Mike Powers| News-Bulletin photos
Riley Luther, No. 13, and Ella Zamora, No. 3, look to get a block for Los Lunas against Organ Mountain at the 5A State Volleyball Championship.

Rio Rancho

Both Los Lunas and Valencia were competitive at the State High School Volleyball Championships at Rio Rancho Events Center but came up short in the quest for a top three finish.

It was a tall order Thursday for Los Lunas in the Tigers first game at the State 5A Volleyball Championship. LLHS, No. 4, earned a first-round bye, and faced No. 5 Cleveland, a team Los Lunas had defeated three times during the season.

But the Storm sought revenge, and with a big front line, dominated game one 25-17. Los Lunas had at least seven service errors.

“We struggled in serve/receive and definitely struggled in our offense,” according to Los Lunas coach Tanya Sanchez.

“They’re huge. We couldn’t really get over the block,” said Mia Mendoza, a LLHS junior setter.

Mia Mendoza of Los Lunas sets the ball for a teammate against Cleveland at the 5A State Volleyball Championship.

During set two, Mellody Chavez and Riley Luther helped the Tigers build a 19-16 lead, but Cleveland rallied to win 25-17.

Los Lunas got back into the match with a back and forth, gritty 25-19 victory in set three, but Cleveland shut the door in the fourth set 25-21.

“We’re a good team. We play smart, but they we’re fantastic,” Mendoza said of Cleveland.

The loss sent the Tigers to the losers’ bracket, where they found some momentum. LLHS swept both No. 11 Organ Mountain and No. 7 Volcano Vista, earning a Saturday showdown against No. 3 Cibola. The winner would advance to the final four. However, it couldn’t have started much worse for Los Lunas, with Cibola easily taking the first two sets, 25-15 and 25-14.

“We weren’t passing very well,” coach Sanchez said. “I think we were intimidated a little bit.”

During the break, Sanchez told the team, “We worked this hard, we need to give them a game.”

That’s exactly what the Tigers did.

On the strength of outstanding defense and front-line play from Chavez, Los Lunas stormed back to win games three and four, by identical 25-23 scores. Next, it was the first time all season LLHS played a fifth set and it didn’t go well.

“It was new for us,” the coach said. “They (Cougars) have some good weapons up front. That’s what hurt us the most.”

Cibola took the final set 15-9, ending the Tigers’ season (21-5).

“I’m super proud of their effort,” Sanchez said.

LLHS returns a “good core group,” but will lose seniors Luther, Aleigha Romero, Mya Hessinger and Ella Zamora.

Several Tigers were ranked in the top 15 in a number of individual categories this season in 5A: Chavez and Luther in kills, Mendoza in assists, Romero and Madison Pruitt in aces and Shiplet in digs.

Valencia’s Marissa McDaniel, No. 4, is on the attack against Silver during the 4A State Volleyball Championship.

Valencia was eliminated after losing its first two games in the 4A Championship. The No. 11 Jaguars opened the tournament Thursday against No. 6 Hope, falling 25-11, 28-26 and 25-19. VHS was playing in its first state tournament since 2016.

In a loser-out game Friday, Valencia had an excellent start against No. 12 Silver. With VHS repeatedly setting up Jaiden Montgomery for big hits, the Jaguars won the first set 25-20.

However, Valencia wasn’t as sharp the rest of the match.

“I think it was the little mistakes, our first time at state,” said Alissa Raley, a junior middle hitter.

“The second set was a little tough for us,” said coach Leslie Owens. “We fought through adversity and came back.”

Valencia (14-11) rallied from an 8-0 deficit in the third set but came up just short, 25-21.

Valencia’s Kenzie Goar, No. 2, spikes the ball against Silver during the 4A State Volleyball Championship.

Facing elimination, the Jaguars kept the fourth set tight with digs by Monique Chavez, aces by Layla Pacheco and kills by Montgomery and Raley. Ultimately, the Fighting Colts closed out the match by another 25-21 score.

“This was a great experience for them,” Owens said. “We fought until the end as a family, and that’s how you want to go out.”

“It was a cool experience,” said Raley. “I think we did good.”

VHS had three players ranked in the top 10 this season in several 4A categories, and all are underclassmen. Raley was ranked in blocks, hitting percentage and kills, Montgomery in kills and Chavez was top six in assists and aces.

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Mike Powers spent more than 40 years as a television news and sports anchor, mostly in the Albuquerque market. He has won numerous awards including New Mexico Sportscaster of the Year. He covers a wide range of sports, including the Valencia County prep scene.