La Cueva’s Tea Kaladjzic (right) spikes the ball past Centennial’s Tess Fuqua during the Bears’ win Thursday night at La Cueva. (Mike Sandoval/For the Journal)
Teams have been lining up against the La Cueva Bears, literally since opening day, and shooting their proverbial shot.
And these are good teams. Some of the best New Mexico has to offer. Rio Rancho twice. Cleveland twice. Cibola. Las Cruces. And now Centennial twice.
None has solved the Bears. And no solution seems imminent.
So how would you defend this La Cueva team, one of its standouts was asked?
“Ooooooh,” said junior hitter Tea Kalajdzic. “You’d really have to watch a lot of film on us.”
On Thursday night, the top-ranked Bears won their 12th straight match to open the season, beating visiting Centennial — Class 5A’s third-ranked team — in four sets.
The scores were 25-20, 25-19, 15-25, 25-18. It was La Cueva’s second win over the Hawks (8-4) in less than a week, after defeating Centennial in the championship match of Rio Rancho High’s elite Volleybash event last Saturday.
The Bears’ size, depth and power ultimately was too much for Centennial to handle. As it has been for everyone.
“We have a lot of weapons,” La Cueva coach Steve Archibeque said. “That’s the difference between us and Centennial.”
The Bears have dropped only five sets so far this season and haven’t been pushed to a fifth set by anyone on their schedule, which has been formidable. Las Cruces is ranked No. 2, Cibola no. 4, Cleveland No. 5 and Rio Rancho No. 6.
Those teams ranked 2-6 are a combined 0-8 against the Class 5A defending state champions.
Said Kalajdzic: “We’re feeling really good. I just think it’s important to stay humble, but stay confident in our skills and go out there with battling mindset.”
Centennial and coach Al Rosen — one of the state’s great coaches who is retiring at the end of this season — feature the returning Gatorade Player of the Year in hitter Tess Fuqua, who has committed to the University of Arizona.
La Cueva blocked and dug against Fuqua fairly successfully through most of the opening two sets; the 6-footer began to heat up at the end of the second set and her hitting helped carry the Hawks to a third-set win that extended the match.
But the Bears scored seven of the first nine points of the fourth set and prevented the Hawks from building on that momentum.
Kalajdzic, Ella Sanders, Sophie Diouf and Victoria Marthaler — all but the 5-foot-10 Sanders stand 6-feet — took turns at net putting pressure on the Centennial defense. There was no way the Hawkc could defend them all.
“Sometimes,” admitted Sanders, the most prolific of the hitters on this La Cueva roster, “it’s boring, because I feel like we have so many options, that you win kind of fast. People have a hard time defending so many options.”
Centennial coach Al Rosen (left), shown during warmups Thursday night at La Cueva, is retiring at season’s end. (Mike Sandoval/For the Journal)
NOTES: Rosen will be leaving the coaching ranks having led Centennial to three blue trophies, and two more championships while at Gadsden. … La Cueva, which beat Las Cruces in the Volleybash semifinals last weekend, visits the Lady Bulldawgs on Saturday. … Las Cruces was also in Albuquerque on Thursday night and swept Cibola in straight sets, 26-24, 25-20 and 25-21. The Cougars are traveling to play Centennial on Saturday.
VOLLEYBALL COACHES POLLS
1. La Cueva (12) 120
2. Las Cruces 101
3. Centennial 91
4. Cibola 72
5. Cleveland 68
6.Rio Rancho 67
8, Eldorado 37
9. Los Lunas 17
10.Volcano Vista 15
Also receiving votes: Roswell 3, Mayfield 3.
1. Goddard (11) 128
2. Artesia (1) 116
3.Pojoaque (1) 89
4. Hope Christian 80
5. St Pius 68
6.Los Alamos 67
7. ABQ Academy 49
8 Silver 29
9. Portales 22
10. Aztec 19
Also receiving votes: Kirtland Central 10, Santa Teresa 9, Gallup 7, Miyamura 6, Valencia 4, Valley 2, Moriarty 1.
1. St Mikes (8) 89
Hot Springs (1) 70
4.Sandia Prep 49
6. Bosque School 46
8. Cobre 26
10. Thoreau 12
Also receiving votes: cuba 8, NMMI 5, Cottonwood Classical Prep 4, East Mountain 3, Navajo Prep 1.
1. Laguna Acoma (8) 141
2. Santa Rosa (4) 128
3. Texas (1) 97
4. Cloudcroft 66
6. Escalante (1) 59
7. Captain 54
8. Eunice 53
9. Menaul 31
10. Tatum 29
Also receiving votes: Dulce 18, Clayton 17, Navajo Pine 17, Lordsburg 16.
1. Melrose (11) 151
2. Gateway Christian (3) 135
3. Animas (1) 98
4. Knight (1) 74
5. Legacy Academy 68
8th ft. Sumner/House 41
9th reserve 29th
10. Elida 25
Also receiving votes: Magdelena 28, Grady 14, Alamo Navajo 14.