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After a shellacking in district play last year, Santa Fe High aims for a better showing

Elena Gonzales goes up for a block for Santa Fe High in its game last year against Capital. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Elena Gonzales goes up for a block for Santa Fe High in its game last year against Capital. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Things did not go exactly as planned for the Santa Fe High School volleyball team last season.

The Demonettes got off to a strong start, going 9-1 before bumping into District 5-6A play. Actually, bumping might not be the correct word – colliding might be more accurate, as Santa Fe lost all nine matches in the state’s toughest district, only managing to win two games in that stretch.

“I hope that we’re stronger this year,” coach Sam Estrada said.

The Demonettes have a strong base from which to build in setters Isabella Christian-Padilla and Shania Borrego

Add in a pair of 5-foot, 11-inch middle blockers in Rayana Bonnell and Elena Gonzales, and Santa Fe could present some issues for opponents.

What’s more, it doesn’t hurt Santa Fe that some of the top teams in the district, those that sent three teams to the semifinals and had both teams in the championships, lost some talented players.

“This year, a couple of teams are young and rebuilding and vulnerable,” Estrada said. “So we’ll see. Have a few weeks to gear up, so we’re going to work hard.”

The big issue the group needs to get ironed out before district play is giving up points in spurts, he said.

“But I see a lot of potential,” Estrada said of his squad. “They can play well.”

Coming off a strong season in which it earned the No. 5 seed in the state tournament, Española Valley is looking to take a step forward after its quarterfinal loss to No. 3 Centennial.

“We’re a young team,” said coach Damon Salazar. “But we have a good back row. A very solid back row.”

Setter Celina Naranjo and libero Leah DeAguero anchor the defense on the back line along with Alycia Archibeque, while freshman Meranda Romero has added an unexpected level of play for her age.

What has been particularly pleasing for the Sundevils is that the offense just got a big boost when senior outside hitter Kaitlynn Romero decided recently to return to the team.

The rest of the front line is also starting to come together, Salazar said, giving him optimism the team is going to produce quality outings.

“I think we’re going to play at a high level because the ball control is there,” he said. “I think we can get up in the teens (in terms of wins) and definitely have a winning record.”

The Sundevils’ toughest competition during the season will likely come from up the hill, where Los Alamos has put together an extremely strong, veteran group, Salazar said.

The Hilltoppers are “really strong,” he said. “Probably top-three in the state this year. They have nothing but a bunch of returning players.”

The senior trio of setter Samantha Melton and hitters Brianna Montano and Sierra Foley are expected to carry Los Alamos a long way.

The Local 4A schools should have a donnybrook of a time, with West Las Vegas again likely to lead the way despite a third head coach in as many years. The Dons have plenty of experience and talent with Deanna Bustos at setter and a number of hitters who put the ball away.

Pojoaque Valley is settling into the second year of Miquella Lovato’s tenure as coach, but the Elkettes are lacking height.

St. Michael’s and Robertson are both on the upswing, with the Lady Horsemen in particular looking to take a major step forward behind seniors Lainie Serna, Allie Berhost and Latysha Archuleta.

Youth will be served at Desert Academy, but it’s also a program on the rise and looks to continue to build off its success of last season.