Lady Panthers eliminated in first round of state tourney

Late season run ends with losses in pool play, tourney opener

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The end-of-season run the Peñasco Lady Panthers experienced to close the 2017 volleyball campaign ended at the state volleyball championships at Rio Rancho High School, Nov. 9.

The Lady Panthers – who made it to state as the number 12 seed – were eliminated from the state tournament by the Escalante Lady Lobos (a fourth meeting of the two teams in 20 days) in the opening round of bracket play after going 0-2 in “pool play” earlier in the day. Pool play involves a “round robin” competition between a grouping of three teams divided into four pools, for a total of 12 entrants – aimed at placing teams in their appropriate slot on the state tournament bracket. As the 12 seed, Peñasco found itself in a group with the number one seed, Logan Lady Longhorns and number eight seed Tatum Lady Coyotes. Unlike best-of-five matches that ordinarily occur throughout the season, pool play is a two-set match with a unique set of rules to determine placement.

Peñasco made it into the post-season tourney by going 6-2 in district play during the regular season – tied with the Questa Lady Cats and the Escalante Lady Lobos. By way of head-to-head outcomes, and total set wins versus losses, Peñasco and Escalante emerged as the top two teams in District 5-2A. A single game to resolve the question of the regular season league champion was played at neutral site Mesa Vista, Oct. 30, with the Lady Lobos sweeping the Lady Panthers 3-0 to claim the top seed – and a “bye” to the district tournament championship. As the second place team, Peñasco was afforded a bye to the semi-finals.

In the district tourney semi-finals, Peñasco welcomed Questa to Jicarita Gymnasium, Nov. 2, and won 3-0 to earn a re-match with the Lady Lobos in Tierra Amarilla, Nov. 4.

After the semi-final sweep, Coach InezAnna Gonzales was asked if the designation of “spoiler” was an appropriate way to describe her team. She simply replied, “I knew they had it in them. I just wasn’t sure when it was going to come out.”

Gonzales was alluding to the high level of play at the end of the season that was not seen at the start of the year when Peñasco went 0-8.

“Our team has the talent and the drive,” said Gonzales, who had not won a district match in her current tenure prior to the 2017 season. “They just needed to do a better job of communicating, and to work together as a unit.”

Most of the players on the roster play multiple sports throughout the school year and have demonstrated that talent and drive in other arenas. In basketball, the Lady Panthers started the 2016-17 season with a 10 game winning streak and eventually made the state playoffs in March 2017. Several players are also two-time state cross-country champions.

This year, after participating in the state cross-country championships in Rio Rancho, the team traveled to Tierra Amarilla and clinched the district tournament title with a dramatic 3-2 win over Escalante – and punched their ticket to the state volleyball tourney.

The final 10 games and the 7-3 overall record to finish the 2017 season rendered the Lady Panthers another distinction: worst-to-first.

The pool play encounter against Logan provided the Lady Panthers with experience against an elite class 2A volleyball program. The Lady Longhorns would go on to win the state championship – defeating the Ramah Lady Mustangs 3-2 Nov. 11.

With no seniors on the current roster, Peñasco is poised to carry the late-year momentum into next season. Without skipping a beat, the Lady Panthers were on to their next undertaking as the basketball season is well underway in Peñasco.

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