RIO RANCHO – Officially, the third set was the clincher.
Unofficially, it was the second set that won the La Cueva Bears their second consecutive Class 5A state volleyball championship.
“I agree,” Bears coach Steve Archibeque said.
No. 1 seed La Cueva endured an incredible – and crowd-rousing – second-set challenge from No. 2 Centennial, and that remarkable game was bookended by two strong sets as the Bears prevailed 25-17, 36-34, 25-15 on Saturday night at the Santa Ana Star Center.
La Cueva (22-1) was an undefeated state champ a year ago, and dropped just one match this year: its first, a five-setter to Cibola.
“I think this one was a little more special,” Archibeque said. “But I think that our quality of volleyball has gone up, too. Everyone was shooting for us.”
Never was that more apparent than during a jaw-dropping second set that had coaches, players and fans on edge for a solid 20 minutes as it played out once the score reached 25-25. La Cueva staved off six set points, Centennial (24-3) five.
Finally, La Cueva, trailing 34-33, won three straight points on a kill from Sidney McIntosh, an ace by Maalese Wallace and a block of Centennial’s big-hitting Andreya Hesser.
“We had to keep pushing and fighting,” Wallace said. “That was our game, and we had to keep fighting for it.”
Having taken the Hawks’ best shot, Centennial’s energy seemed to wane in the final set, and La Cueva jumped out to a 5-0 lead and closed out the match with little interference.
CLASS 4A: A day after being soundly beaten by Albuquerque Academy, No. 1 seed St. Pius came back and thrashed the fifth-seeded Chargers (17-11) in the final. The scores were 25-12, 25-12, 25-20.
St. Pius (22-3) won three matches Saturday, including earlier victories over Los Lunas and Goddard, to claim the program’s first blue trophy since 2016 and the first for head coach Jordan Russell.
The Sartans were shedding more tears on the court after the match than the Chargers.
“It’s unbelievable,” Russell said. “We had a hiccup (Friday), but they came out ready to play and we reset. It was a total blessing that we had to play three matches today.”
Academy was in its first state final since 1998.
CLASS 3A: No. 2 Robertson (21-5) won an emotional five-setter over fourth-seeded St. Michael’s (19-8) in the evening’s final match. The scores were 20-25, 25-18, 25-23, 21-25, 15-8.
Although she has not been coaching the team since Oct. 21, when Las Vegas City Schools suspended her from coaching and teaching, Stacy Fulgenzi was on the floor hugging her players after the match. She said two weeks ago to the Journal that she has not been yet told why she was suspended.
“That was, under the circumstances that we were under, the absolute perfect ending,” Fulgenzi said Saturday night. Assistant Francesca Jenkins was the team’s head coach for the state tournament, but Fulgenzi was nearby, watching and hanging on every point.
It was Robertson’s first-ever state championship in volleyball.
CLASS 2A: Top-seeded Texico came from behind Saturday night to capture the Class 2A title in five sets over No. 5 seed Mescalero Apache (21-6).
The Wolverines (20-6) won the final set 15-11 as Texico won its sixth consecutive blue trophy.
CLASS 1A: No. 2 seed Logan (22-4) swept previously unbeaten No. 1 seed Melrose (22-1) in a shocking upset.
The Lady Buffaloes had beaten Logan in all four previous meetings this year, and Melrose had only dropped four sets all season before Saturday night.