the northern Tigers crumpled under the pressure of Bell’s serves.

Aztec rallied in set 2, taking a 6-2 lead before Los Lunas found its bearings, shifting to a more finesse type of play at the net, which vexed Aztec. That play, combined with the service of Bell and hitting of Inman, gave LLHS a win in set two.

Aztec again came out fast in set three, going up leading 31 then 9-6 before Los Lunas rallied yet again, going on an 8-2 run powered by critical kills by sophomore Jordan Holland and Kelsey Bell. The Tigers finished the set and match with a Holland kill, a pair of aces by freshman Miranda Jaramillo and a pair of tip winners by Inman.

Coach Bell had nothing but praise for her team following the match.

“Carley is a senior and she came up big on defense,” Bell said. “Our middles played amazing. Kim (Duran) and Mariah (Doyle) helped us tremendously with their serves and Kelsey did a great job of getting the right people at the right time. It was a total team effort.”