RIO RANCHO — The last home volleyball match in Lauren Fulgenzi’s life is something she’ll never forget — for all the wrong reasons.
The Las Vegas Robertson senior grew up dreaming of the night she’d celebrate the culmination of a high school career playing for the coach who just happens to be her mom. Instead, a group of adults Lauren will never really know or truly understand stepped in and banned her mom, wildly popular Lady Cardinals head coach Stacy Fulgenzi, from stepping foot in the gym.
That was a week ago during the finals of the District 2-3A tournament in Las Vegas, N.M. The elder Fulgenzi was named the 2-3A coach of the year but her name was never read over the public address system and her accolades never mentioned to the team during the awards presentation.
“To have that happen to a coach is so sad, but when the coach is your mom … ,” Lauren said, pausing as tears filled her eyes, “it’s so much worse. It’s a bunch of adults who are just hurting kids with their decisions. I don’t think any of them think about it like that.”
The Fulgenzis were back at it during Thursday’s opening rounds of the Class 3A State Tournament at the Santa Ana Star Center. Seeded No. 2, Robertson made quick work of Navajo Prep in the quarterfinals, sweeping its way to a 25-11, 25-10, 25-13 victory to send them into Friday’s semifinals against No. 3 Hatch Valley.
While she may have been barred from her own school’s gym, Stacy Fulgenzi was in the Star Center for Thursday’s match. Sitting high up in section 201, flanked by her older daughter Brandelyn to one side and sister, Volcano Vista head coach Dawn C’de Baca, to the other, she watched as Lauren and rest of the Lady Cardinals looked like the most dominant team in the bracket.
The goal, Lauren Fulgenzi said, is to hoist the blue state championship trophy Saturday night and immediately hand it to her mom. For four weeks, Stacy Fulgenzi has been prohibited from making any kind of formal contact with the team. She was suspended by the school district in late October for “misconduct,” leaving the team in the hands of her assistant coaches.
“This entire thing is a great lesson for life down the road,” said Robertson senior Tessa Ortiz. “It’s that sometimes adults make bad decisions that make you not trust them. Life isn’t fair; that’s what they’re saying here.”
The players and parents have rallied to Fulgenzi’s defense, but it’s clear that the one person who has a truly unique view of all this is Lauren Fulgenzi. Her uncle is Robertson athletic director Juan Carlos Fulgenzi, the brother of Stacy’s ex-husband, Warren Fulgenzi.
Lauren can clearly see both sides of the argument and the entire thing, she said, is a brutal experience for her to cope with.
“My dad didn’t even come to my last home game,” she said, again holding back tears. “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do here. I want my mom back. I want the adults to think about how it affects us, you know?”
She did have a chance to visit with her and the rest of her teammates after Thursday’s match ended. The entire group of Robertson players, parents and coaches all met under the south grandstand of the Star Center, celebrating the win and dreaming of what could be just 48 hours from then.
“I know she’s been sitting up high and, really, not even allowed to be up there sometimes but if we do get to the championship and win it, I want her down here with us,” she said.
Only time will tell. Robertson’s jurisdiction, it seems, only extends as far as the boundaries of Michael Marr Gymnasium.
The Santa Fe High volleyball team, seeded fifth in the Class 5A State Tournament, split its two matches in the modified double-elimination tournament Thursday in the Santa Ana Star Center.
After sweeping No. 12 Hobbs in the opening round, the Demonettes (19-5) fell to No. 4 Albuquerque Volcano Vista, 25-20, 25-22, 23-25, 20-25, 15-12, in the quarterfinals. The Demonettes head to the loser’s bracket and face No. 11 Roswell at 1:15 p.m. in the Star Center.
For the third time in the past three weeks, District 2-4A rivals Los Alamos and Pojoaque Valley played each other. For the third time in a row, it was the No. 7 Lady Hilltoppers who got the upper hand as they dispatched the No. 10 Elkettes 21-25, 25-13, 25-9, 25-20 to reach the 4A quarterfinals.
Unfortunately, they could not keep the momentum going against second-seeded Roswell Goddard, which rolled to a 25-18, 25-15, 25-21 win to reached the winner’s bracket semifinal. Los Alamos (15-8) will take on No. 9 Silver in a win-or-go-home matchup.
Pojoaque, meanwhile, replaces one familiar foe with another. The Elkettes (14-8) are in a must-win match against No. 8 Albuquerque Hope Christian in the losers bracket, a team they split with during the regular season.
Losers action begins at 9:45 a.m. Friday.
Defending state champion St. Michael’s survived a wild five-set thriller against Albuquerque Sandia Prep, winning 18-25, 25-17, 23-25, 25-15, 15-9 to reach a Friday match against No. 1 Tularosa.
The Lady Horsemen struggled with serve-receive early in the match, particularly during the loss in third game. That’s when head coach Valerie Sandoval implored her team to find the mental toughness that last year’s team used to win the entire tournament.
“We were totally out of our system and the girls’ faces were down,” she said. “Sometimes all it takes is to talk about being mentally strong, about being better than what we’re showing.”
Also, No. 11 Santa Fe Indian School dropped its opening-round match to No. 6 Laguna-Acoma, 25-15, 25-17, 25-20, and will face No. 5 Albuquerque Sandia Prep in the consolation round.
Santa Fe Prep, the 10th seed, lost to Navajo Prep, 25-14, 25-6, 25-12, to also fall into the consolation bracket. The Blue Griffins will face No. 8 Socorro, which lost in four games to top seed Tularosa in the quarterfinals. Both matches are at 11:30 a.m.
Eight seed Monte del Sol survived a grueling opening-round match against No. 9 Peñasco, 25-18, 25-16, 13-25, 15-25, 15-9. The Lady Dragons, though, struggled in the afternoon quarterfinal against No. 1 Texico, the five-time defending state champion, as the Lady Wolverines rolled to a 25-10, 25-19, 25-15 win.
Monte del Sol (20-5) will face fellow District 2-2A foe Desert Academy (12-9), the 10th seed which lost to No. 7 Eunice, 25-14, 17-25, 25-18, 25-17, in the opening round of the losers bracket at 8 a.m.
Meanwhile, No. 4 Pecos will have to advance to the semifinals the hard way after falling in its own five-game battle with No. 5 Mescalero Apache. The Lady Chiefs won 25-17, 15-25, 16-25, 25-17, 16-14. The Lady Panthers (18-5) will take on No. 6 Coronado (21-2), another upset victim as the Lady Leopards lost to No. 11 Magdalena in five games by a 25-23, 25-14, 20-25, 9-25, 15-4 count. The match is set for 8 a.m.
Santa Fe Waldorf, the 12th seed in the tournament, lost to No. 5 Floyd in four games to end up in the losers bracket. The Lady Wolves (9-13) will play No. 6 Tatum, which lost to No. 4 Pine Hill in the quarterfinals, at 9:45 a.m. Friday.