By Kevin Wilson: PNT Staff Writer
With the No. 1 seed, a 10-match winning streak and an undefeated record against Class 3A, there’s no denying that Portales has the target on its back coming into the Class 3A state volleyball tournament in Albuquerque.
Though the answers might be different in some ways, it seems that nobody for the 19-3 Lady Rams dreads the “target on the back” personification.
“We like it,” Portales coach Ruth Chavez said. “It’s an honor to have that target on the back. We’ve worked hard for that.”
Junior outside hitter Briana Hernandez has a different standpoint.
“It doesn’t matter to me,” said Hernandez, who is entering her second state volleyball tournament and has played in two state championship basketball games for Portales. “Portales has always been a target, no matter what.”
State Volleyball Tournament
Pool Play at La Cueva High School
Pool A: Portales, Bloomfield, St. Michael’s, Santa Fe Indian School
Pool B: Pojoaque, West Las Vegas, Thoreau, Socorro
Portales matches: vs. St. Michael’s, 5 p.m.; vs. Bloomfield, 6:20 p.m.; vs. Santa Fe Indian School, 7:40 p.m.
Quarterfinals at La Cueva High School
Quarterfinal 1: Pool A second place vs. Pool B third place, 3:30 p.m.
Quarterfinal 2: Pool B first place vs. Pool A fourth place, 5:15 p.m.
Quarterfinal 3: Pool B second place vs. Pool A third place, 7 p.m.
Quarterfinal 4: Pool A first place vs. Pool B fourth place, 8:45 p.m.
Semifinals at Johnson Gym, University of New Mexico
Quarterfinal 1 winner vs. Quarterfinal 2 winner, 10 a.m.
Quarterfinal 3 winner vs. Quarterfinal 4 winner, noon
State Championship at Johnson Gym
Target and all, Portales will open pool play at 5 p.m. today at La Cueva High School against St. Michael’s, with games later against Bloomfield (6:20 p.m.) and Santa Fe Indian School (7:20 p.m.) in Pool A.
Pool B includes Pojoaque, West Las Vegas, Thoreau, Socorro. The biggest surprise in the tournament, based on Chavez’ thinking, is probably SFIS, which beat second-seeded Hot Springs to get to Albuquerque.
“I think Hot Springs being upset was a big shock,” Chavez said of the 3A field. “(There are) a lot of good records, a lot of good teams. Evidently, the best teams are there.”
The best team on paper is Portales, which was knocked out in the semifinals last year against West Las Vegas, the runnerup in 2004. Defending state champion Ruidoso did not reach the final eight, and Portales has a pair of three-game sweeps against West Las Vegas.
“We know we’ve worked hard and we know what we have the ability to do,” Chavez said. “We know as long as we play our game, we’ll do well.”
Hernandez warns that the toughest place for a team to play its game, however, is the state tournament.
“With all the things going on in your head, you never know what’s going to happen,” Hernandez said. “You think you do, but you don’t.”
When she was in her first volleyball tournament last year, Hernandez admitted she was very nervous and had some forgettable efforts in pool play. This year, she said she feels much more comfortable around her teammates.
“It was new to me,” Hernandez said. “I knew the girls, but I wasn’t used to playing with them. Now, it’s just a family.”
Pool play will determine semifinal positioning, with semifinal matches also at La Cueva High on Thursday.
Friday’s semifinals at 10 a.m. and noon, and Saturday’s 1 p.m. championship match, will all be at Johnson Gym on the University of New Mexico campus.