ALBUQUERQUE — A hard-fought battle for the Class 1A championship never quite materialized.
In a matchup of perennial powers, the Fort Sumner Vixens needed slightly more than an hour to knock off defending champion Animas 25-17, 25-19, 25-17 and claim their fifth title since 1996.
“This was a great team effort,” Fort Sumner coach Lisa McMath said. “We had a lot of key girls step in and hit the ball well and make good passes.”
The Vixens (23-1) got 12 kills from senior middle blocker Bree Lucero and 10 each from senior outside hitter Racheal Chavez and sophomore outside hitter Sarah Stinnett in winning their 22nd match in a row, a stretch in which they lost only one game. Animas (22-3) saw a 14-match winning streak end, dating to a five-game loss to Class 2A champion Texico in the Cloudcroft tournament.
Fort Sumner players said they were motivated by a loss to district rival Elida in last year’s semifinals. Animas went on to beat the Lady Tigers for the championship.
“I thought about (that) all week,” said outside hitter Racheal Chavez, one of five Vixens seniors. “I wasn’t worried (when Animas mounted a third-game charge) because I knew all we had to do was play our game and stay strong, and we’d be fine.”
Senior setter Rita Herrera said the Lady Panthers were focused on Lucero the whole match.
“After pool play, I was confident we’d win because I knew Animas was scared of Bree,” Herrera said. “They always focused on Bree, and left our other hitters open.”
A close matchup seemed plausible, with Animas and Fort Sumner accounting for for three of the previous four 1A titles, but the Lady Panthers never recovered from a fast-starting Vixens club that cruised in the first game and fought off small rallies in the next two sets.
McMath said her girls took a business-like approach into the Johnson Center on Saturday.
“They were on a mission,” she said. “That was exactly what we kept saying, that we were on a mission.”
Vixens senior Candace Lyssy backed up her coach’s sentiments.
“We were very focused,” Lyssy said. “We had to just treat this like a normal (match) so that we would remain calm.”
Animas took a 14-12 lead in Game 2, but Lucero had three kills to spark an 11-2 run to turn the tides.
The Panthers couldn’t muster enough of a comeback after falling behind 19-9 in the third game.
“This is amazing, especially to do this in my last year,” Lyssy said. “It’s sad (to be done), but it’s amazing at the same time.”
Lucero battled through a strained muscle in her hip throughout much of the season.
“It feels wonderful,” she said of the hip. “It hurts, but no pain, no gain. The treatments have been pretty tough, but it was all worth it.”
McMath also noted the bad taste left with her girls after last season’s state tournament, which ended in a semifinal loss to Elida.
“We were disappointed last year, so we were intent on getting the job done tonight,” McMath said. “(Animas) is a great ballclub. They hit the ball well and played well.”
Senior outside hitter Jaci Hatch and sophomore outside hitter Merrilee Richardson each had 10 kills for the Lady Panthers.