The Pojoaque Valley High School Elks and Elkettes went from thinking they would not play at all to hosting their first competitions.
After just a few days of practice, the volleyball team looked strong, battling hard against the Española Valley High School Sundevils before ultimately falling in a five-set thriller.
“This is basically our first practice,” said Pojoaque Coach Joe Rodriguez. “Not that Española is a practice team. It’s just, we had people come back from spring break in the last few days. This is the first time we’ve all been together.”
Updated guidelines from the New Mexico Public Education Department reversed course and allowed all schools to participate in sports regardless of their reopening status. Previously, only states that offered in-person learning could compete, and when the Pojoaque School Board opted to remain remote, it seemed to signify the end of this year’s season before it could begin.
Instead, the school was allowed to begin its season on March 9, with full in-person practices before beginning competitions within a week.
“They’re elated,” Rodriguez said. “A week ago, we’re all home watching everybody else play. When I got the call last Tuesday that we’re playing, I was excited. I’m still excited. I get to see the girls play, I get to see these seniors finish their four years here.”
Junior libero Taylor Quintana said it was awkward at first since they had not been playing for so long, but they quickly got the hang of playing together.
“It feels really good,” Quintana said. “I’m actually really glad we got to have a season this year, and I’m glad I got to play with all my friends.”
The Sundevils move to 2-1 on the season with the win, having lost to Santa Fe on Saturday.
Because the match took place in Santa Fe County, parents and spectators were able to attend the match in person; per state guidelines they were allowed to host up to 25 percent capacity. A public address voice told the crowd that people living under the same roof could sit next to each other but otherwise fans had to be distanced, and no food or drinks were allowed in the bleachers.
“I’m actually really glad we got to have our parents here to watch us, as opposed to watching us online,” Quintana said.
In the first set, Pojoaque took the early lead, forcing an Española timeout up 5-2. But both teams remained close, and the set was tied up at 21, and again at 22 and 24 where both teams traded points with each other. Pojoaque finally was able to take consecutive points and won the set 29-27.
The Sundevils rolled through the second set, taking an early 12-6 lead, and then extending it further and further until it capped off with a 25-11 win.
Rodriguez said the changes in momentum really stood out from the match.
But set 3 went back to Pojoaque, 25-19, though Española fought from being down as many as nine points to get within four late in the set.
The back-and-forth swings continued as Española battled back to win set four, 25-17.
And in the tie-breaking fifth set, Española found a rhythm again, taking six of the first seven points as well as the last six, cruising to a 15-8 win.
Rodriguez said the “camaraderie” from the team impressed him.
“These girls haven’t seen each other in basically a year,” he said. “They’ve seen each other, maybe in the last week in practice. They care for each other.”
Earlier in the night, the Pojoaque C team won their match in straight sets, 25-23, 25-19. The Sundevil Junior Varsity team took the win in two sets, 26-24, 25-22.