RIO RANCHO — Correlate this, if you can, ladies and gentlemen.
Pojoaque Valley beat Wingate.
Wingate beat West Las Vegas.
Pojoaque hasn’t beaten West Las Vegas this season.
So, how does this work?
Well, when you’re dealing with volleyball — especially the Class AAAA State Tournament — anything is possible. The Elkettes proved that on Thursday afternoon in the opening round of the AAAA bracket, beating the Lady Bears in a surprisingly convincing 25-6, 25-12, 25-16 fashion in the Santa Ana Star Center. The win advances 11th-seeded Pojoaque to a quarterfinal tilt with No. 3 Silver at 8 a.m. on Friday.
Pojoaque (11-12) did not play like a team that finished in third place without a win in four pool-play games earlier in the morning. Relying on strong serving and a toughened defense, the Elkettes kept No. 9 Wingate from effectively running their system. Then again, Wingate did not play like the team that upset fourth-seed West Las Vegas 25-17 in the opening pool play game in Group D, which gave it the point-differential tie-breaker to take second in the pool over the Lady Dons.
And that had some Elkettes wondering how they so easily beat a team that gave West Las Vegas fits. It’s the same team that Pojoaque has not beaten in four tries this season, and one that kept its season alive with a 25-22, 25-15, 19-25, 26-24 win over No. 6 Hatch Valley in the opening round.
“That’s what we were thinking,” Pojoaque senior outside hitter Micah Espinoza said. “We were like, ‘How did West lose to this team?’ No disrespect to Wingate.”
In a lot of ways, Pojoaque’s performance hearkened back to the style it displayed while winning the last five state titles but hasn’t consistently this season. With Wingate often simply passing the ball back to the Elkettes, they then found holes in the Lady Bears defense for quick and easy kills.
It was the antithesis of the entire season for the offense-starved Elkettes, whose tallest player is just 5-foot-7. Then again, their head coach, Miquella Lovato, felt Wingate was the perfect matchup after facing off against taller teams in Hatch Valley and No. 2 Albuquerque Hope Christian, both of whom have hitters over 6-0.
“This team was similar to us in height,” Lovato said. “So maybe it wasn’t as much of an intimidation factor. We definitely stepped up and played the way we know how.”
That started right off the bat, as Pojoaque served its way to a 7-3 edge, then upped it to 14-5 before scoring 11 of the next 12 points to finish off the Lady Bears. In Game 2, the Elkettes built a 15-8 lead when Espinoza served six straight points and added a pair of aces that put the game away.
Even when the Lady Bears stayed within 10-all in Game 3, there was still a sense that Pojoaque was in control. The Elkettes exerted it with three kills from Racheal Garcia and two from Abrianna Gipson during a decisive 6-0 run. For a moment, or two, it was vintage Elkettes volleyball.
“It felt really good,” Elkettes senior setter Sofia Lucero said. “It felt really good. You never get over that feeling, really.”
No. 4 West Las Vegas 3, No. 6 Hatch Valley 1
Back to Square One.
That’s how Lady Dons senior outside hitter Celeste Trujillo described the lackluster pool play effort in Group D earlier in the morning.
It left West Las Vegas taking the tougher road to the state championship, which began with the Lady Bears.
Even though they started off sluggishly in every game, the Lady Dons found a way to turn their fortunes around for a 25-22, 25-15, 19-25, 26-24 first-round win and advance to an 8 a.m. quarterfinal matchup with No. 8 Portales.
Trujillo said the 1-3 performance in pool play took some of the wind out of the West Las Vegas sails that blew steadily during an eight-match winning streak.
“We fell apart and we knew it,” Trujillo said. “We were back literally back to Square One. We weren’t talking to each other.”
Karli Salazar, the Lady Dons head coach, nipped that in the bud quickly, as she told her team to talk about the pool play and iron out whatever issues came from it.
“I felt like if we didn’t figure it out now and reset immediately, it was going to be the end of our season,” Salazar said.
West Las Vegas trailed by a significant portion in every game, but turned enough of them around to keep hope — and the season — alive. Game 2 was by far its best performance, as a 14-9 Lady Bears lead was evaporated in the wave of a 16-1 run to close the game.
Now, it’s on to Portales, a team that upset No. 1 Ruidoso in Group A to take the top spot in the bracket.
“We kinda came in here with big heads,” Trujillo said. “We saw what it was like to fall apart again, and we don’t want to do that again. We’ve come too far to do that again.”