RIO RANCHO — All La Cueva needed was a little adversity to ramp up its game.
The top-seeded Bears capped a perfect 27-0 season Saturday night at the Rio Rancho Events Center, winning its second straight Class 5A state title, as La Cueva beat Las Cruces in four sets, 25-20, 18-25, 25-17, 25-18.
“I have girls that have grit,” said La Cueva coach Steven Archibeque. “When they see that we’re down, they just fight back. We’ve been down on several occasions this year, and they have that never-say-die attitude.”
After never trailing in the opening set, La Cueva was outclassed by the Lady Bulldawgs (22-5) in the second set.
Amar’e Stout started and ended the second set for Las Cruces with kills as the No. 2 seed took that strong momentum into the third set.
The Bears, though, jumped out to a 15-6 lead in the third set behind multiple kills from Ella Sanders, Karyna Werley, and Victoria Marthaler.
But that lead dwindled to 17-15 after a Stout block of a La Cueva kill attempt.
“We knew we could play with them,” said longtime Las Cruces coach Keith Leupold. He said that the last time these two clubs met in early October, the match went to five sets with his club leading two sets to one at one point.
“We felt that if the stars aligned correctly, we could play with them,” Leupold said. “But they’re a great team with a lot of arms.”
Coming out of a timeout after Las Cruces had closed the third-set margin, the Bears regained the form that allowed them to create a big third-set lead.
Back-to-back blocks of Las Cruces kill attempts by 6-foot-3 middle hitter Carys Fouser gave La Cueva momentum to close out the third set.
“We’ve faced adversity this year,” Archibeque said, and he referenced a point earlier in the season when he lost a key setter. “We had our backups come in after losing our setter … we just had a lot of talent this year.”
La Cueva’s largest lead in the final set was the final score. The two clubs traded runs, and after three straight Las Cruces points, it was within 19-18.
Marthaler, Sophie Diouf, and Tea Kalajdzic answered with successive kills, while Olivia Archuleta served out the last three points with the clinching point coming on a service winner.
The victory was the fourth state title for the Bears in five seasons, and fifth overall. Archibeque also noted the team’s winning streak is now at 49 matches.
“My whole goal this year was never talk about (the record), and we never did,” he said. “This one is special in the sense that if we won it, I knew we’d be 27-0. I don’t think anybody has won 27 games to close out a season. It’s just a special season.”
In the 4A final, top-seeded Goddard (23-4) won its first state title since the 2013 season, topping No 2-seeded St. Pius (21-6) in three sets, 29-27, 25-16, 25-20. St. Michael’s, in four sets over Robertson in 3A, plus Laguna-Acoma, repeating in Class 2A, and Gateway Christian, a first-time state champ in 1A, also won blue trophies Saturday.