Lady Horsemen survive knockout battle against Farmington, claim title
The St. Michael’s Lady Horsemen had worked too hard and been through too much just to let a Tournament of Champions volleyball title quietly slip through their fingers.
They survived the “Pool of Death” — to paraphrase a World Cup soccer expression — by going against Las Vegas Robertson, Piedra Vista and Pojoaque Valley in Friday’s pool play.
They beat defending tournament and reigning 5A champion Los Lunas to open quarterfinal play.
They bested crosstown rival Santa Fe High in a Saturday morning semifinal.
They reached a fifth game against Farmington in the championship match without sophomore outside hitter Lily Barker as she dealt with what she described as stomach cramps.
And they were down 10-5 in finale.
No way were the Lady Horsemen going down — not without a fight, at least. They didn’t.
“We didn’t work this hard to get here and just lose,” senior middle hitter Mikayla Bohlman said. “We played hard teams for the past two days. We’re not going to ruin it all now.”
St. Michael’s rallied for a 25-21, 25-19, 17-25, 20-25, 19-17 win over the Lady Scorpions for the tournament title. It was the first time a Santa Fe school won the gold bracket title since the Demonettes did it in 1998. It took some gutsy play by Barker and burglar-like nerves to steal the fifth and final game from Farmington.
Barker left the court in Game 3 with pain in her abdomen and had Santa Fe High trainer David Manning examine her. The Lady Horsemen (7-1) were in control as Barker and Bohlman were strong enough on the block to slow the Lady Scorpion hitters for the back row, while setter Miquela Martinez varied the St. Michael’s attack. She dished out kills to six hitters and had a pair herself.
It all fell apart, though, when Barker left the court.
“She is one of our go-to players, and knowing that she’s not out there puts the tiniest bit of worry in the players,” Lady Horsemen head coach Valerie Sandoval said. “But I thought our bench players stepped up. They went in and did what I asked them to do. The games were close, but I think the girls in general were worried about Lily because she was crying and in pain.”
But when Barker walked into the team huddle prior to Game 5 and said she was ready go, the energy level changed on the St. Michael’s bench.
“Personally, I try to show as much leadership on the team as I can,” Barker said. “When I went in, I knew I had to play my best for the team. I really wanted us to win the championship.”
Yet, it appeared her return was for naught as the Lady Scorpions jumped out to a 10-5 lead after Alyssa Simmons’ kill. All Sandoval did from the sideline was implore her team to focus on the next point.
“One point at a time — that’s all I kept saying,” Sandoval said. “We shouldn’t even focus on the score. We just need to get one, and stay one, and just one-one-one-one.”
Point by point, the Lady Horsemen kept their focus on “one.”
Joelyn Fernandez had consecutive kills to cut the lead to 10-7.
After Lady Scorpions’ Bergan Campbell kill, Barker had a kill of a Farmington block to start a three-point run, and the margin was down to 11-10.
Farmington (6-2) had itself a pair of match points at 14-12, but Barker had a kill and Simmons had her crosscourt attempt sail wide, although she trying to lobby the referees for a deflection off her hit. It was to no avail — the score was tied at 14.
The Lady Horsemen could sense emotion boiling over on the Lady Scorpions’ side.
“We could tell they were getting a little upset and we were using that,” Bohlman said. ’Yeah, they slammed [down] a ball, but let’s get it back. I though, even when they did slam it, you could tell they were doing it because they were mad.”
Still, Farmington had one more match point to capitalize on, but Barker smashed her 13th kill of the night to tie the score at 16. Fernandez followed with a kill off the block (her 10th) and Simmons sailed her final hit wide and the Lady Horsemen rushed the floor in exhilaration.
“It feels amazing, just incredible,” Barker said.