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Local teams state volleyball preview

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Most teams have fought through the regular season to get to this point and that is to have a shot to win the Blue Trophy. The good news is there can only be one winner — also, before play begins on Thursday, your school has a chance.

Roswell, Goddard, Gateway Christian and Hagerman survived the season and will begin pool play today. If teams do not win their pool bracket and earn a bye, they will play either at 5:15 or 7 p.m. tonight. If teams win the pool play, they will have the first-round bye and won’t play until Friday. For more pairings, please see the paper — RDR Sports has run brackets in Wednesday’s and today’s edition.

Roswell

Alex Gonzalez serves a point during the Lady Coyotes game against Hobbs Saturday at Coyote Den. (David Rocha Photo)

With the Roswell volleyball team, they have overcome so much this season to get it together and win their district. Roswell overcame injuries and struggles to force a playoff game against Hobbs in Carlsbad to win the regular season district crown on a Monday and defeat them in three straight sets for the district tournament title: 25-18, 25-21 and 25-20, at Coyote Den on Saturday.

“I think our seniors’ stepping up has been a big part of our success,” Roswell coach Heather Baca said after her team’s victory.

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Some of the key players that seem to be playing their best volleyball are Cheyenne Martinez, Julia Espinoza, Eliza Perez, Jalen Baca and Alex Gonzalez. Coach Baca has counted on the growing leadership of her seniors coming through with big plays when the team needs them.

Reclassification to 5A did not hurt the Lady Coyotes, in fact, it made them stronger, as they are coming into their state tournament playing their best volleyball and seem to have found a cohesiveness from playing together as the season went on.

Of all of the teams in the tournament, Roswell has faced Las Cruces. Coach Baca has her team ready and they have been to this tournament the last three years. There should be some nerves but once her team starts playing, it should be just like being back in the Coyote Den.

“We have to take it one set at a time,” Baca said. “We have prepared all week for the environment, which is significantly different. Fortunately, many of my players have played here the last couple of years. Every team will be a challenge, we must play together and play well to win. We have talked to the kids about channeling that nervous energy they will feel right on the court.”

Goddard

From such a rocky start, first-year coach DeWayne Roberts knew he had talented players he had inherited and a tournament team, he just wasn’t sure how to reach them. It took a brutal loss to 5A Hobbs and a 10-day period of no games when he told his team they would have to earn their uniforms back.

Roberts brought in a new system he had worked on and perfected at Eastern New Mexico University and at Sul Ross University where he was a head coach for three seasons. Roberts wants to play fast break volleyball and get the other team tired and not allow them to substitute and try to create mismatches at the net with his team’s superior height advantage.

Goddard righted the ship and went on to defeat the unbeaten Artesia Lady Bulldogs. Once again, there was a breakthrough when the Lady Rockets defeated Artesia at their place to go on a five-game winning streak forcing a dramatic one-game playoff at Hagerman. In that game, the Lady Rockets showed their mettle by overcoming a first set 25-22 loss, as they stormed back and defeated Artesia 25-22, 25-23 and 28-26 with inspired play from Tori Price who made one block at the net after another. Lucie Schooley had timely digs and libero Tatiana Villa set up her teammates for kill shots such as Valeria Martinez and Sophia Price.

Coach Roberts is very demanding yet flexible — the key to the team this season has been that he has not been afraid to change lineups or strategies if something is not working. He has had to change his style in coaching his team. Normally his style is to be quiet and talk to them quietly during the game and work on mistakes during practice, but he realized that his team wanted a more emotional and vocal leader and he has done that.

“I think we match up pretty well with the other teams,” Roberts said. “Our height should be an advantage for us. We have not played Los Alamos this season, but we have played Los Lunas earlier at Santa Fe and split with them in pool play.”

Goddard is coming off a disappointing loss to Artesia in the district tournament. Their motto all season has been to fix the mistake and move forward, whether it be the next kill or the next game after a loss.

“I told our team,” Roberts said, “to lay it all on the line, and to play every point like it is their last. I told them to enjoy the moment and to have fun playing the game. Most of our kids know what the atmosphere will be like tomorrow and to expect there will be nerves, but I told them not to let it affect how they play. I want them to embrace the moment and enjoy it. We want to come home with the Blue Trophy!”

Goddard will wear their blue uniforms during pool play today.

Gateway Christian

Gateway Christian’s Lauren Wulf attempts a block on NMMI’s Demitra Ulibarri in action earlier this season. Gateway Christian will play at state in pool play on Thursday morning, with a first-round game at 5:15 p.m. (NMMI Sports Press Photo)

Gateway Coach Kerri Pirtle has been a head coach for 13 years, with 12 of them at Gateway. Coach Pirtle feels like, with the reclassification, the Lady Warriors moved into the toughest A district. Gateway’s team leaders have been senior Lauren Wulf, as an outside hitter, and junior setter Kaylee Stephens. Both of the team’s setters tore their ACL’s last year and have come back from major surgery to lead our team this year.

“We are in a pool with the other two teams from our district — Tatum and Elida,” Pirtle said. “We have seen them before, and know what we are going up against. The bad part is we’ve played them multiple times this year, so we have to avoid getting in a rut. I think we have a good chance to do well in bracket play tomorrow. We graduated five seniors last year, and are graduating five more this year. We have an eighth-grader as a libero, so we have a mixture of veteran and youth on our team. Our team has discussed how today is an opportunity to play without reservations, no fear of mistakes or letdowns. I hope they (Gateway Christian) remember to stay focused on the moment they are in. We give all the glory to God and thank Him for the talents and opportunities He has given us.”

Hagerman

Head coach Monica Morales has been a head coach at Hagerman for seven years, all at Hagerman. The Lady Bobcats have won five district titles and five district tournament titles. As far as reclassification, Morales feels like the district they played in has always been tough and competitive. This year Hagerman tied in regular season district and won their playoff game and the District Tournament Championship. She feels there are some tough teams that have come down from 3A. Hagerman’s big guns are junior Esther DeLaCruz, who is hitting the ball well and senior setter Bethaney Barela. Sophomore Ariel Tarango has stepped up and been playing well.

I feel like the team is coming together at the right time,” Morales said, “considering we are fairly young. I think we are in the tougher pool this year and will have to play well. Anything can happen at state and I do believe we have a great chance if we play well and eliminate unforced errors. Our team is about half and half as far as age and experience. We have some veterans that are leading the team and young kids that are progressing nicely.”

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