IIt would be a challenge for the Santa Fe High Demons to win at full strength Tuesday night.
But playing against Albuquerque Sandia without senior captain and defensive specialist Belicia Esquivias, who was sick due to illness, became a challenge. She was badly needed on a night when the Lady Matadors were aggressively firing from all cylinders – especially Tiona Drumm in her sophomore year.
The outside hitter had 20 kills and served five aces to help Sandia, the brave but short-handed demons with a 25-22, 25-12, 21-25, 25-16 win in the Class 5A play-in match – State thwart volleyball tournament.
Sandia, eighth seeded in the tournament, will play against number 1 Albuquerque La Cueva on Friday.
Demons # 9 (13-9) struggled to come up with an answer for Drumm, who often simply rose above their block to find the holes in the defense.
“We just stayed aggressive,” said Drumm. “Our trainer [Greg Villareal] told us that. If we stay aggressive, we really just drop balls. “
Drumm was at her best when it was time to end the match as she recorded eight kills and an ace while Sandia led 20-10 in Game 4.
Meanwhile, Santa Fe High struggled mightily with errors in almost every facet of the game. In total, the demons had 42 faults in a variety of ways – serve-acceptance, serve, hit, and even simple miscommunications while passing.
Their performance contradicted the way Santa Fe High won 10 of their last 11 games after a 3-7 start. Giving away nearly two games worth of points wasn’t the way to make it to the postseason.
Eliza Fowler, junior middle hitter, said Esquivias’ absence put some players under a bit of pressure. But it wasn’t the only problem.
“I think we got our nerve,” said Fowler. “Not being at home also bothered us. Last year we had our first state round and it was really fun. And many of our girls haven’t played here yet [in the postseason] Before.”
The difficulties became acute in the opening game. The Demons had bounced back from a 13-9 deficit to take a 19-18 lead when Drumm’s attempt to kill hit the out-of-bounds pole.
There were still 20 when senior Marisa Koroneos blocked Francesca Federici’s goal. The demons had a chance to take the lead and let them run away with an avalanche of mistakes.
It started with Marissa Benavidez’s serve into the net after Koroneos’ game. Eliza Fowler followed with a net breach, then the Demons were called out to four hits. Santa Fe high setter Miamh Walsh gave her team a reprieve with a kill in the left corner for 23-21, but followed with a serve that sailed long.
Ariana followed Anaya with a tip kill to get the Demons within 24-22, but Sandia middle hitter Celeste Villa responded with a kill to seal the opening game win.
Adams said she can live with the service errors because she wants her team to be aggressive at the service line.
“We serve 45 minutes a day and do a very serious service exercise,” said Adams. “We pride ourselves on the fact that our program has really strong servers and we emphasize that we’d rather go out than into the net. Let’s stay aggressive. “
Game 2, however, was full of demon mistakes as they committed 14 in total. Sandia opened with a 7-1 run, then steadily extended the lead to 16-7 when Walsh hit the net. A key point in the match came with the Demons within 18-11 and seemed to get ahead with a Zuvia Burton kill.
However, there was a 10 minute delay while umpires tried to find out if the Santa Fe High had served out of rotation, which would have ruined the point. Adams said her team didn’t serve outside of rotation and the confusion was due to the fact that Izzy Lovato was switched off.
In the end, the Demons were punished for serving outside of rotation, and the Lady Matadors raised the margin to 21-11 when Drumm hammered a kill-off from Benavidez.
Santa Fe High responded with their best performance in Game 3, as Sandia only had nine faults and Burton came alive with four of her eight kills. The Demons built a 22-15 lead on Alyssa Sanchez’s tip kill on a Lady Matadors flyover, but Sandia snuck up on Tori Scheler’s ace on 23-21 – one of a dozen she had on the night.
It was as close as the Lady Matadors when Burton ended the game with a kill.
Burton is one of eight players returning next year and Adams believes the experience the team has gained over the course of the season will only help them recover – hopefully to the high point of the program in the spring when it was playing for the Class 5A championship.
“We want to be competitive,” said Adams. “It’s about us and the kind of work we do every day. Long days, every single day. “