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FARMINGTON — Navajo Prep has developed more of that killer instinct to hang tough and fend off foes on the volleyball court.

“It has to come from within. I haven’t had this kind of team in a long time where they have that killer instinct, that mentality,” coach Rainy Crisp said.

After allowing a key point or a key series of points, the Lady Eagles even out the score and start pushing ahead. When is starts widening the gap on the scoreboard, Prep fights for that quick point and starts closing out every match.

That’s what has propelled them to a 20-2 record entering the 3A state tournament, and it all traces back to a much-needed experience in late September.

Playing in the Santa Fe Indian School tournament against teams like fellow 3A clubs Raton and Cobre, it gave Prep an idea of what the 12-team field at state could look like and what it’ll take to spark a deep run.

“That was huge for us. It brought a lot of confidence to our girls,” Crisp said. “Once we get to state, it’s a whole different show. We learned how to win in five games. We learned how to come back, being down by a certain amount of points.”

Going back and forth scrapping for points, Prep learned how to endure and overcome the tension in facing decent competition.

And when Prep started jumping ahead in each set, it made that extra push to come out on top.

“It did us a whole lot of good because it opened our eyes,” setter Taina Sandoval said. “We’re not going to settle for what we are right now. We’re going to take it up another notch.”

The Lady Eagles kept that mentality going, even in Saturday’s District 1-3A tournament championship win over Thoreau.

After plowing through the first two sets, Prep withstood some mini rallies and responded with big points during the third set to secure the sweep.

Prep was encouraged that it cruised its way to both the district regular season and district tournament titles.

However, the team wants to show the rest of the state that this late-season surge didn’t stem from taking down weaker competition. Prep wants to show that it’s the byproduct of the SFIS tournament experience.

“I feel like it gave us a good sense what teams we’re going to go against. It certainly gave us great competition,” libero Tayiah Lewis said. “I feel like we learned a lot from (the SFIS tournament), like (with) covering and getting to our spots.”

Prep expects more bumps in the road at state, but it experienced how to handle those very moments.

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Prep improves to 20-2 this season after sweeping Thoreau Saturday at the Eagles Nest. Matt Hollinshead/The Daily Times

Matt Hollinshead covers sports for the Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577.

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