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Prep volleyball champions: ABQ Academy, Sandia Prep, Cloudcroft

Albuquerque Academy players leap off the bench after the Chargers clinched the Class 4A championship with a three-sets victory over top-seeded Goddard on Friday in the Pit. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

It was a terrible day for the No. 1 seeds at the high school state volleyball tournament on Friday.

It was, however, a perfectly glorious day for the No. 2s.

Three No. 2 seeds – Albuquerque Academy (Class 4A), Sandia Prep (3A) and first-time champ Cloudcroft (2A) – took down top seeds and won state championships inside a spectator-less Pit.

This condensed 2021 spring season concludes at 5 p.m. Saturday, with the Class 5A final between No. 1 Santa Fe and No. 2 Centennial.

CLASS 4A: The first set served its purpose, the last set clinched the match.

But it was the middle set that ultimately decided things for the Chargers in their 25-20, 25-22, 25-15 victory over No. 1 Goddard.

It was 21-14 for the Rockets in the middle set, and Goddard was on the verge of squaring the match. But the Chargers (12-1) went on an 11-1 run to close out the set.

The Rockets (12-1), perhaps understandably, were listless in the third set.

“We just could never really recover after that,” Goddard coach Dewayne Roberts said. “We just stopped doing what we do best to get the lead.”

For Academy, it is the school’s first championship since 1998. And this was particularly sweet, as the Chargers lost to St. Pius in the 2019 state final. That was the last state tournament put on before the pandemic delayed the prep volleyball season in New Mexico from fall until now.

Albuquerque Academy’s Zoe Foster holds the 4A Championship trophy after her team swept Goddard on Friday at the Pit. (Roberto E. Rosales/ABQ Journal)

“Given (that) loss, we were really looking for redemption,” said Academy 6-foot-2 senior middle Lauren Keller, one of six Charger seniors. Keller had five kills during that 11-1 run in the second set and finished with 16 for the match. “I think there was a lot more maturity on this team, (because) it’s a lot of the same girls.”

And having graduated only one senior off the 2019 squad, there was real anxiety for Academy about whether there would be a season, because the Chargers knew if there was one, they’d surely be around at the end.

“This was our year to win state,” Academy coach Maribeth Dvorak said. “And if we don’t get that season, how sad for these girls. I was just grateful and thankful and happy they could have a season, with whatever restrictions.”

The players felt similarly.

“With COVID and everything, it was really amazing that we were able to even have a season,” said 6-1 senior hitter Zoe Foster. And she, too, was cognizant of the 2019 setback to St. Pius. “Ever since that, we were coming out for blood.”

Senior Sofia Brito added 12 kills and 10 digs for the Chargers. Foster had eight kills, four blocks and 10 digs. Junior setter Portia Bryce doled out 34 assists.

CLASS 3A: The Sundevils scored the first six points of the match and throttled No. 1 seed Socorro in the final, winning 25-14, 25-21, 25-21.

“It’s great to be back on top,” said Sandia Prep coach Audra Gentry after the school’s first title since 2017. “But it wasn’t an easy road at all. I’m just really proud of them.”

Only the third set really presented Sandia Prep (13-1) with any tension, when Socorro (14-1) led 20-18 following a 9-1 run. But the Sundevils steadied themselves, and scored seven of the last eight points to clinch the match.

“We played at the highest level we could,” said fifth-year senior libero/defensive specialist Kirschtin Kinberger, who won her third title at Sandia Prep. She had 15 digs Friday. “It’s the best way to finish.”

Prep’s size and experience were issues throughout for Socorro.

“Thing is,” Gentry said, “you can’t teach experience. Half of this team has played in a state championship match (in 2018). We kept our composure and I tried to keep everyone balanced and cool.”

The Sundevils only graduate three seniors, the others being Hannah Singleton and Maryah Burrell. Burrell had nine kills for Sandia Prep on Friday.

“We were just on fire,” Burrell said, adding, “I’m so happy that we actually had a season and we got to finish it on a good note. And a high note.”

CLASS 2A: If you’re going to be a first-time state finalist, and win your first state championship in a sport, this was definitely a splashy way to go about doing it, toppling a dynasty.

Second-seeded Cloudcroft (17-0) not only won the final two sets Friday but dominated them as the Bears upset top-seeded Texico (13-2) and secured an undefeated season. The scores were 16-25, 25-21, 15-25, 25-11 and 15-5.

Texico had been a state champion six seasons in a row, from 2014-2019.

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