Ft. Sumner junior Julie Wood spikes the ball between two Lubbock Christian players during their game at the 2004 Clovis Volleyball Invitational Saturday at Rock Staubus Gymnasium. (CNJ photo by Eric Kluth)
By Eric Butler: CNJ correspondent
Buzz isn’t usually created around a fifth-place tournament finish.
But, in the Clovis Invitational volleyball tournament, much of the talk around Rock Staubus gymnasium surrounded the performance of Fort Sumner.
Generally acknowledged as a favorite in their class, the Vixens nevertheless are still a Class 1A school. And it was this small school that swept Class 4A two-time defending state champion St. Pius and then did the same to Lubbock Christian on Saturday to take fifth in the 16-team tourney.
Rio Rancho, the reigning champ in 5A, won the overall title with a 21-25, 25-15, 25-15, 25-22 victory over Santa Fe on Saturday night. Host Clovis finished seventh overall while Portales, in the consolation bracket, won one match over Grants and then fell to Lovington to end up 14th in the field.
But it was Fort Sumner (2-1), the only team lower than Class 3A in the tournament, that provided the excitement.
After finishing first in its four-team pool Friday morning, the Vixens fell to West Las Vegas 12-25, 25-21, 25-11, 25-22 in a quarterfinal that afternoon.
Fort Sumner, however, rebounded in a big way Saturday against St. Pius — a team rated No. 53 in the country, according to the Century Club preseason national high school volleyball rankings.
The Vixens won 25-22, 25-15, 25-20 over the tall Sartans as the Fort Sumner front line was able to stymie 6-foot-2 inch USC-bound Jeanne Fairchild and 6-foot, 3-inch junior Jackie BonSalle of St. Pius.
“I think was that me, my sister Kelly, Kayla (Britain) and Tobea (Patterson) could get up as high as they could and that just intimidated them,” said Sandy Fortner, a senior middle blocker for Fort Sumner. “We just talked to each other and got the adrenaline going. And it just kept building and building and getting better and better.”
“I thought it would be a good test for these girls to see what their capable of, that they could play with any team in the state if they get out and play ball,” said Fort Sumner coach Lisa McMath, who thought that the one loss to West Las Vegas was partially a result of the Vixens getting too excited after winning their pool.
“I think their momentum just kind of shifted down and they didn’t get themselves ready for the game, but West Las Vegas also did a tremendous job,” McMath said.
St. Pius saw a 35-match winning streak end against Rio Rancho in the quarterfinals. After the loss to the Vixens, the Sartans recovered to beat Clovis 18-25, 26-24, 25-23, 25-19.
Clovis coach pleased
For the host Lady Wildcats, the match against St. Pius also turned to be their best of the tourney. Clovis (0-4) finished second in its four-team pool on Friday, but fell to Santa Fe 25-18, 25-27, 27-25, 25-18 in the quarterfinals.
The Wildcats then lost to Lubbock Christian in the first of two matches Saturday.
Clovis coach Darrel Ray said that he was pleased with the improvement his team made over the course of the tourney — which culminated in the tight battle with St. Pius.
“This weekend was valuable to us, because we’re about to learn how to compete,” Ray said. “Once we do, we’ll find a way to win. We were very competitive — even in the three games we lost it was by a total of 10 points. Getting close, though, isn’t going to make anybody happy — we just need to build on it.”
Ray said that seniors Crista Mestas, Lauren Berning and Laura Wood were the most solid components for the Clovis squad as the tournament progressed.
“For their size, I think we did a good job staying with them — considering our tallest girl is five-nine,” said Berning, a 5-foot, 6-inch outside hitter. “I felt it was our best game so far. We really had been struggling, because we’re really a new team, but we need to improve in our communication.”