Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
Roswell volleyball had a problem and they didn’t know how to fix it. There had been three volleyball coaches in four years to try and replace Hall of Fame coach Flo Valdez, who won state titles in 1976, ‘77 and ‘93 at Roswell and was a big presence in the community.
Replacing Valdez was harder than many people thought. It would take a special coach in Bryan Masse and a group of six seniors that would “Hold the rope” as they would win the 2006 District and State 5-4A volleyball championship.
This team helped Masse get the monkey off his back. Masse would get to the state finals as head coach at Tatum. He had chances to win it all in 1982, ‘83, ‘84, ‘85, but couldn’t. At Melrose in 1986, Masse came up short, losing to Elida, 18-16 in the fifth set.
Roswell was coming off an upset, losing to Kirtland Central in the semifinals in 2005. Roswell lost key player Brandi Plasters in her senior year. She broke her hand in the match against Kirtland Central after they were tied 1-1.
“I felt like our inexperience was the key,” Masse said. “We weren’t used to being at state. Our girls were disappointed in not making it to the finals in 2005.”
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At the beginning of the 2006 season, Roswell was picked to finish fifth in the preseason polls. One of the keys to Roswell ascending to the title was that Goddard coach Bobby Bates and Masse were friends and formed a summer tournament and the teams would play each other. At the time, Goddard had won state titles under Bates. Each time the teams would face each other, it made them both better and ready to play the teams from up north.
The season didn’t start well for Roswell, and there were three key changes to the season. One was getting Samantha Matta back to full speed after having knee surgery. Masse said that Matta wasn’t at full strength for the Sweet 16 in a tournament in Las Cruces when she returned. Roswell ended up losing to Rio Rancho in the tournament finals, but more than that, they played well enough to be encouraged.
“After that tournament, I told the girls they were the best team in the state,” Masse said. “After that game, we never lost another game. We went on an 18-game winning streak.”
Another key to the team according to Masse, was that Kimberly Ingram and sophomore Chantale Riddle were 10-foot hitters. By the time Ingram was a senior she played outside and Urban started sending her shoot sets to the outside. The team wasn’t very big, but they blocked well and were very athletic and strong having put the time in the weight room.
Matta and Ingram could hit shoot sets and Urban did a good job of getting the ball to them quickly. Teams had trouble stopping them because they had to respect the middle with Pamela Blakeney and Riddle in there. Most teams were not getting out fast enough for the double block on Matta or Ingram. Lastly, Roswell ran a quicker offense their senior year.
“They were a special group,” Masse said. “There were six seniors — Matta was an outside hitter; Kimberly Ingram was an outside hitter; Amber Walker was the Libero; Pebbles Urban was the setter; Kerri Pirtle was the opposite to the right side; Anika Jones was the defensive specialist. Those six seniors were good and determined.”
Roswell went through pool play at state and the only team they lost to was St. Pius X. Roswell finished second in their pool. In the opening round of the state tournament, Roswell played Goddard. Before the game, Lady Coyotes’ coach Masse was nervous because Goddard was good. Roswell lost the first game 20-25 but settled down and won the next three games: Roswell beat Goddard: 20-25, 29-27, 25-17 and 25-17.
In the semifinals, it was a rematch from the 2005 upset against Kirtland Central. In the rematch, Masse told his team that he felt like they should have beaten them in 2005. Now, he didn’t want his team to waste their opportunity to make it to the finals in 2006. Roswell defeated Kirtland Central: 22-25, 25-20, 25-20 and 25-14.
The talk in the press gave little hope for Roswell to defeat Española in the championship game. Española was favored because of their strong outside hitter in Amanda Strauss who was tough and helped Española beat Moriarty and St. Pius X to get to the championship match. At that time both teams were powerhouses.
The match was at Tingley Coliseum, as the Española players walked to the court, they locked arms together as a team while entering the court. Roswell’s players entered the court happy, loose, and skipping into the gym.
Masse seeing this, turned to assistant coach, James Kelt and said, “We are going to win the championship.”
“Our players were relaxed and happy,” Masse said. “I could just tell our players knew they had a job to do and were confident.”
Roswell lost the first game 20-25 in the state championship. Masse knew his team could beat Española because they had beaten them in pool play 15-9, 15-8. Roswell had lost them in a summer tournament at UNM. Roswell played without Urban or Walker and barely lost.
Masse remembers losing the first game to Española, 20-25. The team felt like they should have won the game. In the huddle, Masse was talking to the team and after he had finished, Matta stepped up and said, “We are not going to lose this state championship, we are not going to lose this game. She said it three or four times and she said it loud.”
The players all looked at each other and said, “yeah.”
“We felt confident with everybody back and healthy we could get them,” Masse said. “Even though we lost the first game, 20-25, we came back and won, 25-17, 25-17 and 25-19 and we had big leads those last three games.”
Masse felt the key to the championship game was Riddle, Blakeney and Pirtle blocking at the net to off-set Strauss.
Española’s coach Sam Estrada after the match said Roswell was too big for them. Roswell only had one 6-footer, Blakeney; Riddle was 5-foot-10-inches, and Ingram was 5-foot-9-inches. Most of the other players were 5-foot-8-inches.
Masse thought the championship game was a breakout game for Riddle, who was a sophomore. Riddle was lefthanded and played in the middle. She had eight kills and four blocks in the match. Ingram had 13 kills in the match. When Roswell was not blocking Strauss, they were digging and frustrating her.
Roswell’s seniors were: Amber Walker, Anika Jones, Samantha Matta, Kerri Pirtle, Pebbles Urban and Kimberly Ingram.
“Those six seniors worked hard,” Masse said. “They stayed after practice and helped each other. They would ask me (Masse), ‘Will you stay and help me or hit balls with me? Will you watch?’”
Masse thought the seniors set the example by coming early and staying late. They (seniors) worked hard and wanted to win.
“It was a special group of seniors for sure,” Masse said. “I don’t want to not give credit to the other kids as well. Chantale (Riddle) was such a good blocker, she could shut down people. She was trouble in the middle and teams had trouble blocking her.”
Masse is in his 11th-year as head volleyball coach at Friona High School in Friona, Texas.
Sports editor J.T. Keith can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 304, or firstname.lastname@example.org.