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Prep volleyball finalists: Sandia, Centennial, Los Lunas, Pius, Prep

RIO RANCHO — La Cueva may have district bragging rights, but it is Sandia that will play for the 6A state volleyball championship.

The Matadors earned a spot in the final opposite defending champion Centennial by shaking off a first-set loss to the Bears in the semifinals. Sandia won in four sets, 20-25, 25-23, 25-15, 25-22, at the Santa Ana Star Center on Friday night.

No. 3 Sandia and No. 1 Centennial meet at 7 tonight.

The manner in which Sandia (17-6) closed out the victory was emblematic of its playing style.

Second-seeded La Cueva (20-4) was poised to force a fifth set when it rattled off six straight points to grab a 22-18 lead, but Sandia responded by closing the match with seven straight points of its own.

“What our kids say to me is that we’re in better shape (at the end of matches) because you run us to death,” said Sandia coach Kristopher Borland. “They made the plays, executed when it was crucial, and I couldn’t ask for a better finish from them.”

Centennial (23-1) earned the right to defend its title by sweeping Volcano Vista, 25-23, 25-17, 25-13.

“We knew we had to make less unforced errors than they did and they are just a team that plays so well together,” said Volcano Vista coach Dawn C de Baca. “(Centennial) doesn’t make those errors, and unfortunately we did.”

The first set was Volcano Vista’s best opportunity, as it closed a four-point deficit to 23-22. Centennial stopped the momentum and received the decisive set point on a Volcano Vista service error.

“We had opportunities,” C de Baca said. “But our serving wasn’t on point, and our passing wasn’t on point, so that made it hard.”

CLASS 5A: Defending state champion St. Pius (20-2) recovered from a two-set deficit to rally past Goddard (11-14) in the semifinals. In the 11 a.m. championship match today, the Sartans will face district rival Los Lunas, which swept Artesia, 31-29, 25-15, 25-18.

“We definitely put ourselves in a hole,” said St. Pius first-year head coach Jordan Russell, whose club earned an 18-25, 23-25, 25-11, 25-21, 15-8 win. “Early on, we couldn’t do anything right. They weren’t earning a lot and we were giving them a lot of stuff.”

St. Pius played nearly mistake-free the final three sets. Outside hitter Nicole Peery had a team-high 24 kills, setter Clair Hennessy finished with 28 assists, and defensive specialist Brisa Gamboa picked up 26 digs.

“I’m almost in tears about how my team responded,” Russell said. “(After the second game) we talked about how championship teams respond to these situations. It was all about them, and if we wanted to play our game, we could take over this match. If we let (Goddard) dictate, then it’s gone.”

CLASS 4A: Sandia Prep, which has lost just once to a 4A school over the past three seasons, will go for a three-peat after sweeping St. Michael’s, 25-16, 25-10, 25-13.

The Sundevils will meet Robertson, which topped Moriarty.

Other semifinals results:

  • Elida will look for its eighth straight championship after beating Des Moines in three sets. The Tigers will meet No. 2 Melrose at 5 p.m. today for the Class 1A crown in a 2016 finals rematch.
  • In 2A, Logan makes its first state finals appearance after knocking off last year’s state runner-up, Mesilla Valley, in four sets. Logan will play Ramah today at 9 a.m.  The Mustangs, seeking their program’s third state title, topped Fort Sumner/House in four sets.
  • Texico has yet to surrender a set in 3A tournament play, and it will bid for a fourth straight state championship after rolling past Estancia in three sets. Santa Rosa earned a spot opposite Texico in today’s final after downing Dexter.