FARMINGTON — There was no denying the Goddard Rockets a 10th volleyball state championship.
No. 2 Goddard dominated No. 1 Piedra Vista at pivotal times of the Class 4A state championship match on Saturday at the Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho. The Rockets took a 25-22 win in the first set and a 25-23 win in the second to open a commanding lead. Piedra Vista rallied from a seven-point deficit in the third set to win 25-20, but Goddard ran away with the match in the fourth game, winning 25-11 to clinch a 10th state title for the school and the first since 2009.
It was another tough loss for the Lady Panthers, who reached the state championship game for a second consecutive year, but once again came up short.
"It hurts a lot worse the second time, but I am really proud of my team and the way we played all season," said PV senior Samantha Sofka. "It is by far the best team I have ever been a part of."
Piedra Vista head coach Ron Becker thought his team would rally after winning the third game, but it wasn't to be.
"I thought that was the turning point and we could battle back like we have so many times this season. I was confident we would fight back and win, but it didn't happen," he said.
Goddard (19-5) played a smart match. Like Piedra Vista (21-3), Goddard doesn't have a ton of size, but the Rockets passed fluidly and got in perfect defensive positions to block Piedra Vista's big hitters, especially Sofka, who led PV all season in kills.
"It was extremely hard to hit it past them. I knew they were going to be up in the air and that they had solid blockers," Sofka said. "We knew it would be tough, but we have a good setter. We just came up short."
Goddard got double-digit kills from Courtney Villalpando, Megan Meeks and Shaylee Griffin. Renee Carrica set the hitters up for the majority of their kills.
Piedra Vista was led by Sofka's 17 kills, and Brittney Hutchison contributed 12. Nianna Alcon had nine more kills and Autumn Begay had eight. Vanessa Harris had 42 assists in the loss.
"We swung at a ton of balls and didn't get very many kills," Becker said. "They did a great job defensively. In counter to that, we didn't do a good job blocking on our end. It hurt us."
After the game, PV players felt like they did more to beat themselves than Goddard.
"I definitely feel that way," Sofka said. "I feel like our passes on that first ball weren't directly on like they normally are. We weren't able to run our offense quick enough, and we also lost some big rallies."
Becker said Goddard was the better team on Saturday, but he didn't think his team handled the pressure of the championship match well.
"The thing that killed us was the same team we had (Friday night in the semifinals) didn't show up (Saturday). The nerves of the state title game got us again," Becker said. "The pressure here is amazing, but we can't shake off the nerves and we play into that."
The Lady Panthers were three points away from a state championship in 2012 before St. Pius X rallied to defeat Piedra Vista. That team graduated several talented players, including two Division I signees.
PV reloaded for the 2013 campaign and amassed the best record in all of Class 4A going into the state tournament. Becker will try to do the same next season as the Lady Panthers lose just three seniors -- Sofka, Nianna Alcon and Kacey Varnell.
"Those three are great seniors who will all be missed. You don't just replace a Sofka and the leadership from her and Varnell," Becker said. "We have to put a lot of work in. We have some younger players who will step in pretty well, but I am not sure if they will be up to caliber yet."
The graduating PV players have been part of the first two teams in school history to reach the state championship match. Sofka said they can be proud of bringing home the first two red runner-up trophies the school has earned.
"It feels great knowing we were able to do that. I know we haven't brought home a blue trophy yet, but it feels good to show PV is dominant in a lot of sports," said Sofka, who is contemplating whether she will play Division I volleyball in college next year or if she will end her career. "I have a lot of faith in the girls coming back next year that they can bring home a blue trophy. They will want it that much more."John Livingston can be reached at email@example.com; 505-564-4648. Follow him on Twitter @jlivi2.