By Dave Wagner, CNJ Sports Writer
ALBUQUERQUE — Fort Sumner climbed one major hill on Friday. Now the Vixens will have to do it again in today’s Class 1A state volleyball championship at Tingley Coliseum.
Fort Sumner turned the tables on District 3-1A rival Elida, handing the Lady Tigers their first loss of the season with a 25-23, 25-23, 25-18 verdict in the semifinal round.
The Vixens (17-6) meet defending 1A state champion Tatum (19-4) for the crown today in a rematch of the 2004 finals, won by Fort Sumner. Tatum took Friday’s first semifinal over Animas 26-24, 25-19, 25-19.
Elida had beaten the Vixens three times this season.
“We knew this was a huge (match),” said senior outside hitter Alex Owens, who collected 12 kills and two aces for Fort Sumner. “I really wanted this (win) so bad. I really talked to the girls and tried to pump them up.”
Against the Lady Tigers (23-1), Fort Sumner maintained a lead much of the way, answering each Elida run with key points.
“They had a lot of pressure on them,” Vixens coach Lisa McMath said of the Lady Tigers. “They had more pressure than we did.”
Junior middle blocker Bree’Anna Lucero matched Owens with 12 kills for Fort Sumner. Lucero also notched four blocks, all coming by the early part of the second game.
The Vixens had some trouble closing out the first two games, with respective leads of 24-19 and 24-20 turning into nailbiters. McMath, in fact, used both of her timeouts on the same rotation trying to stop Elida’s late run in the first game.
The Lady Tigers had a service error in the first game and an attack error in the second on the game points.
“It just wasn’t our day,” Elida coach Darrell Chenault said. “I thought they played well, and I thought we played well.
“I told the girls (before the match) that if we played good, they’d probably have to play about perfect to beat us. And that’s about what happened.”
Fort Sumner fell behind 6-3 in the third game, but took the lead for good at 12-11 when setter Rita Herrera’s tip fell for a kill. The Vixens built a 16-12 margin and never led Elida within three points after that.
McMath and Owens pointed to consistency as a factor in the win.
“The key today was we never gave them more than two or three points (at a time),” Owens said. “When we did, we’d just pick ourselves up again.”
Senior outside hitter Alicia Cross-Smith kept the Lady Tigers in the hunt with 14 kills, three aces and a block. Junior outside hitter Janice Taylor added eight kills.
“We had trouble passing the ball today, and if you can’t pass the ball it’s going to be tough,” Chenault said. “But we don’t have anything to hang our heads about.”
Owens said Tatum plays a similar style to Elida.
“If we come out with the same energy, we can give them a good game,” she said.
The Mike Majors-coached Lady Coyotes were hard-hit by graduation after going unbeaten last year, but they’ve been able to compensate in making a third consecutive finals appearance.
“They’ve had a great year,” McMath said. “We’re going to have to come in again and play at a top level.”