By Eric Butler, Freedom Correspondent
ROSWELL — If it’s true that the third-place match at the Zia Classic volleyball tournament might be a preview of things to come, it could be one wacky battle between Portales and Ruidoso for the District 4-3A crown this season.
The district rivals, each playing their second contest of the day, faced each other on Saturday with Ruidoso winning Round One by a 25-20, 25-14, 25-27, 18-25, 15-7 count.
Ruidoso coach Steven Brown afterward feared that the days of five-game matches between his Warriors and the Rams might just be beginning.
“I hope not. My hair’s gray enough as it is, but I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised,” Brown said. “I haven’t seen everybody, but I think we probably have the two best (3A) teams in the state.”
Portales (5-3) began the day by dropping a semifinal match to Goddard — a hard-fought 25-22, 25-19, 28-26 loss on the Rockets’ home court. Ruidoso (5-3), meanwhile, fell in five games to Roswell High after holding a 2-1 game advantage at one point.
In the third-place contest, the Warriors held firm control of the first two games as the teams moved into double-digits on the scoreboard.
But the Rams, in the third game, stayed on top — most of the time. Portales, leading 24-18, suffered a breakdown at the end of the game when Ruidoso ran off seven straight points to put the Warriors at match point. But Portales sophomore Jenna Wagner blocked a kill attempt to even the game at 25-25 and a couple of subsequent Ruidoso errors then gave the Rams the game.
Senior hitter Bethany Self and junior setter Dallas Russell were selected to the all-tournament team for Portales, but Rams’ coach Ruth Chavez thought Wagner was also in line for those honors.
“Nobody knows her because she’s a sophomore, but she is a big, strong hitter for us,” Chavez said. “You know, they haven’t seen her name around a lot, but she came through big for us today. All tournament, she was good.”
Trailing 18-17 in the fourth, Portales forced the decisive fifth-game by scoring the last eight points. Ruidoso, with consecutive out-of-rotation calls, contributed to the Rams’ streak that took place with Janette Spotswood serving the ball.
But the last 8-0 run of the match came right on the heels of Portales’ run –- and it wasn’t a good one for the Rams.
To start the fifth game, Ruidoso’s Amber Gardner served her team to an eight-point lead right out of the gate and Portales never recovered.
“Our serve-receive game killed us in that last game. When they’re ahead 8-0, it’s hard to fight back in the last game,” Chavez said.
Ruidoso entered the season as the top-ranked team in Class 3A, according to the Albuquerque Journal coaches poll.
“We needed this game to see how we stood with them, because you hear a lot about them — that they’re a good team,” the Portales coach said. “And they are, but now we know we can beat this team. We know what we have to work on. It was an emotional game, and we showed way too much emotion, but we’ll fix that.”