The Cleveland High volleyball team nailed down its first District 1-5A title in six seasons on Nov. 2, thanks to a 25-9, 25-8, 25-13 sweep of visiting Atrisco Heritage Academy.

The Storm put themselves in that position after an 18-25, 25-20, 22-25, 25-9, 15-6 victory at Volcano Vista on Oct. 28.

The Storm (19-4, 7-1) never trailed the Jaguars, winning their seventh match in a row after dropping their first district contest with Cibola. But after beating the Cougars later, who suffered a loss to Volcano Vista, all the Storm knew they needed was a victory on Senior Night.

The Storm scored the first eight points of the first set and later added a 9-0 run behind the services of Aubrey Ortiz.

A 7-2 start to the second set, enhanced by a 10-1 run, again left the last-place Jaguars (4-15, 0-7) in the dust.

Scoring the first seven points of the third and final set, you knew it was going to be a sweet Senior Night for Cleveland and pair of seniors: Kyndall Altamirano and Sophia Maurer, who celebrated with a match-high 11 kills. Petra Fritz added nine kills, while Ortiz was called upon for 12 digs and Sophia Bacahui had 10 digs.

Overall, the Storm had 21 aces with just four service errors, which came in the final two sets.

Happy Storm coach Charity Gomez said she believed her team deserves a 3 seed for state, behind perennial power Centennial (19-1) and La Cueva (18-1). The four losses have been respectable ones: two to Rio Rancho, although the Storm were 2-0 vs. the Rams in district meetings; La Cueva and Cibola.

“We’re competitive in the gym; we’re very deep,” Gomez said. “We have a strong (team), from top to bottom, so we get after it every day.

“Literally, we just get after it every day. It’s a competitive environment and we focus on one game at a time … not spending too much time on a loss or a win, but getting to the next one.”

There’s no way the Storm would be looking past AHA: “I told them to view them as an opponent and an opportunity to get better, regardless of who that opponent was. … It was an opportunity for us to get our offense a little more efficient tonight, and that’s how we viewed it.”

Rams blow two-set lead

With their fate in their hands as the season winded down last week, the Rams (14-9, 3-5) lost a pair of five-set matches to teams that finished ahead of them in the district.

Had either been a Rams victory, third place would have been theirs.

Instead, the Rams and host third-place Volcano Vista (11-10, 4-4) swapped sets on Nov. 2, with the Hawks emerging victors, 25-21, 17-25, 25-21, 23-25, 15-9.

Two night later, this time with a 2-0 lead in sets, the host Rams were beaten by second-place Cibola (18-3, 6-2), 21-25, 18-25, 25-18, 26-24, 15-6.

It was the Cougars’ eighth victory in a row over Rio Rancho, which last beat Cibola on Oct. 3, 2017, in a sweep at the RAC.

The Rams took charge early, leading 15-7 in the first set, although the Cougars denied a set point and pulled within three points, 24-21, before the Rams won.

The Rams led in the second set, 16-9, somehow allowing the feisty Cougars to rally from a 24-14 deficit to a 24-18 Rams lead before a service error of their own gave the Rams a 2-0 lead in sets.

The Cougars were a killing machine in the third set, when the Rams’ began making costly unforced errors, never leading in that set.

The fourth set was tied often, lastly at 13, before Cibola began ripping off points and looked poised to win, leading 22-18.
Cibola even got to set point, 24-20, before an exciting Rams rally tied it at 23, on an ace by Alyssa Dominguez, followed by a laser kill by Cecelia Vance.

But the Rams’ fifth service error of that set, by Dominguez ,resulted in a sideout and a 25-24 lead for Cibola.

An ace later and the teams headed into the decisive fifth set, led briefly by the Rams, 2-0, before seven straight points by the Cougars were among a 10-1 run to soon put the match away in the RAC.

Although his Rams seemed likely to make the 12-team Class 5A state bracket, the loss may have cost the Rams homecourt advantage when the first round begins Tuesday.

“I thought Alyssa Dominguez did a good job serving (her first serve of the fifth set had been an ace), you know; she had that error at the end and they came right back and served right at her,” coach Toby Manzanares said. “The conversation was with my libero (Jenny Baker) and her: ‘Hey, you know they’re going after her, so communicate with her and say I’ll take this area and I’ll pass the ball in the middle of the floor.’ No shame in that at all, for either one of those (girls).

“I liked our effort — it was probably as good as we’ve played in several weeks, to tell you the truth,” he said. “If they give us a chance to play Tuesday, and we match this effort, then I like our chances, I really do.”

Digs: The NMAA released the 12-team state bracket on Sunday. Cleveland earned the No. 3 seed in the 5A tournament and will face the Eldorado/Volcano Vista winner in the opening round 12 p.m. Friday.

Rio Rancho earned the No. 12 seed in Class 5A and will travel to fifth-seeded Los Lunas in Tuesday’s play-in match-up.

… Tuesday’s Round of 12 losers end their season, with the four winners advancing to a double-elimination format Friday at the Rio Rancho Events Center. The semifinals and championship matches will be contested Saturday.

… The all-district team selections are expected to be released the week of Nov. 8.

Cleveland’s Sophia Bacahui bumps the ball as teammates Lylah Moreno (15) and Lauren Snippen (4) stand by in the Storm’s Tuesday sweep of Atrisco Heritage Academy.