By Kenn Rodriguez
RIO RANCHO — In three previous meetings over the past four years in the Class 1A state volleyball championship match, the Fort Sumner Vixens were unable to break the grip of four-time defending champion Tatum.
But Saturday afternoon at Santa Ana Star Center, the Vixens made the fourth time count, defeating their archrivals 25-22, 25-23, 19-25, 25-19 to claim the school’s first state title since 2008 and their first final match win over Tatum (17-6) since 2006.
“It feels good,” senior middle hitter Angelica Torres said. “We deserved it and it’s a great accomplishment because they’re a great team.
“We just decided it was now or never.”
Top-seeded Fort Sumner (18-6) started quickly in the first two sets, then fought off the third-seeded Lady Coyotes by consistently digging shots from Tatum’s front line duo of senior Morgen Williams and junior Abby Medlin while varying tactics on their own side of the net.
“Being able to run three hitters across (was a key),” said Vixens coach Lisa McMath. “They had to really make a decision on where to place their block and that really helped us.”
Quick starts in sets one and two gave the Vixens both momentum and confidence. Behind strong hitting from senior Emma Moyer and sophomore McKayla Landreth, Fort Sumner took leads of 9-4 in the first set and 12-5 in the second son their way to a 2-0 lead.
“We’ve been trying to practice looking across the court and seeing what’s available for our hitters, as far as passing and serving to open spaces,” McMath said. “We practiced a lot of placement.”
In both sets, Tatum mounted rallies.
In set one, Torres stopped the rally with smart net play and deft service. In the second set, Tatum was clinging to a 20-18 lead when Landreth, sophomore outside hitter Ariana Lucero and junior middle blocker Codi Scovel-Wood all scored timely kills as the Vixens out-scored the Coyotes 7-3 down the stretch to grab the second set when blasted a kill through the block of Tatum defenders.
Set three ended up being a slog for both teams before the Coyotes again got a mid-set surge and took a 20-14 lead. Fort Sumner battled back, but had dug itself too deep a hole nad when the Coyote found a set point opportunity, they made it count, taking advantage of a pair of Vixen errors to win set three.
“We just stayed on our toes and kept moving and our defense was able to pull through,” said senior libero Shelby Mobley. “We can pull almost anything off, we’re very capable of playing different ways
Set four looked like it would be a carbon copy of the previous two sets, but Fort Sumner short-circuited the Tatum attack in the middle of the set, instead getting a surge of their own as Moyer, Torres and Landreth took terrific sets from sophomore setter Autumn McMath and took turns setting down kills as part of an 11-3 run that closed the set and the match out.
When Torres served up an ace on match point, the Vixen had officially knocked the monkey off their back and dethroned the four-time queens of the court.
“We were very fortunate this year in that we’ve had 11 quality players in practice that are able to push each other,” said McMath. “They learned how to stay focused. We felt this year if we could keep our focus we could come out and do well.”