FARMINGTON — The Piedra Vista volleyball team needed a strong performance against Cleveland to keep its hopes of a regular-season district title alive.
The Lady Panthers provided much more than a strong outing, putting together their best match of the season to quiet the Lady Storm with a 21-25, 25-15, 25-14 and 25-21 victory this afternoon at the Jerry A. Conner Fieldhouse.
“I think that was probably the best I’ve seen them play. Hopefully, we can continue playing like that,” PV coach Ron Becker said. “I love watching them play like that. It’s awesome volleyball.”
Becker said part of what made the Lady Panthers’ performance so strong was that no individual player stood out among them. Throughout the match, whenever PV needed a big play, it seemed to come from someone different.
After splitting the two district matches — Cleveland beat PV 3-1 on Oct. 8 in Rio Rancho — the two sides lead the district with one loss each.
PV (15-3, 5-1 District 1-6A) opened the first set well, taking a quick 5-2 lead. But Cleveland (12-6, 6-1) mounted an 8-2 run to pull ahead 10-7.
The Lady Storm maintained a small cushion through the middle of the set before building a 22-15 advantage. With the set all but decided, Cleveland relaxed, allowing the Lady Panthers to make a small run.
As PV crept closer and closer, Cleveland coach Brian Ainsworth implored his team to finish the set and close out PV. Although the Lady Storm held on for the win, the momentum of the match swung heavily in PV’s favor.
“At the end of the first set, we really came together and played together, and it really took the momentum away from them,” PV senior libero Rebekah Eaves said. “We really carried (the momentum) through as a team and not as individuals. We really worked together.”
Cleveland seemed to be playing in a fog to start the second set, unable to find the intensity that helped the visitors control the bulk of the opener. While the Lady Storm struggled to find themselves, PV was sharp and jumped to a 12-3 lead. Cleveland made a couple of small runs during the set, but the early deficit was too much to overcome, and the Lady Storm never got within five points of PV.
It was all PV in the third set. The Lady Panthers barely missed from the opening point to set point.
“Our defense and passing was great today," Becker said. "Our passing was some of the most spot-on passing I’ve seen. And that makes all the difference, we can run whatever we want when we pass like that. I’m really, really proud of the way they passed tonight. It allowed us to attack and be quick on offense, and we can attack from anywhere when we’re passing like that.”
The fourth set was the closest of any in the match. Cleveland played with a sense of urgency, with Ainsworth telling his team, “Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go,” after every point the Lady Storm won, trying to get them to pick up the tempo.
The score stayed tight through the first portion of the set and was tied at 10 when PV senior Sam DeWees went to the service line and sparked a 5-0 run. PV extended its lead slightly, building it to 20-14. But then service errors from the Lady Panthers helped Cleveland battle back with a 6-2 run to make it 22-20 before PV held on for the win.
PV will host Rio Rancho (5-12, 0-6) on Friday, then Volcano Vista (10-5, 3-2) on Saturday to close out the regular season.
Karl Schneider is the sports editor for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4648.