Sports Volleyball

Cats sweat out opener in Kirtland

Ignacio JV libero Mariah Pardo
Ignacio JV libero Mariah Pardo (23, right) hits Don Cluff Court inside Kirtland (N.M.) Central's Bronco Arena to save a ball, while teammate Sarina Vigil (19) tries to avoid the ball's flight path. Ignacio swiped Game 2 of the Opening Night match by a score of 25-20, but lost Game 1 16-25 and Game 3 8-15 – leaving the varsity as the only red-and-white roster still with a chance at victory Aug. 29.
Photo Credit: Joel Priest | Special to the Drum

Still perspiring profusely long after leaving sweltering Bronco Arena, one could have assumed Thad Cano had gotten heated over a multitude of things during the Volleycats’ season-opener.

“And I didn’t even play!” said Ignacio’s head coach who, in fact, remained comparatively chill despite the wild roller-coaster ride of a season-opener. “I can’t imagine what it was like for the girls.”

Anything but a picnic, certainly. But when the temperature — literal and figurative — caused senior setter Cloe Seibel’s right hand to virtually ignite during Game 4 of the Aug. 29 road match at Kirtland (N.M.) Central, the Cats began doing whatever possible to keep it from cooling.

“Once Cloe started getting our serves … we really just got excited,” senior Cheyenne Cook said, “and wanted to play.”

Despite sophomore Ellie Seibel’s right-line kill getting the frame underway — Ignacio’s only first-strike score in the match — an ace by Lady Bronco co-captain Marley Max quickly put KC ahead 3-2, and the 4A-level foes still led 10-7 when Cloe Seibel stepped to the service line and fired a knuckleball-wobbly ace.

Continually putting Central’s offense in disarray with each swing of her arm, Seibel remained on serve until, well, she took herself off it via a backset over her sister and into the scorer’s table. But before that point went to KC, Seibel had reinvigorated the visitors — pressing the locals into five errors, and landing another vicious ace herself — into a 17-10 advantage.

“I just felt like I needed to take control,” she said. “And as a senior, just play the game that I know—and play without being scared…show them that it’s alright if we’re down, [or] we miss a ball, just play hard! I think that brought the fire to take my team up.”

“That’s one thing we’ve worked really hard in practice: serving tough,” Cano said. “We don’t want patty-cakes over the net; we’re going to serve tough and take it to ’em.”

Central did in turn rally, tying the game at 18 but then losing the lead at 19 thanks to a kill by IHS freshman Alejandra Lujan. Max then hit long, and Ignacio sophomore libero Chrystianne Valdez (senior Angela Herrera was moved into an attacking role) sent over a serve not cleanly handled. Still attempting to deny the Cats a chance at victory via a tiebreaking fifth game, the Lady Broncos re-tied the count at 22 on a net violation whistled against Cook.

But a botched free ball, and then a miraculous left-handed kill by Herrera put freshman Rachel Cooper on serve at game point, and Cloe Seibel made sure to finish what she’d helped build — by coldly stuffing KC’s Georgia Willie at the right-side antenna for a 25-22 win.

Ignacio had won Game 2 by a similar 25-20 margin, though both teams allowed miscues and violations – yielding six of the final seven points – to resolve the issue. Max had given the Cats a 17-16 lead with a net serve, and Ellie Seibel immediately then drilled a key ace. Varsity newcomer Krissy Velasquez replicated the shot a few points later, for a 21-17 lead which pressed KC’s Brian Joe into a timeout.

Not only to regroup his team, but probably to ascertain how the roster had shaken off the potential effects of a forgettable 25-10 loss in Game 1, in which the Lady Broncos benefited from five Volleycat miscues and got a kill from Mylee Jones before Ignacio’s Jerica Jackson downed a kill and got Willie off serve just in the nick of time.

“Our coach had us starting a rotation we hadn’t practiced before,” Cook said, “so that kind of gave us a rough start.”

Game 3 saw Central go wire-to-wire in winning 25-16, with Cano forced to call time after Keeshawna Ockerman landed back-to-back aces at the feet of Cooper midway through for a 14-4 lead. The clean scores were the exception; 16 of the Lady Broncos’ points came courtesy of Ignacio mistakes.

“It was tough at first, getting used to each other,” Seibel said. “Last year we had all those veterans, but this year … it’s working — we’re trying to pick each other up and just play our hardest.”

Velasquez served wide beginning Game 5, but IHS recovered to tie at 2 on an Ellie Seibel ace, and went ahead on a Jackson finish down the left line. But Max answered with a deep kill off Herrera, Ockerman somehow muscled a kill through the top of the net, and Max then blocked Jackson one-handed.

Cook and Cooper each then sent an attack long, and KC’s 7-3 lead would never been threatened in a 15-6 win — producing a three-sets-to-two triumph and avenging last season’s 3-2 loss in IHS Gymnasium.

“We just have a lot of competition with each other: the little school playing the big school,” said Seibel of the squads’ lengthy openers. “The big school wants to beat us, and we just want to show the big school that we can play volleyball too.”

“We’ve got a young team,” Cano said, “but I’m extremely happy with them. We do have a couple players out — concussions — but that’s not an excuse and these girls know it. They played hard, we took it to a fifth with what we have. … I’m ecstatic right there.”

With classes finally commencing at IHS for the 2013-14 school year, the Volleycats’ next competition date will not be until 2A/1A San Juan Basin League play begins Sept. 10 at Dove Creek. But Cano plans to embrace and maximize the time available during the wait.

“We do have a few little things to tweak,” he said, before exiting into the refreshing New Mexico night and onto the team’s bus, “but hey … the season’s young and I’m looking forward to the rest!”


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