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HS Volleyball: Sandia stops Centennial in 6A volleyball thriller

RIO RANCHO — The rèsumès said one thing.

But the match said everything.

Centennial entered Saturday night’s Class 6A state championship volleyball match as the No. 1 seed. The Hawks were touting a 23-match winning streak. They had dropped only two sets during that entire stretch that dated to mid-August.

No. 3 seed Sandia — which endured a four-match losing streak early in the year and struggled to find its identity until the second half of the season — either didn’t get that memo about Centennial, or the Matadors didn’t care. Didn’t really matter which.

Led by the phenomenal hitting performances of Jaedyn Fuqua and especially Cali Hobart, and supplemented by consistently stellar defense, Sandia claimed the state title with a scintillating five-set triumph over the defending champion Hawks at the Santa Ana Star Center.

The scores were 25-19, 20-25, 25-16, 17-25, 15-12.

“Coming into this tournament,” said Fuqua, a senior outside hitter, “we were not expected to win. We were a blowoff. But we have a good team. We have the skills. If we do the basic things and play at our speed, we’re unstoppable.”

Fuqua finished — unofficially — with 20 kills for the Matadors (17-6), who won state for the first time since 2013.

But in the final set, it was Hobart, a 6-foot-1 sophomore, who delivered a class on hitting.

During one stretch in that fifth set, Hobart rattled off five straight winners for her team, including a key block, as Sandia turned an 8-6 deficit into an 11-9 lead.

“I was in a daze,” Hobart said with a smile.

Hobart finished with 21 kills (again, unofficially) for the Matadors.

“I told her, when she wants to take over a game and dominate, she will,” Sandia coach Kris Borland said. “We’ve been waiting for that player all year long.”

Centennial (23-2) could not solve either Fuqua or Hobart for almost the entirety of the match, and most especially at the pivotal moments. For example, leading 12-11 in the fifth, Sandia went to Fuqua four times during one sequence. The Hawks dug the first three swings, but Fuqua simply bashed her way through a block on the fourth try.

It was that type of effort and persistence that clearly made the difference Saturday night.

“We were kind of down at the beginning of the season, but we fought. We knew we still had state,” Hobart said. “And (we decided that) we’ll show everyone that we’re not the team everyone thinks we are.”

Simply put, Sandia was superior to Centennial in every department. The Matadors outhit the Hawks, outserved the Hawks and they especially outdefended the Hawks.

“We’ve been relying on our defense,” Borland said. “We’ve been preaching all year that it has to be relentless.”

It was a disappointing finish to a terrific season for the Hawks. They lost to El Paso powerhouse Coronado in their season opener Aug. 15, then won 23 straight matches — 22 by 3-0 counts.

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