Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
There was a look of intensity in the eyes of Goddard senior volleyball players: Kaitlin Blankney, Maribel Sanchez, Hannah Roe, Sidney Bills, Talor Mendoza, Lacie Schooley and Kiara Ramirez. All of them had that look — a look that said we are ready and wouldn’t be defeated.
Not at home in front of their family and friends and not Wednesday night. Not with so much riding on their athletic careers. This game against Hope Christian was a statement game, to sum up their four-year career. Win and they would have a right to meet the No. 2 ranked team in Class 4A, Albuquerque Academy Chargers for the state title.
Goddard has been here before, perfect on the season and undefeated, only to come up short. In coach Dewayne Roberts’ three seasons, he has played for two championships and been in a semifinal game.
Roberts has the expectations that this team with eight seniors is a championship team. On Wednesday night at Ground Zero, in a dog fight, the Lady Rockets faced challenge after challenge and beat the Hope Christian Huskies in four sets 25-19, 21-25, 25-18 and 25-22.
The victory was a total team effort, senior Sidney Bills was active and made key plays down the stretch. Maribel Sanchez delivered defensively for the team, saving countless balls and points. Sophomore Sophia Valdez was stellar at the net when it mattered most. Alissa Benavides took her game to another level and was spectacular on defense and hit some kills shots to help turn back the Lady Huskies.
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“It’s just a big opportunity to get back to the state,” Alissa Benavides said. “I have been so blessed to have so many good coaches my whole life. I have learned so much from our eight seniors, they are so determined to win. We are not going to give up next game, every game has been working toward this moment to do something special.”
No one player was more deserving of Most Valuable Player than senior Lacie Schooley, who showed why she has been selected all-state the last three years and probably the fourth year.
“This is the best team we have seen all season,” Schooley said. “We were ready to play and go win that championship. This means so much to me and I’m thankful that I get another opportunity to go, and I think we are going to do great.”
Schooley said she realizes this is her last opportunity and she is going to go all out.
She dove on the floor and saved a point in the first game to tie it at 17-17 after trailing 17-16. Schooley would serve six points and help Goddard win their first set.
“That’s what it is going to take to win a championship,” Roberts said. “I can’t complain, our team wore it on their sleeves and left it on the floor tonight. In a heavyweight fight like this, that’s all you can ask for.”
Goddard would be in a battle all day. They would lose the second set. Goddard came out strong in the third set which was the best set of the match where both teams went back and forth until a kill shot by Valdez gave the Lady Rockets a 22-17 lead. Schooley would make a kill shot to put the Lady Huskies away.
During the fourth match, Goddard had the fans in the stands rocking and stomping the bleachers. They beat empty buckets and clapped loud to make a deafening sound not to be outdone by the Hope Christian fans — who answered the challenge and made some loud noise of their own. Ground Zero had all of the stomach-churning intensity of a heavyweight championship fight.
The game was so packed with emotion that Lady Rockets’ nerves got the best of them being up 24-19. The Huskies clinging to their tournament life refused to lose easy, as they scored three unanswered points to make the score 24-22.
Goddard coach Roberts, sensing his team was pressing, took the opportunity to call timeout and talk to his Lady Rockets. Roberts told the team to settle down, that they have been here before and they were pressing.
He told them to take a deep breath, relax and just play. He reminded them they all know how to pass and play and make adjustments. Goddard would win the next point and return to the championship game against the Lady Chargers Friday.
Roberts and the seniors knew coming into this year what was at stake. In a way, this is about redemption from last year’s defeat to St. Pius X. That defeat not only stung, but has been the catalyst for this season.
This senior class knows what it is like to play for a championship. Two years ago, they were within two points of victory against Los Lunas, and it escaped them. This season, for the team and seniors, is about finishing it off.
“My seniors, this is their second final in three years,” Roberts said, “I think playing in the championship game and semifinal game the last two years are going to help with nerves.”
Roberts said Lacie Schooley and Sidney Bills have been there. They have been within two points of a state championship. The others know what it is like to lose in a semifinal and this team wants it and are hungry for a state title. They have done everything we have asked them to do.
That loss might not be talked about, but it is not forgotten. To win the title, Goddard is going to have to beat the No. 2 team in the tournament. For the Lady Rockets to win, they will have to neutralize Academy’s 6-foot-2 Lauren Keller. She is a middle blocker and a force at the net.
“I tell my team how proud I am of them,” Roberts said. “A lot of people think being a No. 1 seed, there is pressure. I do not think there is. I think there’s pressure on someone to knock us off. Years past we were the underdog.
“My first year we weren’t even picked to go to state, and we end up getting the fourth seed and making it to the championship game. Last year, we were the No. 2 seed and we were the underdog. This year, we have a target on our back, and I think we flourish in that mentality. They have to beat us.”
Goddard started out with three games to win it all; it is now down to one game. Goddard is hoping they play with the same intensity they have played with the whole season.
Goddard last won the championship in 2013.
Goddard will play today at The Pit at 2 p.m.