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Cougars fend off Hawks’ stirring rally

The Cibola High School volleyball team was on the verge of an epic collapse Tuesday night.

But before everything caved in on the visiting Cougars, they steadied themselves, won the final three points of the match and knocked off Volcano Vista in a showdown for first place in District 1-5A.

The scores were 21-25, 25-18, 25-21, 25-23.

But it’s best to begin with that fourth set, a set No. 4-ranked Cibola was leading 18-6.

“We were so far up,” Cibola junior middle Angelina Oliver said, “we thought we had it in the bag.”

Not so fast. The fifth-ranked Hawks (10-5, 4-1 in 1-5A) not only erased all of that deficit, they were leading 23-22 and just two points from forcing a deciding fifth set.

But a kill by Christa Casaus, and a tip from Jade Martinez, sent the Cougars to a match point. Volcano Vista hit a ball into the net to end it.

“I just told them, ‘Way to come through adversity,’ ” Cibola coach Christina Norton said. “Momentum is one of the hardest things to stop in volleyball.”

The victory created a switch atop the 1-5A standings. Volcano Vista started the day half a game in front of Cibola; Cibola (12-4, 5-1) ended the day half a game in front of the Hawks.

“It’s wide open,” Volcano Vista coach Dawn CdeBaca said. “We were in the driver’s seat, and we let it go.”

Taking over first place made this an important night for the Cougars. But when you take into account that Cibola doesn’t have a senior on its roster, there was additional heft to this win. Especially because Volcano Vista swept the Cougars on Cibola’s floor a couple of weeks ago.

“That’s not us, normally,” said Oliver. “We wanted to show that we’re better than that.”

Oliver was the central figure in this match.

Her hitting and blocking, plus a well-placed tip, turned the tide in the second set as she sparked a 6-0 run at 16-all.

Oliver was also overpowering in the early going of the third set, dominating from the middle where she had five kills and a block to help Cibola to a 10-5 lead. Another junior, Anna Huggins, ended the third set from the right side with a kill.

The bizarre fourth set included an early 11-0 run by Cibola. Huggins and Oliver both were integral as the lead swelled to 13-2. Later, after an Oliver kill, it was 18-6.

“She’s unstoppable when she and Jade are on point (in the middle),” said Norton, a former standout under coach Toby Manzanares at Rio Rancho. “They are the best two middles in the state.”

But just as quickly, things unraveled as the Hawks scored 14 of the next 16 points to square the set at 20-20.

Huggins had two crucial kills to prevent Cibola from falling completely apart before the last burst clinched the match for the Cougars.

The regular season ends next week. Cibola, despite all the underclassmen, likes its position.

“We’re not even at our peak. I can’t wait until state to see what we can do,” said Oliver.

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