Alicia Quintana tips the ball at the net during practice For the Pojoaque Valley High School volleyball team. The Elkettes were 18-5 last year. Pojoaque lost in the quarterfinals of the Class 4A state volleyball tournament to eventual state champion Los Lunas High School
By George Morse
Elkettes Looking For Mental Toughness
The Pojoaque Valley High School volleyball team was just one set away from advancing to the semifinals of the 2018 state volleyball tournament. After dominating the fourth set against Los Lunas High School, the Elkettes appeared to be riding some momentum heading into the decisive fifth set.
It didn’t happen. Los Lunas took an early lead and held on for the victory. It turned out to be a case of what might have been for the Elkettes, as Los Lunas would go on to win the Class 4A state volleyball championship.
“We have a bitter taste from last year,” Pojoaque Coach Joseph Rodriguez said. “We need to be mentally stronger if we’re going to do something.”
Pojoaque got off to a quick start last season with a 15-1 record, including victories over District 2-4A rivals Los Alamos and Espanola Valley. At one time, the Elkettes were ranked first in the state in Class 4A. However, a bad 3-0 loss to Espanola Valley and another loss 3-2 to Los Alamos cost Pojoaque the District 2-4A title. The Elkettes started the 2018 state volleyball championships winning Pool C in the opening round of pool play before faltering against Los Lunas.
“It seemed like we climbed so fast, but then we didn’t go up anymore,” senior Mikayla Padilla said.
Padilla will be the new libero.
“Last year, I had six seniors,” Rodriguez said. “This year I have four and they all have played varsity. I have a new libero, a new setter. Basically, my back row is brand new. We’re going to hit some bumps. The goal is to win the district and win state.”
It’s in the front row that Pojoaque returns several key players, including senior Ashten Martinez. She will play either middle blocker or outside hitter. It seemed last season like Martinez was the player who could put down a kill for the Elkettes when they needed it.
‘Get a kill and win that point,” Martinez said. “Give confidence back to our team.”
Martinez has been working with new setter junior Ayana Aguirre.
“We come in before practice so we can work on getting that connection,” Martinez said. “We’re going to be a young team but we can do some damage.”
Martinez works to establish the team chemistry that Pojoaque will need.
“I want to be there for them off the court,” Martinez said. “If you have it off the court, you’ll have it on the court. It’s very important. The closer you are as a team the better you are on the court.”
Also returning will be opposite hitter senior Lauryn Gomez. She has been also working with Aguirre.
“I’m comfortable with her,” Gomez said. “I’ve played with her before.”
Although the opposite hitter does get their share of kills, the primary responsibility is on defense.
“Getting that big block on their outside hitter,” Gomez said. “It’s a matter of timing and watching the ball.”
The Elkettes are working on not having the letdowns they suffered last season that cost them the district title.
“Keep our energy high,” Gomez said. “Not get down on each other and be mentally stronger.”
Senior Espe Torres returns at outside hitter. Although just 5-feet, 5-inches, she has great vertical leap. Timing is critical for her.
“You have to work with what you have,” Torres said. “I feel confident. I’ve been putting in the work this summer.”
She also knows that the Elkettes need to be mentally tougher.
“We can’t let things get all inside our heads,” Torres said. “Let the energy go to the other side.”
Padilla relishes her role as the new libero, which is strictly a defensive position whose skills often get under-appreciated amidst the big kills and blocks by the front row.
“I always wanted to be the libero,’ Padilla said. “Back row is my passion. Setting the ball up for them to get that kill is our compliment. Always paying attention. Trusting your blocker.”
She also works on staying mentally tough.
“Keeping your energy high,” Padilla said. “Shaking it off. It’s a new game every time. Win one game at a time game by game.”
Also returning to the front row at middle blocker will be 6-foot junior Leah Trujillo. She uses her height well when blocking and has the potential to be another big hitter for Pojoaque. Alicia Quintana will also play front row.
Pojoaque was 18-5 last season, Rodriguez’s first as head coach. The Elkettes have a tough schedule and play many of the top Class 4A teams during the regular season. They open the season against Sandia Prep School this Thursday, Aug. 29 at Pojoaque.
Elkettes 2019 Schedule – Courtesy of Max Preps