Lady Cats have seven-year itch

Eric Butler

The Clovis Lady Wildcats’ bid to win their own tournament for the first time is one of several storylines heading into this weekend’s seventh annual Clovis Invitational volleyball tournament.
The 16-team tournament begins Friday morning with pool play at the high school and Marshall Junior High, with quarterfinals beginning at 2 p.m.
“We’ve finished second the last two years,” said ’Cats coach Darrel Ray, whose team will be in a pool with El Paso Del Valle, Ruidoso and Tohatchi. “We never have (won it). It’s belonged to (St.) Pius, Rio Rancho or Texas schools. We’ve probably got one of the strongest teams Clovis has ever had. Not to put any undue pressure on the girls, but we have high expectations.”
Clovis (1-0) swept Portales Tuesday in its season-opener.
Among the entrants are the defending state champions from New Mexico’s three largest classifications — Rio Rancho in Class 5A, St. Pius in 4A and St. Michael’s in 3A.
Rio Rancho, coached by Eastern New Mexico graduate Toby Manzanares, will be short-handed in the tournament as outside hitters Britney Drumm and Cassie Koranyiare out for this weekend.
St. Pius was knocked out of the tournament last year by Rio Rancho, which eventually won the invitational. The Sartans, though, won the state title behind 6-foot-3 Jackie BonSalle and 6-2 Jeanne Fairchild —both who are back this year.
“We feel like we’ve got a substantial group of kids who can do a good job against any opponent,” Ray said. “So we’re looking forward to Rio Rancho and St. Pius. We’d love to get a shot at them in the title game — or against anybody else, for that matter.”
St. Michael’s halted Portales’ reign atop Class 3A last year, but this year’s Lady Horsemen group will be rebuilding after most of the 2002 team graduated.
Last year, Portales was effectively knocked into the consolation bracket by Elida. The Class 1A Tigers outpointed the Rams in a pool play match, and advanced to the championship bracket.
Elida also gave Clovis a five-game scare in the quarterfinals.
Portales and Elida are in the same pool again, along with St. Pius and West Las Vegas.
“Just because you’re a small school doesn’t mean you can’t compete, so we’re all right with having Elida. They’ll give us some good competition,” Portales coach Ruth Chavez said. “When you play a tournament this early, you see what you need to work with — where your kids are confident and where they’re not. And that’s what we’re going to use this for.”