By Dave Wagner
ALBUQUERQUE — Pojoaque had waited a year for the opportunity to avenge a heartbreaking loss to Portales in the 2005 Class 3A state volleyball championship.
The Elkettes, with virtually everybody returning from that squad, moved into today’s title game with a 25-22, 22-25, 25-21, 25-16 win over Portales at Tingley Coliseum.
Pojoaque coach Brian Ainsworth said he only wished Friday’s match was the final. The Elkettes (22-2) take on district rival West Las Vegas, which dispatched Ruidoso in five games in Friday’s early semifinal.
Meantime, the Lady Rams (16-7) were bidding for a sixth trip to the 3A finals since 2000, including four titles. They edged Pojoaque in five games for the trophy last fall.
“Our experience took over,” said Ainsworth, a Clovis High grad and former Wildcats football standout. “I told the team we’d have to be five points better than Portales every game, because that’s the heart of a champion.”
Senior outside hitter Meagan Valdez had 16 kills for Pojoaque, while seniors Ashley Herrera and Kimberly Velasquez added 12 apiece. Velasquez also had three blocks.
Lady Rams coach Ruth Chavez said her team competed well until the fourth game.
“We just made more mistakes in that game than they did,” she said. “They have a really good team. I thought we were evenly matched.”
After trailing virtually the entire first game, Portales grabbed a 16-15 lead in Game 2 on consecutive aces by junior Tori Teague and went on to even the match.
But Pojoaque had the upper hand virtually all the way in the final two games, using an 8-2 run to build an eight-point lead late in the third and never trailing in the fourth.
Senior Briana Hernandez had 14 kills for Portales, while juniors Bethany Self and Jordan Roehl each posted eight.
Ainsworth credited his defense for containing the 6-foot-1 Self, who suffered a strained knee last weekend in a District 4-3A tournament championship loss to Ruidoso but came back on Thursday to help the Lady Rams advance with 27 kills in a quarterfinal win over Hope Christian.
“These girls are the best defensive and passing girls I’ve ever seen,” Ainsworth said. “We mixed things up in Game 4 and kept Portales off-balance.”
He said the Elkettes will have to be ready today against a West Las Vegas team they’ve already beaten three times.
“We’re guaranteed second place, but I hope we’re not satisfied with that,” Ainsworth said. “It’s a chance of a lifetime to get (consecutive) opportunities to win a championship.”