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St. Pius, Bosque Look To Improve

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Two volleyball teams from the West Side of Albuquerque look to take one final step to a championship this high school season, while a Class 5A team tries to make a dent behind some big swingers.

As the 2012 campaign begins, St. Pius in 4A and Bosque School in 2A still have a bit of unfinished business. Both teams advanced to state title matches a year ago only to fall short.

In fact, for St. Pius, this has been a recurring theme.

“That was the fourth year in a row of making the championship and finishing second,” Sartans coach Diana Strickland said. “We’re a little sick of that red trophy at this point.”

Shooting for the first-place blue hardware, St. Pius did graduate four players off the team that fell to Artesia in the finale in November. But the Sartans also have important returners in senior outside hitters Lexi Biondi and Lauren Roveto, as well as sophomore Julia Landavazo and 6-foot-1 junior Caitlyn Martinez in the middle.

“It’s a rebuilding challenge in some areas, but they all have the skills. It’s just a matter of dynamics and how we put it all together,” Strickland said.

Bosque School, which fell to Texico in last year’s 2A state final, seems poised to make another run. And some of the prime annual contenders — including six-time defending champ Texico — seem to be in a position to be challenged.

“With some of the top teams losing some of their key players and us maturing, it might be our time,” Bosque School coach Scott Grady said.

The Bobcats return five starters and will be led by senior Lexi Grady, the coach’s daughter, at setter and outside hitter. She and 6-2 junior middle Alex Corcoran were first-team all-state selections a year ago and will be supplemented by senior libero Grace Riccobene and 6-1 middle blocker Carly Beddingfield.

In Class 5A, Cibola is in the rough-and-tumble District 1 with powers Cleveland and Rio Rancho. But the Cougars, despite losing their starting setter to injury, might still be able to do some damage.

Cibola coach Sang-Yung Yon has some punch in the front line with the likes of 6-4 sophomore Hannah Tobiassen, a transfer from Hope Christian, and 6-1 sophomore outside hitter Tayana Battle.

The Cougars and a scrappy Volcano Vista club will try to break into the upper half of 1-5A and translate that into postseason success.

“They’re big and athletic and very physical,” Rio Rancho coach Toby Manzanares says of Cibola. “They’re going to be a handful, especially if they can find a setter that can put the ball up there and let the big girls crush it.”

Valley is a defending district champion in 5-5A and graduated four players off that 2011 edition. Coach Brittany Nelson said junior outside Karina Grajeda and senior middle Marina Tafoya will be keys for the Vikings — as well as the development of junior Jasara Benedict at the setter position.

“I’m an ex-setter, and I worked a bunch with her,” Nelson said of Benedict, who was a hitter a year ago. “She’s got great hands. She’s got to fine tune things, but she’s getting there.”

West Mesa, Atrisco Heritage Academy and Rio Grande will try to contend with Valley come district play. All three teams, however, are focusing on just getting more wins from every part of the schedule.

Coming off a seven-win season, West Mesa had a mostly sophomore-laden crew in 2011. The Mustangs will look to junior hitter Stephanie Ortega, sophomore middle Nicole Yazzie and junior outside Justis Abeyta to lead the way.

“They’ve got an extra year under their belts and hopefully that will translate to more wins,” West Mesa coach Melita White said. “I think we’ve got some good, strong hitters and some scrappy defensive players.”

Atrisco Heritage coach Shantel Lucero said senior hitter Monica Villarreal might be her team’s best all-around player and will use a two-setter offense with senior Ashley Smith and junior Angelica Avitia.

“Compared to last year, I feel this team has improved so much,” said Lucero, whose squad will try to improve upon its three-win total. “Hopefully, we’re going to shock some people.”
— This article appeared on page 6 of the West Side Journal