Storm spikers, from left, Sophia Bacahui (3), Kendra Frazier (7), Aubrey Ortiz (1), Maddie Del Greco (2), Lauren Snippen (4) and Marian Hatch celebrate a point in their abbreviated comeback vs. La Cueva Tuesday evening in the Thunderdome. (Courtesy of Joe Grimando)
Once upon a time, Cleveland High School dominated the big, bad Bears of La Cueva High School on the volleyball court.
The Storm won four of the first five meetings, in fact, but La Cueva has basically owned the Storm since then – to the tune of 12 straight match victories.
The latest was Tuesday evening in the Thunderdome – not a sweep, though — by the No. 1 Bears (8-0), 25-14, 25-22, 21-25, 25-22.
The last time the Storm (7-3) beat La Cueva, this year’s seniors were in fourth grade. It was eight years ago, in 2014.
But let’s face it: Not many teams can win a single set, much less win a match against the Bears, who have won four of the last five state titles and won this year’s APS Metro Championship – after sweeping the Storm.
La Cueva went 24-1 last season, losing only to Cibola in the APS Metro Championships final, and beat the Cougars twice later to avenge that loss. Twenty-one of their two-dozen victories were sweeps; the Bears, with their latest win over the Storm, have a 28-match winning streak.
Tuesday’s meeting started out like a sweep, with the Bears7-0 run in the first set giving them some distance between themselves and the Storm, and an 8-2 run in the second set – like the first set, after a 12-10 lead – leading to the win.
That second set, though, saw the Storm go on a late run of their own, behind the serves of Marian Hatch, as they closed to 24-22 before a kill by sophomore Sophie Diouf – the Bears never run out of front-line 6-footers — ended that rally.
The third set was all Storm, the only set in which they led from start to finish and nicely fought off a late Bears rally. The Thunderdome’s loud, enthusiastic student section may have played a role, as Cleveland saw its 23-17 lead dissolve to 23-21 before putting it away and ensuring a fourth set.
Determined to stay unbeaten, except for 1-0 and 2-1 deficits, La Cueva led the entire fourth set, on the brink of the victory at 24-20 – match point – before a Baylee Savage kill, off one of Marian Hatch’s40 assists that evening – made it 24-21 and a cross-court kill by Emma Morey-Thorson kept Storm hopes alive, 24-22.
The drama ended a minute later.
Lauren Snippen paced the Storm offense with 9 kills. Savage and Kelsey Heffner had 8 each. Libero Aubrey Ortiz had 26 digs, setter Hatch, the team’s six-rotation player, came up with 16 digs.
“They’re really balanced,” CHS coach Charity Lopez said. “Their attackers don’t make a lot of errors. They just hit balls in the court, which is the most important thing to do.
“We err our way to losses,” she said. “Unforced errors, like back-to-back-to-back. We just beat ourselves, basically, with the errors.
“I think we finally believe now we can hang (with La Cueva),” she added. “Hopefully, we can believe that we can play with them, we just can’t error our way to losses. It’s that simple.”
Storm warnings: Cleveland and Rio Rancho high schools host the annual Volleybash this weekend. Both city teams have 3-1 losses to La Cueva, and they could meet again.
…The Storm are home Sept. 30 at 5 to face Goddard; on Oct. 1 at 12:30 Artesia provides the opposition. It’ll be the same days and times for matches at Rio Rancho High School, with Artesia in the RAC Friday and Goddard there Saturday.
… The all-important District 1-5A slate opens Oct. 4, when Cibola visits Cleveland. Two days later, the Storm head to Rio Rancho. Both matches start at 6:30. The Storm are the defending district champs.
… Oral Roberts University volleyball standout Sakira LaCour, a Storm alum, was named to the Summit League Tournament All-Tournament squad. Through matches played as of mid-September, she was third in the nation with six blocks per match. ORU was 3-9, with one of those losses coming to UTEP in the ORU Invite earlier this month – UTEP’s coach is former Rio Rancho Mid-High and original Cleveland High volleyball coach Ben Wallis.