By Eric Butler: PNT Correspondent
Success or disappointment? For the Portales volleyball players, a third-place finish at the 16-team Wildcat Invitational was a little bit of both. While the Rams could look proudly at a 28-26, 25-21, 19-25, 25-18 victory over Class 5A Los Lunas in the consolation match, they also couldn’t help but wish their earlier venture on Saturday had been just as succesful.
In a semifinal match, Tatum outlasted Portales 25-23, 22-25, 25-13, 22-25, 15-4 to move into the championship.
“It’s not quite what we wanted, but we learned from the games that we played,” said Rams’ senior Briana Hernandez after the win over Los Lunas.
The one lesson Hernandez said she and her teammates learned was not to underestimate anyone — i.e., Tatum, in this case. It wasn’t because Tatum is a Class 1A school, according to Hernandez, that the Coyotes weren’t regarded as highly as they should have, but because they graduated most of the team that went unbeaten last season.
“They’re fundamentally sound and most of us were taking them lightly. Just because they’re young doesn’t mean anything,” Hernandez said.
Portales (3-1) bounced back from the semifinal loss to find a Los Lunas squad with height (6-foot-2 Kameo Pena, for instance) and determination lying in wait.
In the first game of the third-place match, the Rams broke away from a 26-26 tie when junior Jordan Roehl recorded a kill which was followed by an errant kill attempt by the Tigers.
Los Lunas (1-2) held a big 19-13 lead in the second game, but an out-of-rotation call on the Tigers – which included a long ensuing delay – was the beginning of a 7-0 run for Portales. After the game deadlocked at 20-20, a Vicki Huber kill started a 5-1 streak that gave the Rams the game.
But Portales couldn’t achieve a sweep as Los Lunas, led by Pena’s 20 kills, raced away for a third game victory.
The Rams, which got 12 kills apiece from Hernandez and Bethany Self as well as 11 more from Roehl, got off to a quick start by reeling off the first four points of the fourth game. Though Los Lunas closed to within two points, at 18-16, Portales pulled away by scoring five straight points.
In that last run, Huber scored a pair of kills to go along with another from Montana Russell. Those two players were part of a multi-source aggressive hitting attack that Portales coach Ruth Chavez wished had been more fully utilized in the loss to Tatum.
“I thought that what hurt us bad with Tatum was that we just quit hitting the ball. I told them yesterday to hit the ball, win or lose. If you’re swinging hard, you get better. But you don’t really ever improve by tapping it,” Chavez said.