One thing’s for certain. This road to the Pit will truly be winding.
Around New Mexico on Monday, 16 of the 20 quarterfinal matches — four matches apiece in Classes 1A-4A — are scheduled to be played in this year’s uniquely constructed high school state volleyball tournament.
The coronavirus pandemic forced the New Mexico Activities Association to alter the format. It has gone from one, large centralized event in Rio Rancho, to a more spread-out event. Matches will unfold throughout the week in cities and towns across the state, with title matches scheduled later this week at the Pit, which is a new championship venue.
Consider the 16 quarterfinal matches Monday.
No fewer than seven of them are being played at neutral sites, and three schools — Santa Rosa, Fort Sumner and Moriarty — that didn’t even qualify for the playoffs are graciously allowing their gyms to be used by others.
One of the Albuquerque qualifiers, the Class 1A co-op between Evangel Christian and Oak Grove Classical Academy, is a No. 2 seed and sports an 11-0 record.
Those girls are choosing to take what should be a home match, and instead will go on the road to play No. 7 seed Mountainair, about 75 minutes away.
Why? Because fans can watch the match in person in Mountainair. They can’t in Albuquerque.
“I asked my girls (Saturday) night. I said this is something I’d like you to consider,” said Evangel/Oak Grove coach Leah Rush. “They didn’t even hesitate. Everyone dreams of this state tournament in order to be able to showcase what they’ve done and how hard they’ve worked.”
No state qualifiers from any county in a “yellow” health code status can admit fans for home matches this week, and that includes Bernalillo County. This covers the semifinal round, and also the five championship matches at the Pit.
In the quarterfinals, Mountainair and Evangel/Oak Grove are not the only schools that will benefit insofar as they’ll gain fans because of site changes.
Santa Teresa meets Los Alamos in a Class 4A quarterfinal; they are playing in neutral-site Socorro with the Desert Warriors as the higher-seeded team. Santa Teresa’s home county, Doña Ana, is in “yellow,” while Socorro is in “turquoise,” meaning the Socorro High gym can be filled to 33 percent capacity.
Sandia Prep, the No. 2 seed in Class 3A, is playing No. 7 Dexter in Estancia. Fourth-seeded Hope Christian in Class 4A is taking on No. 5 Portales in Moriarty High’s gym. Moriarty and Estancia are in “green” Torrance County, where gyms can be filled to 25 percent capacity.
Other Albuquerque schools will be at home for the quarterfinals.
La Cueva (5-0), the No. 3 seed in Class 5A and the two-time defending state champion, will play host to No. 6 Las Cruces on Tuesday, when all four 5A quarterfinals are scheduled. Class 4A No. 2 seed Albuquerque Academy is going to play No. 7 Gallup at home on Monday.
Santa Fe (8-1) is seeded No. 1 in 5A, with Centennial (11-0) at No. 2 and Piedra Vista (12-0) at No. 4. Cleveland, the 5 seed, is the only team to have beaten the Demonettes in the regular season.
“I think we’re in a good position,” La Cueva coach Steve Archibeque said. “The girls see the prize, so they’ve been working hard for it.”‘
Archibeque’s primary concern is teams like Centennial and Piedra Vista, who have played more than twice as many matches as his Bears entering state.
“Those teams,” he said, “will have a lot of momentum.”