Roswell High’s Valeria Bonilla elevates for a ball during the Lady Coyotes’ three-game sweep over rival Goddard to win the District 4-5A volleyball tournament. (Shawn Naranjo Photo)
In a repeat of last year’s district tourney championship, the Roswell High Lady Coyotes swept crosstown-foe Goddard 25-22, 26-24 and 25-18 to claim the District 4-5A tournament title. The Coyotes recorded their ninth straight 3-0 sweep, while defeating their district nemesis for the third time this year.
“We knew coming in that it was going to be a battle,” said Roswell head coach Heather Baca. “It’s tough to beat any team three times in a row. We knew that when they beat Artesia on Thursday that we would be in for a challenge. Both teams know each other pretty well – I thought you could see that tonight. First two matches were pretty close being point for point, playing off each other’s weaknesses. Overall, I thought the girls played well.”
The Rockets, coming off an emotional five-set victory over Artesia that Baca referenced, played well in the first two but could not put together a complete game in falling to 15-8 on the year.
“The more unforced errors you make against a good team, the harder it is going to be to win,” said Goddard coach Kristi Hager of her Rockets’ performance. “Hopefully that message got through. It’s a tough loss. We battled and give credit to Roswell High because they battled right there with us. It was an awesome game, but, unfortunately, we were not able to come out with the win.”
Game One saw the host Coyotes open a big early lead as the Rockets had numerous errors – especially off the Coyote serves. Gali Sanchez’ kill made it 5-2 and then watched as numerous Goddard passes went directly to the Coyote front line. The lead would grow to 9-2 until the Rockets started to right the ship.
The Coyotes got great digs from Valeria Bonilla and Jaedyn De La Cerda to keep rallies going, but then it was Roswell’s turn to make errors. Its lead dwindled to 10-5 before the match turned into a barn-burner.
Macy Smith got a kill off the block and then a key serve in to start the rally as they cut the lead to 12-10 after back-to-back errors. The Rockets kept the set at a two-point margin as Shaylee Griffin got a block, and they weren’t done yet.
De La Cerda got a cross-court dink to make it 20-17, but again the Rockets fought back. Leah Weathers’ dink tied it at 20-all, the first tie since it was 1-1. The Coyotes then went back to Sanchez, who came off the bench and delivered a kill down the line to open up a 23-21 lead.
The Rockets staved off one set point, but a final hitting error gave the Coyotes the first game by a score of 25-22.
Game Two was the most exciting set of the match as the Coyotes notched a huge comeback for the eventual win.
Smith got the Rockets rolling early as her serves and two great digs gave the Rockets a 3-0 lead. The lead grew to 7-2 following a kill by Bailey Beene and a Griffin block.
The Coyotes desperately needed a spark and got it when Sheyanne Sandoval entered and jump-served her team back into the match at 9-7. A couple of side-outs later it was all tied up at 10-10 following an ace by De La Cerda.
The Rockets answered with a run going up 16-12 following an Allie French ace-serve and then made it 20-15 soon after following another ace by Jaden Smith and a kill by Griffin.
With the Rockets ahead 22-16, Sandoval came to the serving line again and by the time she finished there the score was knotted at 22-22. With the large crowd on their feet, the two teams went back and forth.
Smith gave the Rockets a 23-22 lead after a kill down the line and then the Rockets got another side out to make it 24-22. The Coyotes answered with four straight points – a kill from senior setter Haleigh McClain-Ward tied it and then a block out of bounds and a passing error gave the exciting comeback to the Coyotes at 26-24.
It also seemed to bust the Rockets’ bubble as Goddard used a comedy of errors to open the third game, which gave the Coyotes a huge early lead. Nothing seemed to be going right for the Rockets, while everything was aligning for the hosts as the Lady Coyotes stormed out to a 16-3 lead in the third.
The Rockets tried to make it a game as their first run cut the lead to 17-10 and then, following another Griffin kill, it was 19-13.
The Rockets would eventually trim the lead down to 20-16, but McClain-Ward picked up another another kill to stop the run and Roswell would coast the rest of the way to the final margin of 25-18, following one last emphatic kill by Sanchez.
Both Baca and Hager think their squads can go far in the upcoming state tourney.
“I think we’ve got as good a shot as anybody,” Baca said. “I think we are definitely one of the top four teams when we are playing at our best. If they play together and take care of the little things, I definitely think we can be in the final match.”
Meanwhile, Hager believes her squad is peaking at the right time.
“I think that we are (peaking),” she said. “We just have to find that gear. We have it in us and we see it as coaches but we just got to get the players to believe in themselves.”
Both teams now await their prospective seeds at next week’s state tourney. The Coyotes (18-2) earned an automatic berth by virtue of winning both the district regular season and tournament titles, while the Rockets expect to garner an at-large bid.
Pool play begins Thursday at 8 a.m. at the Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho.