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Prep volleyball: Centennial concludes dominant season with large-school title sweep

Centennial’s Alexie Stiles (2) drives home a kill between the block attempts of Santa Fe’s Jorja Chambers (12) and Sydney Pino-Pacheco. The Hawks swept their way to the 5A title. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

First it was a dink and dunk show, then the thunder boomers took over.

The result was a quick, 25-14, 25-20, 25-9 Centennial sweep Saturday over top-seeded Santa Fe in the Class 5A state volleyball championship game at the Pit

Coach Al Rosen’s final instructions to his second-seeded Hawks may have backhandedly and inadvertently paved the way to victory.

“The first thing I did tell them, ‘You’re going to be nervous; let’s keep it in play,’ ” he said. “Then I thought about it and maybe that wasn’t the best instructions because by keep it in play, now they’re trying to be careful. I should have just said, ‘Go for it.’ ”

The soft and mid-range game was entirely unexpected and threw the Demonettes (10-2) off their game.

“They just really tipped,” Santa Fe coach Josie Adams said. “They got us on the tip. They got us on the short game. It slowed us down. And that was hard for us to adjust to. We like to play a faster game and it was hard for them to adjust.”

The Demonettes never could find a rhythm offensively or defensively.

“We watched a lot of how they play and we thought they were going to hit on us a lot more,” Adams said.

“We had to adjust quickly to that tip and hold our lines and our girls were kind of cheating in to see if we could get on them and the moment we did that, they hit corners,” Adams said.

That actually coincided with the decision by Centennial (14-0) that it was time to let it loose.

“We did not play to our full potential in the first two sets,” said outside hitter Tess Fuqua, who was one of the Hawks who got her shoulder limbered up to play hard ball.

“In the third set is when we came through as a team and understood that we needed to play together better. That’s what happened in the third set. We finally looked at each other, knew it was the last game we’d all be together as a team and we all came together and pulled through like we should have in the first two sets.”

Serving also proved pivotal as Fuqua and Jazlynn Escudero had game-changing runs in the second and third sets.

It is the first state championships for the Hawks since 2016, but they also were in the title game in 2017 and 2019.

Centennial rampaged through the season, losing just three sets in its 14 games.

Santa Fe last won the championship in 1996.

“That’s a really great team,” Adams said of the Hawks. “Centennial has been there year after year. We haven’t been here for (25) years. So we’ll be back. It’s just changing the culture in our program. Knowing that we can make it here. We’re super proud of our team.”

Centennial celebrates its in over Santa Fe High for the state 5A volleyball championships Saturday at the Pit. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)