LOS LUNAS — Happy to make the state tournament’s 12-team Class 5A bracket even after being “dissed” as the No. 12 team, Rio Rancho High School volleyball head coach Toby Manzanares and his Rams were ecstatic Tuesday evening after a 23-25, 25-11, 23-25, 25-23, 15-12 verdict over the No. 5 Los Lunas Tigers.
It was the team’s third consecutive fie-set match in eight days, the first two being losses to Volcano Vista and Cibola.
It’s the first appearance at state for the Rams (15-9) since 2018, when they lost to Sandia in the quarterfinals. RRHS also won 15 matches that season, the first time since the 2014 season.
It was a case of good news, bad news for the Rams: Yes, they advanced to the next round, but bad in that they’d be facing Cibola, the No. 4 seed that had won the last eight times the teams had met, including three times this season.
It wasn’t easy in Los Lunas, being down 1-0 and then 2-1, but the Rams played arguably their best all season in the must-win fourth set, which they never trailed after the first point.
Leading 13-11 after a Tigers ace, a kill by Victoria Echerivel got the serve back to the Rams, where Ashleigh Meyer racked up the next five points for a 19-11 advantage.
Los Lunas (17-6) managed only one point the rest of the way, as Cecelia Vance came up with kills for her team’s 21st, 24th and 25th points, en route to 21 kills for the evening.
“We had great service from the get-go and I thought we really consistent in attacking and defending,” Manzanares said. “I thought we had some solid blocks; we took their middles out of it, which meant they were having to tip (the ball in) one direction or the other. … That was something we continued to build on, going deeper into the match.”
Was there a turning point, knowing a loss would end their season?
“We wanted to keep from making unforced errors from the attacking aspect. I thought that Vitoria Echerivel did a great job on the left: She was aggressive, she hit lots of balls.”
Echerivel matched Vance with 21 kills and hit an outstanding .463 for the evening, according to assistant Ken Carpenter.
Vance, only a freshman, “early was just kinda cautious. We said, ‘Either you hit it hard or you tip it.’ So the roll shot wasn’t working for her. At the end, she just hits balls hard and she hits it hard and up — any type of block, it’s just undefendable.”
What about meeting the Cougars?
“Going in, they know us, we know them,” Manzanares said of what’s left at state. “We’re going to try to replicate what we did last week — and be a little more consistent as the match progresses.
“Yeah, but we can officially say that we’re part of this eight-team (quarterfinals bracket), and that’s exciting for this group.”
Manzanares said he thought the 12 seed “was really low, but we get what we earn.”
In other first-round matches, with the Rams pulling off the lone upset, No. 8 Sandia defeated No. 9 Santa Fe, 3-1; No. 6 beat visiting No. 11 Volcano Vista, 3-0; and No. 7 Las Cruces swept No. 10 Hobbs.
On Friday at noon at the Rio Rancho Events Center, the double-elimination format begins: No. 1 La Cueva vs. Sandia (court 1); No. 2 Centennial vs. Las Cruces (court 4); No. 3 Cleveland vs. Eldorado (court 3) and No. 4 Cibola vs. Rio Rancho (court 2).
Visit nmact.org to follow the tournament, which has the 5A championship match slated for Saturday at 6 p.m.

Ticket Links for the Volleyball State Tournament games @ Rio Rancho Event Center
Rudy’s Real Texas Bar-B-Q State Volleyball Championships – Day 1 (Friday, Nov 12) – https://gofan.co/app/events/446854?schoolId=NMAA
Rudy’s Real Texas Bar-B-Q State Volleyball Championships – Day 2 (Saturday, Nov 13) – https://gofan.co/app/events/446856?schoolId=NMAA

Rams freshman Cece Vance unloads a kill, one of her 21, at Los Lunas High School in the Ranms’ five-set victory.