Kevin Wilson: PNT Staff Writer
The motto all season was “Never Retreat, Never Surrender.”
After this weekend in Albuquerque, the Portales volleyball team can add another one — survive in five. That’s what Portales did twice, winning on the brink of elimination twice and claiming the school’s sixth state championship and fourth in the last six seasons.
Portales (22-3) proved 13 a lucky number, as the Lady Rams finished the season on a 13-match winning streak and also went 13-0 against Class 3A opponents.
But a pair of five-game matches put that streak in jeopardy, starting with a near-collapse in the semifinals Friday against St. Michael’s.
“I think yesterday was the best thing that could happen to us,” Portales coach Ruth Chavez said after the win. “We hadn’t been challenged before. We went back (Friday night) and worked on some things emotionally.”
Emotionally and physically, Portales was just a touch better than the third-seeded Elkettes.
“They fell an inch short,” Pojoaque coach Brian Ainsworth said of his players. “(At) 14-14, we believed we were going to win it.”
Portales trailed at two different points in the fifth game against the Elkettes, but showed its resolve at 14-14 when Morgan Hill slammed down her 15th kill for a 15-14 lead.
“They made a key kill,” Ainsworth said. “No. 9 (Hill) stepped up.”
Moments later, a hitting error gave Chavez her third state title and her best record in five seasons as Lady Ram coach.
For senior setter Ashleah Richards, it all went back to the slogan.
“I thought we just played with heart,” said Richards, who led Portales with 21 assists. “Our saying — Never retreat, never surrender — saying that over and over again made us want it so much more.
“I know they wanted to win it for the seniors, and I love them for that.”
Portales will have four seniors to replace from this year’s roster — defensive specialist Rebekah Gonzales, Richards, Hill and Megan Kabrick, who led Portales with 18 kills.