The Pojoaque Valley Elkettes volleyball team might be the hottest in the area, with three straight strong wins putting them on top of the district ahead of a first-place showdown.
Junior Libero Shontelle Molina said the team has bonded closer together, which has led to their success.
“We’re more like family,” Molina said. “We trust each other out on the court. That trust really helps us when we’re playing.”
The Elkettes (12-6) continued rolling with an easy straight-sets victory over Española Valley (8-11) on Oct. 14, 25-16, 25-14, 25-13, tying Los Alamos with a 3-0 start to district play. The Sundevils lost their eighth straight match, and begin district play at 0-4 as they look to build for next year after going a full month without a win.
The Elkettes would not have been favored entering the year. The loss of several key players from last year, including hitter Alicia Quintana and setter Ayana Aguirre, figured to set them back after a disappointing conclusion to their abbreviated March 2021 season at 4-4.
But instead, a new group has stepped forward and led the team to surprising success.
“At first, we were expecting to have a really bad season,” Molina said. “But, it’s turned out to be a really good season, because of how much our coaches pushed us.”
Molina said the Sept. 25 match against Portales, a five-set loss to an elite team, stood out to her as a turning point when the team realized how good they could be.
Pojoaque coach Joe Rodriguez said the longer season has started to wear down the team and himself, but that is hard to see from their performance.
Española won the first three points of the match, but from there it was all Pojoaque all the time. They quickly took the lead back in the set, then in one stretch won nine of 11 points and built a bigger and bigger lead before finishing the set 25-16.
The Elkettes in the second set served six aces and no errors as they cruised to a 25-14 win, leading by big numbers the entire way through the set. And in the third set, Española took an early lead at 6-4 and then let up 12 straight points en route to a 25-13 Pojoaque win.
“Even though it is the game of volleyball that is this obstacle that they overcome, it’s going to make them better in life,” said Española coach Nicole Romero. “Remember why they’re out there, and remember why they love volleyball.”
By the second set, Romero had shuffled the lineup to take out starters and give playing time to younger Sundevils. Eighth-grader Olivia Suazo subbed in at Libero, and both freshman Faith Garcia and sophomore Francesca Salazar saw playing time while being new to the varsity roster.
The Sundevils currently play six seniors, including a majority of starters, with sophomore middle blocker Mercedes Gonzales the only underclassman to see consistent playing time in the first half of the season.
“Not that I’ve given up on my seniors at all,” Romero said. “But we’ve come to an understanding of where we are at this point in our season. And for the sake of the program, we’re going to start getting those younger ones some reps. That way, come next year, it’s not butterflies and nervousness.”
Romero said she has worked with the younger players since they were five years old, and she is looking forward to their development.
Senior Brandy Gurule had 14 assists for Española, and senior Daphne Talamantes led the team with seven kills. Roxane DeLeon, normally the leader of the offense, was unusually quiet with just three kills. The only facet that was working for the team was the blocking game, with eight recorded in the match, led by four from junior Robyn Garcia.
Junior Anica Urioste led the Elkettes with 14 kills in the match and had a double-double with 14 digs. Senior Taylor Quintana had 19 assists to lead the Elkettes (while other setters also worked in rotation). And junior Adrianna Rodriguez had over 30 digs in the match, part of a strong defense that prevented Española’s offense from succeeding.
Española will look to pick up a win in the second half of district play, with their next match coming Thursday (10/21) at home against Los Alamos.
Pojoaque hosted Los Alamos (12-6), the team that beat them twice last year and won the district title, for first place in the district after press deadline on Tuesday. Their next match comes Thursday (10/21) against Taos.
“Our goal was to be undefeated when we saw Los Alamos,” Rodriguez said. “They’re a good squad, and we’ve got to keep them out of system.”