There may, in fact, be any number of high school volleyball teams in New Mexico capable of winning regularly with a balance of nuance and finesse. Some of them, frankly, have to win that way.
The La Cueva Bears are most decidedly not in that category.
“No small ball,” La Cueva coach Steve Archibeque said, a nod to baseball.
And baseball actually proves to be quite the apt comparison here. The Bears, who open their Class 5A state title defense starting on Thursday, have effectively bludgeoned teams into submission for most of the last two seasons. Not unlike a power-hitting baseball lineup wearing down a pitching staff.
And if baseball’s home-run totals are up, then so, probably, are the number and quality of dynamic volleyball hitters.
“Volleyball is becoming more of a modern sport, so power has to be built from the moment you start playing, for you to be able to dominate,” said Bears 5-foot-8 senior hitter Mariana Sharp.
The metrics are similar to baseball, insomuch as power tends to rule this era and steer the conversation. This is especially true for La Cueva, the No. 1 seed this week and a team that’s dropped only five sets in 20 matches this season.
Can teams win proficiently without that swing-for-the-fences style? Sharp was asked.
“No,” she said, chuckling.
Sharp’s versatility, from the front or back row, is indicative of the Bears’ hitting prowess. Junior Maalese Wallace (5-10), Archibeque said, is perhaps La Cueva’s most clutch player. And there are a couple of others at net who regularly produce for the Bears.
But their most fearsome hitter is 5-9 junior Sidney McIntosh. Her vertical leap, combined with her singular arm swing – she practically cocks her right arm before delivering – have made McIntosh the state’s most dominant hitter.
Teams may occasionally find a way to double-block McIntosh. But they almost never dig one of her kills.
“It’s kind of insane,” Sharp said. “I can’t hit like that. I don’t have that strong of an arm. Her arm? That’s a scary thing to look at. She can hit through the block. And if there’s no block, good luck.”
McIntosh has been a standout since her freshman season.
“You kind of just get compared to 6-4 girls,” McIntosh said. “I’m not as big as them, and Mari is not as big as them, but our power and jump compares to their height.”
The style contrast between Sharp and McIntosh – both of whom are New Mexico State recruits; Sharp signed her national letter of intent on Wednesday, while McIntosh is expected to sign with NMSU a year from now – is one of the fun aspects to this La Cueva offense.
“She uses her body,” McIntosh said of Sharp. “Mariana is smarter. I kind of just, like, hit through.”
Hearing this, Sharp laughs.
“Uh, yeah,” she said.
Archibeque benefits from depth at the hitting position, and La Cueva is just as likely to score in bunches from the middle as they are from the outside with players like McIntosh.
“We’re fortunate that we have a lot of athletes,” he said. “And you have to have at least one key hitter.”
La Cueva (19-1) has the luxury of variety, Archibeque said. Take away the outsides, La Cueva will go inside. And vice versa.
“We’re gonna come at your from every angle, and we’re gonna fire it down your throat,” Archibeque said.
And La Cueva’s cumulative fastball overwhelms teams.
“There are new ways to play, like back-row attacks, and people are speeding up the game,” said Sharp. “So to keep up, you have to have more power, or you’re going to flounder.”
NOTE: The double-elimination tournaments begin on Thursday at Rio Rancho High (Class 1A) and the Santa Ana Star Center (2A-5A). All five championship matches are Saturday night, either at 6 (1A/2A) or 8 (the other three) at the Star Center.
2019 NMAA Volleyball Championships Class 5A
2019 NMAA Volleyball Championships Class 4A
2019 NMAA Volleyball Championships Class 3A
2019 NMAA Volleyball Championships Class 2A
2019 NMAA Volleyball Championships Class 1A