Cleveland High junior outside hitter Baylee Savage takes a cut at the Bears in Saturday’s championship match at Cibola High. (Photo courtesy of JOE GRIMANDO)
About the only thing La Cueva didn’t win last year was the Albuquerque Metro Volleyball Championships.
The Bears rectified that one blemish from year ago by beating Cleveland, 25-13, 25-16, and 25-16 in the finals on Saturday night at Cibola High School.
It was a rematch of last year’s 5A state finals, won by the Bears, and the return meeting followed a similar script.
“The girls did not want to lose after losing in the (Metro) finals last year,” said La Cueva coach Steven Archibeque. “We wanted the trophy back.”
Cleveland (6-2) hung close in the first two sets, closing to within 7-6 in the first set and was tied at 7-7 in the second set.
La Cueva (5-0) answered the early challenges with service runs and dominant play at the net.
The Bears’ Annalisa Gallegos service six straight points to help open a 14-7 lead in the opening set, and over the remainder of the set, senior captain Ella Sanders and sophomore hitter Sophie Diouf traded off big kills.
Sanders led a bevy of front-line attackers – and blockers – that was likely the difference.
Cleveland fell behind 6-1 early in the second set, but a kill from Madelyn Del Greco completed a 6-1 spurt for the Storm, knotting the match at 7-7.
A Sanders kill broke the deadlock, and Sanders then stepped into the server’s role, rattling off five straight points to again establish command.
“The girls just have it in their mind from what happened last year (in the state finals),” said Cleveland coach Charity Gomez. “We just have to get past that mentally. La Cueva is a great team and has a lot of attackers. “We just have to get better at understanding we can play at that level, too.”
La Cueva was not seriously tested in the final game, leading 17-6 before Archibeque went deeper into his bench to close out the match.
It was a 180-degree turnaround from the night before, when Valley extended the Bears to four sets.
“We’ve just been stringing things along, playing a little better every day and every game,” Archibeque said.
Volcano Vista beat Albuquerque Academy in the third-place match, 25-17, 25-22, 20-25, and 26-24. La Cueva advanced to the championship match after a 3-1 victory over Valley.
Ortiz had four aces, while Lauren Snippen and Kelsey Heffner had four kills apiece vs. the Bears.
In the Storm-Volcano Vista semifinal match, Del Greco had 10 kills and Baylee Savage added nine; Ortiz came up with a dozen digs. Marian Hatch assisted on 35 points.
In their quarterfinal victory over Cibola, Del Greco had 14 kills and Savage had eight, with Match coming up with 42 assists and Ortiz adding 21 digs.
What about those Rams?
After rolling past Albuquerque High in Friday’s quarterfinals (25-8, 25-17, 25-7), the Rams (5-3) ran into La Cueva in the semis and, like the Storm, were swept (25-15, 25-19, 25-8). Back on Aug. 31 in the RAC, the Rams had taken the Bears to four sets.
Rio Rancho then dropped the third-place match to District 1-5A foe Cibola (25-18, 25-20, 25-21).
The Rams have plenty of time for the district battles with the Cougars and Storm, not to mention Volcano Vista, which was swept by the Storm. RRHS was at Capital Tuesday, then plays host to Albuquerque Academy Sept. 20 at 6:30 p.m.
Those matches are followed by the annual Volleybash at both high schools, with the Rams playing three more matches (at Albuquerque High and home vs. Artesia and Goddard) before opening 1-5A competition Oct. 4 at Atrisco Heritage Academy.
Storm get another shot at Bears Tuesday
La Cueva seems to sweep everybody in its path, and it swept the Storm in the 2021 regular season and in the championship match at the Rio Rancho Events Center.
After a match Tuesday with visiting Santa Fe at 6 p.m. in the Thunderdome, the Storm entertains La Cueva Sept. 20, also at 6:30.
Like the Rams, shortly after Volleybash and a couple of home matches with Goddard and Artesia, the 1-5A slate opens Oct. 4 when Cibola visits.
(Patrick Newell contributed to this story.)