Fri Jan 6th, 2017
Special to the Drum
As if they didn’t know each other’s potential well enough after playing alongside each other at Ignacio High School, former Volleycats Angela Herrera and Chrystianne Valdez certainly had to relish the chance to see each other sporting NCAA-grade gear in 2016.
Held in reserve while she translated her talents into the collegiate game after graduating IHS this past spring, Valdez and Fort Lewis College swept Herrera and New Mexico Highlands University on Oct. 28 in Durango. But after surviving a similar maturation process in ’15, the latter libero enjoyed the last laugh when Highlands ended the season handing the ’Hawks a 25-20, 23-25, 25-17, 25-14 defeat on Nov. 11 in Las Vegas, N.M.
That happened to be Senior Night, when Herrera (a 2014 IHS graduate, now 20) saw one of her fellow defensive specialists – Lexis Satele, cousin of NFL center Samson Satele – suit up for the last time, opening the window of opportunity to earn more playing time in 17 a little wider.
Majoring in Pre-Professional Allied Health, Herrera did see action in four matches and six games for the Cowgirls as a redshirt-freshman in 2016. She booked two assists, five digs and one block assist while also backing up sophomore Bryanna Lopez, a squad regular in ’15 as a true freshman out of 6A Rio Rancho (N.M.) Cleveland who logged an impressive 424 digs (4.71 per game).
Finishing 4-14 in the NCAA Division II Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference, Highlands ended up 7-16 overall after going 3-1 at the season-opening South Central Classic hosted by Southeastern Oklahoma State University in Durant, Okla. NMHU’s last three matches at the event each went five games, with the team winning the final two – over Southern Arkansas University and Cameron University – and setting quite a tone for the year.
Under head coach Dwight Combs (previously skipper at UC-Santa Cruz, where he took the Banana Slugs, part of the Association of Division III Independents, to its first NCAA D-III Tournament in 2013 – while Herrera played her final prep slate), the Cowgirls had eight full pulls all told but won just those early two.
Five five-game losses occurred during RMAC work, and the team took at least one game from an opponent in all but four of its 23 matches as a dark-horse threat constantly pressing the issue.
Still up 47-35 in the all-time head-to-head series with New Mexico Highlands, FLC finished 5-13 in conference and 6-20 overall in 2016, with Valdez & Co. under the tutelage of Kelley Rifilato – twice a Second Team All-MWAC (Mountain West Athletic Conference) pick at the University of Idaho, where between 1982-85 she recorded the Vandals’ career service-ace record (220) and an assist count (4,744) which presently ranks second.
Senior DS/L Ally Dell’Amico paced the Skyhawks with 437 digs (4.91 per game) in ’16, while sophomore outside hitter Hannah Martinez and sophomore setter Kendra Swackenberg also topped 200 with 252 and 203, respectively. And like NMHU, Fort Lewis saw several five-game matches this past fall, and posted a 2-3 mark in those contests while being outscored by a combined 64-62 margin.
Requests made through both FLC’s and N.M. Highlands’ Sports Information Departments for official player/coach comment had not been answered as of press time.