Lady Horsemen came out of the toughest pool as the top seed, and just continued on to defeat defending champion Los Lunas in the quarterfinals and Santa Fe in the semis
It was quite a field for this year’s annual volleyball Tournament of Champion, so good that there wasn’t an actual weak team in the two-day tournament played at Santa Fe High and Capital.
There was Pojoaque Valley, winner of six state titles, Roswell Goddard, which has won state six times, Los Alamos, which has won twice, and Los Lunas, a 3-time state champion and last year’s state and reigning tournament champion.
And you can’t overlook Farmington and Piedra Vista, two programs that have been contenders every year. No states for either, but they’ve had their chances. Ditto Robertson.
And then there was St. Michael’s, which used to be co-hosts with Santa Fe High. The Lady Horsemen had won state once, and that was in 2002 under head coach Chela Butler.
And the Demonettes had been the only tournament champion from the Santa Fe area, and that was in 1998 under head coach Mike Thompson, who also reeled in a pair of state titles.
Now move over and make some space for St. Michael’s as it went against this tough field to reign supreme and win the tourney’s Gold Bracket championships in a hectic five sets over Farmington.
The Lady Horsemen, whose lone regular-season loss was at Albuquerque St. Pius X, were impressive. They won out over Pojoaque, Piedra Vista and Robertson in the toughest pool, then swept Los Lunas in the quarterfinals, and following up by turning back previously undefeated Santa Fe High in the semifinals before rallying to take the crown over the Scorpions.
St. Michael’s (7-1) had taken the first two sets, 25-21 and 25-19, but back came Farmington to win the next two sets, 25-17 and 25-20, and set up the deciding fifth set.
It was a total team effort in what is head coach Valerie Sandoval’s second season. Last year at home before a packed gymnasium, it came through with a come-from-behind non-district match over the rival Demonettes. That was neat, but this is bigger and could be the stepping stone to the state 3A tournament, and possibly a championship.
But first things first, which is what were the thoughts of sophomore Lily Barker, seniors Mikayla Bohlman Darian Ortiz, Joelyn Fernandez, and team captain Miquela Martinez, a senior playing her fourth season and again showing the way with sets and assists.
There were others, but these players contributed the most highlight plays.
Barker stands 6-feet, is in her second season, is an outside hitter, and the strength at the net. But she didn’t start the third set against the Scorpions, informing Sandoval of stomach cramps. Still, her teammates hung with Farmington until Barker said she felt better and was inserted back into the lineup as the team huddled before the fifth set.
Barker is equally adept at kills and blocks. Playing in pain, she came away with some gutsy plays and had to overcome her nerves.
Senior middle hitter Bohlman, who is 5-9 and also a returnee, said: “We didn’t work this hard to come here and lose. We played hard teams for the past two days, it was a tough field, but we were number one, got to hoist the championship trophy.”
Farmington, a regular at this tournament, also played well. It went up 10-5 in set five before Fernandez had back-to-back kills to trim the gap to 10-7. Barker’s kill and an errant hit by the Scorpions, kept it deadlocked.
“One point at a time,” Sandoval said, “that’s what I was saying. We shouldn’t even focus on the score. It was just one and one at this point.
Farmington (6-2) had itself two match points, but Barker’s kill and a wide hit by the Scorpions, kept it deadlocked.
And when Farmington again had match point, Barker smashed her 13th kill and Fernandez followed with her 10th block to tie things at 15-15. Next, the Scorpions’ final hit sailed wide and it was all over but the celebration for the Lady Horsemen.
And Barker must have felt better. “It feels amazing, just incredible,” she said.
Yes, it was amazing and incredible to accomplish this with all those other tough teams as obstacles.