Welcome to the biggest rivalry in Class 3A, Jaylee Gonzales.
Thursday represented the first time Gonzales, a junior transfer from Albuquerque Hope Christian, took part in the Las Vegas Robertson-St. Michael’s volleyball rivalry, but she left a big impression on the volleyball court — and on the face of St. Michael’s outside hitter Marissa Sandoval-Moya.
It wasn’t the first time Gonzales, Robertson’s 5-foot-10 outside hitter, hammered a ball off an opponent’s’ face. But not in front of this intense of a match and amid a boisterous crowd like there was in Perez-Shelley Gymnasium for the District 2-3A battle between the top two teams in the district and Class 3A.
Gonzales was sheepish in recounting the moment the ball hit Sandoval-Moya, who collapsed on her back but jumped right back up as if nothing happened. Gonzales, though, couldn’t help but feel the electricity of the moment.
“I felt bad a little bit,” Gonzales said. “But it pumps you up at the same time, too.”
As much as it sent a jolt through her and the Lady Cardinals, the hit had just as much of an effect on the Lady Horsemen. The two teams battled back and forth in a fierce fourth game before Gonzales settled the matter with three kills in the final four points to help Robertson win Round 1 of its yearly battle against St. Michael’s.
The points secured a 25-17, 21-25, 25-19, 25-23 victory and kept the Lady Cardinals undefeated at 17-0 and 4-0 in the district.
It also marked the 21st consecutive win for the program, which dates back to its 3A championship run in 2019. Robertson did not compete in the shortened spring season.
The match lived up to the hype surrounding the two teams.
Robertson showed it still has plenty of championship mettle as it watched the Lady Horsemen rally from an 13-6 deficit in the fourth game to take a 22-21 lead when Jayden Jenkins sailed a hit into the net.
The Lady Cardinals relied on their relentless hitting attack as they recorded kills on their last four points. Gonzales recorded the last two, with the final one coming in resounding fashion as she pounded the ball into the middle of the Horsemen side to thwart any hopes of some five-game magic.
St. Michael’s showed that it was Robertson’s equal, even though a sloppy Game 1 put the Lady Horsemen (13-4, 4-1) on their heels. Sandoval said her young team, which consists of two freshman and two sophomore starters, could not overcome early jitters.
“The girls have been so excited for this game,” St. Michael’s head coach Valerie Sandoval said. “I think it was game jitters. This team is really, really young. Right now, we’re learning the mental game. We have the talent. We’re just pushing through the mental part.”
Once St. Michael’s got past Game 1, it showed a varied offensive arsenal that could rival the Lady Cardinals, who lost sophomore Pasepa Tuineau to a knee injury in Game 1. Still, Robertson’s depth at the net minimized the loss of Tuineau and underscored their “next player up” mentality.
“We all know, if we need to step up, we’re there to step up,” senior middle hitter Jayden Jenkins said. “We have to work hard and be ready whenever.”
Still, it was Jenkins and Gonzales who were the ringleaders of the Lady Cardinals’ attack. Jenkins had 11 kills, two blocks and an ace to end Game 3, while Gonzales had a team high 26 kills, as both of them often thundered hits past the helpless St. Michael’s back row.
They also got help from freshman middle hitter Alex King-Greenwalt, who had six kills and a pair of blocks, and Stella Garcia, who had six kills and a block.
However, the Lady Horsemen were able to slow down their opponents’ attack more effectively when Sandoval inserted junior Carmen Pacheco into the rotation for Game 2 to offer more size to slow down Robertson’s hitters.
St. Michael’s found itself down 8-2 in that game, but slowly chipped away at the deficit. Pacheco played a big role in the turning point of the game, when she served five straight points to turn a 17-14 deficit into a 20-17 lead on Alex Stringer’s kill that hit the back line.
It also helped that Sandoval-Moya, Rhegan Glidewell and Alana Overton began to find their stride at the net. They combined for 23 kills, with Glidewell and Overton each collecting eight to lead the way.
Glidewell also had a key run of four points on her serve in Game 4 that put the score at 18-all. But Sandoval-Moya missed a chance to take the lead when her cross-court kill barely missed the left sideline to give Robertson a 19-18 edge.
It was those missed opportunities the veteran Lady Cardinals took advantage of to hold off the Lady Horsemen.
However, the win is merely a prelude to the rematch in Michael Marr Gymnasium on Oct. 28.
And Gonzales will surely be ready for Round 2.