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Matadors spot Storm 1 set, then roar back

Cleveland’s Rylee Sluga, left, blocks a shot by Sandia’s Cali Hobart on Tuesday night. ADOLPHE PIERRE-LOUIS/JOURNAL

Slow starting, fast finishing. That was the Sandia High School volleyball team on Tuesday night.

The Matadors, last year’s Class 6A state champions, spotted visiting Cleveland the first set, but rebounded to put away the struggling Storm 21-25, 25-21, 25-16, 25-16 to set up a showdown Thursday night between second-ranked Sandia (6-1) and No. 1 La Cueva, the only team to beat the Matadors this season.

“I’m really excited,” said Sandia senior setter Patia Storey, whose versatility, setting precision and serving were all vital to the cause Tuesday. “It’s always a competitive game.”

The Bears beat Sandia in the metro tournament semifinals two weeks ago. The Matadors expect to be fully healthy for the rematch, with Sandia coach Kris Borland saying he hopes sophomore middle Golden Finch, who missed the first La Cueva match, will be cleared to play.

But unranked Cleveland (a shocking 1-9) played a solid opening set, with junior outside hitter Arianna Jamerson delivering two crucial kills and a late ace for the Storm.

A key bit of serving by Sandia’s Hailey Eylicio turned momentum for Sandia in the second set, with two aces during a 5-0 run for a 13-9 lead. That lead was never less than four points the rest of the set, with Ashly Fleming, who finished with 11 kills, knocking down the set winner for Sandia.

“We had a lot more energy in the second set,” said junior hitter Cali Hobart, who led Sandia with a dozen kills.

The pivotal third set was close for a long while, until a 6-0 run late in the set, sparked by two aces from Storey, who also mixed it up with a variety of tips that confounded Cleveland’s defense. Eylicio supplied the final two kills of that set.

“Patia couldn’t have run a better offense,” Hobart said.

Storey also was stellar from the serving line in the final set, which included her serving 10 straight points for the Matadors. Hobart and Amaya Walters both had a pair of kills during that run.

It was Fleming – usually a right-side hitter who has been moved into the middle with Finch absent – who ended the match on a kill from the middle. Sandia closed the match with a 13-1 run.

“She’s very mobile,” Borland said of Fleming. “She’s been a cog lately, since we’re running low on players.”

Storey finished with 48 assists. By moving Hobart around the formation, she said, the Matadors could make “other hitters a part of the game.”

“We really tried to stay in the moment,” said Storey, a 5-foot-4 senior, about dropping the first set. “I think we got complacent (early), and we realized now it’s for real and we have to get into it.”

Borland said he has been juggling the lineup and positions to find the right matchups.

“Mix and match,” he said, “and see where we could get a spark.”

Over at La Cueva on Tuesday night, the metro champion Bears (9-0) swept aside Volcano Vista on Tuesday night, 25-22, 25-16, 25-17. Sidney McIntosh had 11 kills, Mariana Sharp had nine kills and setter Brie Mortensen had 27 assists.

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