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Demonettes take a new district in their stride

Santa Fe High’s Elena Gonzales goes for the block during the team’s match against Capital High earlier this week. The Demonettes are playing in a new district this season. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Santa Fe High’s Elena Gonzales goes for the block during the team’s match against Capital High earlier this week. The Demonettes are playing in a new district this season. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Although some of the giants of the New Mexico prep volleyball world reside in the new District 1-6A home for Santa Fe High School, the Demonettes have no plans to look up to anybody.

“It’s a challenge but we’ve been there before,” said Santa Fe coach Sam Estrada. “I remember when they did this to us before and they put us in with Sandia and La Cueva. That first year, we competed. We made it tough. I expect we should be able to compete and have a good showing.”

Although the Demonettes are the tallest squad around, 5-foot, 11-inch sophomore Elena Gonzales should plug up the middle with help from 5-10 junior Rayana Bonnell.

“They can penetrate over the net real well. That’s a help to us,” Estrada said.

The Demonettes also will gain some championship experience from some players who were members of the state basketball team that took home the blue trophy.

Bonnell, senior outside hitter Kayla Herrera and senior defensive specialist Lindsay Varoz played basketball last season, Estrada said.

“I think that’s going to give anyone extra confidence when you can come through in the situation where there’s pressure,” he said. “But a lot of these girls have been in situations like that in club volleyball.”

Noted tennis player Brandee Fulgenzi will bring added depth, while Bella Christian-Padilla and Shania Borrego will handle the setting duties.

It’s looking like a three-way race in 2-5A between Española Valley, Los Alamos and Capital.

The defending champion Sundevils lost a key player to the Hilltoppers in Ashlynn Trujillo, whose father took a coaching job in Los Alamos.

But Española Valley should still have plenty of returning strength to make it a close district race, coach Damon Salazar said.

“I have a pretty strong team with three all state players,” he said.

District player of the year Alana Sanchez is a five-year varsity starter who racks up the points.

Junior setter Celina Naranjo runs the offense and senior libero Victoria Valdez handles the defense.

No Sundevil is taller than 5-8, but that doesn’t faze the team at all, Salazar said.

“We’re really short,” he said. “But we jump pretty well. We play really fast. It seems that big teams don’t bother us. Teams our own size seem to bother us more because they play the same style we do.”

The team’s experience should make it competitive in every game, he said.

“Volleyball, it’s a game of mistakes,” Salazar said. “Whoever can rebound and recover from mistakes is going to be successful. We’re a pretty even-keeled team.”

Los Alamos will benefit from Trujillo’s defense, he said, but Brianna Montaño provides the offense off sets from Samantha Melton.

Montaño “is big, strong, athletic,” Salazar said. “She really rips it when she gets the right set up.”

And Capital is an up-and-coming squad, Estrada said.

“I think Capital is going to be very gutsy, hard-working, never-say-die type of team,” he said. “So they present a lot of problems for that reason.”

District 2-4A figures to come down to five-time defending state champion Pojoaque Valley and West Las Vegas, which were ranked as the state’s top two teams in pre-season polls.

Both, however, have new coaches as the Elkettes are under the guidance of Miquella Lovato, their fifth head coach in the past four seasons, and the Dons have turned to Karli Salazar, daughter of Damon Salazar.

With most of its squad returning, St. Michael’s looks to be a factor in 2-4A, while Santa Fe Indian School is relying on a number of experience juniors.

Santa Fe Prep behind seven seniors has put together a squad of strong hitters that should make the Blue Griffins difficult to handle in 2-3A, while Pecos has enough experience to also be a contender.