FARMINGTON — Five local volleyball teams will begin their quest for a state title when pool play at the state volleyball tournaments begins Thursday at the Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho.
After finishing the District 1-6A schedule in a three-way tie for first place, Piedra Vista fell to the district tournament’s No. 3 seed on tie breakers. But the slip in the standings only ignited the Lady Panthers, who won three straight matches to claim the district title and catapult them into the No. 2 overall seed in the 6A state tourney.
PV (19-4) will begin the state tourney with play in Pool B. The Lady Panthers will first meet No. 11 Cibola (10-10), then No. 7 Eldorado (14-7).
PV and Cibola know each other well, having met three times during district action. The Lady Panthers won the three meetings 3-0, 3-1 and 3-1.
PV coach Ron Becker said having a familiarity with Cibola in pool play is a benefit because the Lady Panthers know what to expect from the Lady Cougars. But he added there is emphasis for the Lady Panthers not to take Cibola lightly just because they’ve already beaten them this season.
The Lady Eagles present a bit of an unknown for PV. The two did not meet in the regular season, but Becker said he has a pretty good idea of the challenge Eldorado will present.
“I did some checking and got some information on (Eldorado). I know they’re pretty big and physical, and they have a couple pretty tall girls,” Becker said. “I think as long as we play our game, we’ll be OK.”
The PV versus Cibola pool play match is scheduled for 1 p.m. Thursday with the match against Eldorado happening later in the afternoon.
At the 5A tournament, No. 6 Aztec (16-6) will open play in Pool C, where the Lady Tigers are joined by No. 3 Artesia (16-5) and No. 10 Goddard (10-12).
The Lady Tigers haven’t played either of their two pool opponents, putting the team in an unfamiliar situation. But Aztec coach Anna Strauss said facing the unknown gives her team the chance to play its game opposed to trying its approach to counter the Lady Bulldogs and Lady Rockets.
“We’re going to have to play our game and take care of the little things,” Strauss said. “We’re going to go out and not try to over guestimate anything since we don’t know anything about them. We’re just going to try to control what we can control.”
Aztec’s first match in pool play, against Goddard, is set for around 11:15 a.m., followed immediately by the match with Artesia.
Joining the Lady Tigers in the 5A field will be Farmington, which received the No. 9 seed.
The state tournament bid is the first for Farmington since the 2013 season.
The Lady Scorps (11-11) will be in possibly the most balanced pool with No. 4 Roswell (16-6) and No. 5 Española Valley (15-6) joining them in Pool D.
Similar to Aztec, Farmington did not face either of its pool opponents during the regular season.
Farmington is scheduled to play Roswell at 10:30 a.m., followed immediately by the match with EV.
In 4A, No. 6 Shiprock (15-6) will open play in Pool C against No. 10 Santa Fe Indian School (14-9), then No. 3 Robertson (15-8).
Both opponents will be new to the Lady Chieftains.
Shiprock coach Teri Atcitty said the team doesn’t know much about either team in Pool C, but the Lady Chieftains are entering the tournament on a wave of confidence after strong week of practice.
“We’re feeling confident with how much the girls are progressing and how well the girls are working together. All week, we’ve had practice, and it’s been really positive,” Atcitty said. “I’m feeling really good about it.”
This season marks the fifth straight year the Lady Chieftains have earned a spot in the state tourney. But in their previous four appearances, slow starts in pool play put the team in tough first round matchups, and the Lady Chieftains did not advance to the second round.
Atcitty said the key to Shiprock breaking that streak and making a deep run in the bracket will be maintaining that confidence and trusting each other.
The Shiprock versus SFIS match will get underway around 8:45 a.m. and will be followed by the match against Robertson.
No. 11 Navajo Prep (12-8) joins Shiprock at the 4A tournament and will play No. 2 St. Michael’s (15-7) and No. 7 Silver (14-7) in Pool B.
It is the sixth straight time the Lady Eagles have made the 12-team tournament field, but their first at the 4A level, as they spent previous seasons competing in 2A and 3A.
The Lady Eagles will first play St. Mike’s at 8 a.m., followed immediately by the match with the Lady Colts.
Karl Schneider is the sports editor for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4648.