High school volleyball returned this week with the first competitions in more than 15 months. Moriarty, a Class 4A school, hosted Class 1A Mountainair on March 2 for the first game in both schools’ resuscitated seasons.

High school volleyball started last October—but before any matchups took place, the season got postponed to the spring semester due to Covid-19.

Moriarty won the season opener over Mountainair 3-1, but the final score was only one aspect of the matchup.

Moriarty head coach Kim Bell said it was the first time the two varsity volleyball squads have faced off in a competition in her 19-year career helming the Lady Pintos.

“I don’t think we have played them,” Bell said. “I don’t think we’ve played them even in a [summer] tournament since I’ve been here. Our JV and C team has but I don’t think our varsity has played them.”

The rare large-school, small-school matchup—intended to reduce travel for teams—was one of the many Covid-19 adjustments involving the return of high school sports.

Some of the other new-normal guidelines require everyone in attendance, including players and referees, to wear masks; there are no fans; and the teams’ bench areas, formerly two long rows of seats on opposite sides of the net, are now comprised of folding chairs spread out six feet apart in offsetting rows on either side of the net—and the teams no longer switch benches between sets as is typical in volleyball matches.

Before the match began, the officials and Bell were at the scorekeeper’s table sorting out clarifications in the New Mexico Activities Association’s guidelines and determining which team would serve first.

“There’s still some questions, and [the official] said, ‘This is new to all of us,’” Bell said. “We’re all having to figure this out as we go—I’m glad to just have our first game with the kids.”

At the start of the opening set, Mountainair High School’s Zoey Brazil launched a serve for an ace and the Lady Mustangs grabbed a short-lived 1-0 lead.

The Lady Pintos then took control, built a comfortable 10-point advantage, and won the set 25-13 on Ciara Mora’s game-winning kill.

Mountainair played strong in the second set and held an early lead before Moriarty tied the game at 8-8. The set was tied at 15-15, and 20-20, before the Lady Mustangs won 25-20, getting four consecutive serving points with Brazil at the line and knotting up the match 1-1.

“She’s a good solid server,” Mountainair head coach Sheldon Roberts said of Brazil.

Mountainair stayed with Moriarty early in Set 3 before the Lady Pintos used an 8-1 run to turn a slim 12-10 lead into a 20-11 advantage. Aneesa Chavez’ game-winning kill gave the Lady Pintos the set, 25-13, and a 2-1 match lead.

Moriarty stormed ahead in Set 4, building a 16-7 cushion. The Lady Pintos increased the margin to 18-10 before Payton Edwards tallied three service aces, Chavez scored on a block, and a kill by Mora pushed the lead to 24-11.

Mountainair scored on an ace by Alyssa Bargass and a block by Alyson Dew to cut the deficit to 24-13. But the Lady Mustangs couldn’t control a return by Moriarty’s Hannah Pacheco and the ball fell to the floor, giving the Lady Pintos the 25-13 win.

“It was a good match, it showed some of the stuff we definitely need to work on,” Roberts said. “It’s always better to play some tough competition, even if we take the loss, at least it pushes us, so I think it really benefits us in the long run.”

Having finally played the first volleyball match since November of 2019, Edwards said: “It feels good, it’s nice to just get back out here and play with our teammates again.”

Bell noted that among all the strange, new aspects of the returned season, one of the biggest issues to contend with is having no spectators.

Moriarty’s Karly Neish jumps for the attack while Mountainair’s Alyson Dew, No. 14, sets up for a block during the match between the Lady Pintos and the Lady Mustangs at Moriarty High School on March 2, 2021. Photo by Ger Demarest.

“Our girls are gonna have to find a way, especially in the circumstances that we are in, they’re gonna have to find a way to generate their own energy and excitement, whether it’s for the love of the game, or for the love of your team, whatever it is, because a lot of the times, the crowd gets you going, the student section gets you going, your parents being here gets you excited, you know what I mean? We’re just gonna have to find a way to bring that to the court,” Bell said, adding, “It’s just great to be back, but it’s like nothing we’ve ever done, this is like nothing any of us have ever done.”

Moriarty played March 4 at Sandia Prep, while Mountainair hosted Magdalena.

Just before The Independent went to press, the state Public Education Department and NMAA issued a joint press release, saying limited numbers of spectators will be allowed at high school sports competitions—depending on the color-coded designation of the county in which the game would be played.