Estancia High School’s Olivia Anaya tried to stop a kill from a Magdalena hitter but the ball whizzed beyond her reach and bounced on the floor, sealing a victory for the Lady Steers and the end of the line for the Lady Bears.
The No. 12 Lady Bears and the No. 11 Magdalena Lady Steers—who faced each other three times this season—found themselves squaring off once again in the Class 2A state volleyball championships, Nov. 14-16 at Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho.
After Estancia and Magdalena lost in the Nov. 14 opening rounds of the tournament’s new double-elimination format, both teams dropped to the Nov. 15 win-or-go-home contenders’ bracket.
Magdalena won the first two sets of the match but Estancia claimed the next two, forcing a decisive fifth set.
The score went back and forth several times and was tied 7-7 before Magdalena mounted a 5-0 run to pull ahead 12-7.
The Lady Bears staged one final rally that was capped by Samantha Hernandez’ kill to cut the deficit to two points. But Estancia’s comeback bid came up short.
Magdalena scored the final three points to win the set 15-10, and the match 3-2.
“It was a lot of pressure on us but we kept fighting, we never gave up,” Hernandez said.
“That’s kind of a recap of our season, it’s been a wild, roller-coaster ride,” Estancia head coach Glenda Noblitt said. “I think that was our eighth game that went five sets and we’ve lost six of them, it’s either beautiful or it’s crazy.”
Estancia was upended in the tournament opener 3-0 by the No. 5 Mescalero Apache Lady Chiefs.
In their first state tournament appearance in two years, and with Reagan Walker the only player with state tournament experience, Noblitt said her team was affected by the din of the Star Center arena, with multiple matches between other schools going on simultaneously on adjacent courts.
“This was a new experience for them, a new place, it’s noisy, you can’t hardly hear each other,” Noblitt said. “It was a battle because my girls were super-nervous and doing things that were uncharacteristic of them.”
After the loss to Mescalero Apache, combined with Magdalena’s loss to Hagerman, the two District 6-2A rivals faced off at 8 a.m. the next morning for their fourth matchup this season.
The Lady Bears lost twice to the Lady Steers in the regular season but beat them 3-2 in the Nov. 9 district championship to clinch a berth in the state tournament.
Just as they did in the district championship, the Lady Bears found themselves facing an uphill climb after Magdalena won the first two sets.
But at the start of the third set, with Martina Lucero serving, Estancia jumped out to a quick 6-0 advantage. The Lady Bears built a double-digit lead before Walker’s kill secured the 25-12 victory.
“I just wanted to keep fighting as much as I can,” Walker said. “It’s my last game, so, might as well give it all that I have.”
In the fourth set, Magdalena grabbed an early lead but Estancia battled back and took the Lady Steers to the limit, tying the score six times down the stretch, including knotting it up at 23-23.
“In the fourth game when we were down, I told them we had to play our ball, get in our rhythm, attack or be attacked,” Noblitt said.
After a defensive side-out point gave the Lady Bears a 24-23 lead, Kimber Perkins assumed the serving duties. A moment later, Anaya’s kill gave Estancia the 25-23 win to tie the match at two games apiece.
“I just remember that, like, we weren’t gonna give up, and we call ourselves the cockroaches because as soon as they think they got rid of us we come back,” Anaya said.
“Cockroaches don’t die,” Walker added.
“My girls, I’ve just got to give it to them,” Noblitt said. “They enjoy each other, they celebrate each other’s successes and that’s rare. I’ve never had one whole team that’s that way, and I’m going to miss that—I hope I can replicate it next year.”
The Lady Bears finished with a 12-12 record, 6-2 in district.
Ger has been writing and shooting photos of high school sports for The Independent for 15 years. His dedication to youth athletics goes beyond sports reporting. He is past president of East Mountain Little League and works as a baseball umpire. He lives in Edgewood with his family.