The road to a championship should  never be easy, and for the No. 1 Piedra Vista volleyball team, the 4A state tournament is no exception.
After falling behind two sets to No. 5 Artesia, the Lady Panthers grinded back to eek out a five-set win (20-25, 26-28, 25-13, 25-19, 15-9) in the state semifinals Friday night at the Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho.
“We started slow and struggled with our passing and serving,” said PV head coach Ron Becker. “But I was proud of the way we came back and battled in the last match.”
Senior Katie Hegarty led PV with 27 kills, and Sam Sofka added 10. Vanessa Harris had 48 assists for the top-ranked 4A side.
“The amount of heart we showed was amazing. Every girl played their heart out from our starters to our bench,” Hegarty said.
The Lady Panthers dug a big hole in the first set, falling behind 15-3. PV fought back, but the deficit was too large for the Lady Panthers to overcome as the Lady Bulldogs won the first set.
Artesia came out on top in a tight second set, putting PV one set from elimination.
“I really thought we’d get that second set,” Becker said. “There was a four-touch call near the end that I didn’t agree with and that hurt us.”
The Lady Panthers responded with a dominant third set to get back in the match.
“We pounced on them in that third game,” Becker said. “I told them ‘Every year, we end up in this position.

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We slow down and end up not pulling through. Then we look on from the stands and think we can beat that team. You can sit in the stands or keep playing. It’s up to you.’”
PV avoided the upset with strong fourth and fifth sets to wrap up the victory.
“To be able to dig out of the hole was impressive,” Becker said. “I didn’t want it to go that way, but it was probably good for us to play that way. It means more having to come back.”
The win sets up the title match — the schools first in volleyball — today against No. 4 St. Pius X.
“It’s funny, because I thought all season long that it would be us and Pius,” Becker said. “I think we match up well with them. They know they have one big match and that will create enough energy.”
PV also defeated
No. 2 Albuquerque Academy earlier Friday   in straight sets (25-23, 25-12, 25-21).
The Lady Panthers dominated the match from start to finish against the Chargers, who were predicted to end up in the title game.
“We were definitely pumped after the Academy game,” Hegarty said.
The emotional win took a lot out of PV and contributed to the slow start in the Artesia match.
“They didn’t really give us much credit,” Becker said of Academy. “The girls were fired up and played flawless. They played their hearts out in that match, and it’s tough to give that much in two matches on the same day.”
The Lady Panthers will have to keep their emotions in check if they want to come out victorious in the state title match against a tough Sartans squad.
“All we’ve talked about all year is playing (our side of the net),” Hegerty said. “I think we’ve proven we can do it, and we all have faith in our abilities. It’s a match like any other. We’ll play it a point at a time, game by game.”