What are you lookin’ at? Front-line players eye each other before a serve. (Herron photo)
RIO RANCHO — The host Cleveland High School volleyball team extended its dominance over city and District 1-5A foe Rio Rancho to eight matches in a row, three of them this season, in the Thunderdome Thursday evening, 25-16, 25-20, 25-22.
The fifth-ranked Storm improved to 9-7 overall, and evened their district mark to 1-1, after they were swept at Cibola on Oct. 10. The Rams dipped to 10-7, 1-10; they swept visiting Atrisco Heritage Academy two nights earlier.
Earlier this season, the Storm defeated the Rams, 3-1, at the APS Metro tournament and then in the annual Volleybash, 3-2.
The Storm easily won the first two sets and then, as has happened before, the Rams caught fire in the third set.
The Rams’ last lead in the first set had been 12-10 before a service error got the ball back to the Storm, when Julia Buchner served up five straight points, including an ace, before a service error of her won.
A kill by Lauren Snippen ended a brief Rams run and made it 22-20; another Snipped kill, an ace from Snippen and a kill from Kelsey Heffner ended the opening set.
With Buchner serving early in the second set, the front line blocking of Heffner and Baylee Savage led to a 7-2 Storm lead.
Later, with Snippen serving, a 6-0 run gave CHS a comfortable 19-8 lead, and the Rams could get no closer than seven points the rest of that set. A quick block by Azlynn Tittmann ended the second set.
In the finale, although for a while it looked like it might take four sets or even five to determine a winner, the Rams led as late as 14-10, with the set last knotted at 15.
That was during a time at the service line by Savage, when her ace completed an 8-0 run; her service error got the ball back to the Rams, and after a few sideouts, the Storm were clinging to a 22-21 lead.
Then, arguably the play of the game was turned in by CHS senior setter Marian Hatch, who, after two hits, raced toward the Storm bench with her back to the court and teo-handed the ball near the referee’s perch – and the ball landed on the sideline, with the Rams expecting the ball to be out-of-bounds and getting service back.
Instead, it made it a 23-21 CHS lead and after another Rio Rancho service error took the set to match point, a possible kill by RRHS’s Jenny Baker sailed long and the victory belonged to the Storm.
Baker and Jacey Mader led the Rams with seven kills apiece and Baker had a dozen digs. Rams assistant coach Ken Carpenter, keeping stats as usual, said his team gave up “41 points just on our errors.” That included 10 service errors, almost balanced with nine aces.
For the Storm, Tittmann had a match-high 10 kills; Heffner had nine and Snippen added seven. Savage had 12 digs, Heffner had five blocks and Hatch, a future Lobo, had 33 assists.
“We’ve had an up-and-down road and we’re hoping we’re heading upward, and we can drive this upward trajectory a little bit longer,” CHS coach Charity Gomez said. “When you have a little bit of a younger team, they’re still figuring things out, and even though we have some senior leadership, we have some younger girls in key roles, and they have to get that confidence.”
Asked if Cibola (11-4, 2-0 – with all 11 victories by sweep) appeared to be the team to beat, Gomez replied, “They beat us in three … we’re not worried about that now. We’ve got Volcano at home (Oct. 17), and we’ve got to take that one at a time. That’s all we can focus on now.”
The Storm are home to face Volcano Vista Oct. 17. Next week is a home match with non-district foe Sandia on Tuesday, Oct. 24, before another showdown with Cibola Thursday, the 26th, in the Thunderdome. Matches start at 6:30 p.m.
The Rams’ only match this week is in the RAC for Senior Night on Thursday, Oct. 19, at 6:30 to meet Volcano Vista. Next week, the Rams are at Cibola Oct. 24 and at Atrisco Heritage Academy on the 26th.
The Rams play host to the Storm on Halloween evening at 6:30.
All-time, the Storm lead the series 39-15.