She wondered aloud if this visit might be a game to determine who the No. 1 seed would be when the Class 5A playoffs begin in March.
Between then and now, the dynamic has changed.
Volcano Vista was undefeated a month ago. So was Clovis.
The Wildcats are still perfect. But since the new year, the Hawks lost a double-overtime game to Cibola in the semifinals of the metro tournament, and then they fell at Mayfield last weekend.
Consequently, any discussion of tonight’s showdown being a battle for No. 1 seems misplaced, especially with Mayfield so prominent in the picture. But that doesn’t mean the Hawks don’t consider this game against the undefeated, top-ranked – and defending Class 5A state champion – Wildcats important business.
“It’s a big game,” senior guard Hannah Fenske said. “They’re No. 1. Hopefully we can go in there and beat them.”
And they can at least take on Clovis with some peace of mind.
The Hawks on Wednesday night squandered a 19-point lead and were facing the very real prospect that visiting La Cueva might steal a victory from underneath their feet.
But Volcano Vista rallied for a 59-58 victory, allowing the Hawks to carry some much-needed momentum into this trip.
“These,” Villareal said of Clovis, “are the games we need to be playing this time of the year to get ready for the state tournament.”
A third loss in less than two weeks might have shaken Volcano Vista’s confidence, especially in a game the Hawks had dominated most of the way.
Ultimately, the game proved instructive for Volcano Vista.
“We had to have a lot of heart,” guard Deezha Battle said. “Losing that lead wasn’t good. We knew we had to earn it out on the court.”
Battle led the Hawks with 16 points. Fenske added 15.
“I think it was really important for us,” Fenske said. “It shows as a team, even if we do have a huge advantage in the middle of the game, that we can still win.”
But Fenske said it is highly unlikely Volcano Vista will do anything except press down on the accelerator from now on.
“We started to relax,” Fenske said.