It’s a family affair for top-seeded Lady Rams

By Kevin Wilson: Freedom Newspapers

One’s a junior, the other a freshman. One’s a defender, the other a setter.

Sisters Montana and Dallas Russell do have one thing in common — they’re both soft-spoken.

“We have fun together and we play hard,” said Montana Russell, who spoke lightly before looking at her sister and laughing. “I guess we get closer (through) playing.”

Soft-spoken, indeed: It’s a quality the Portales volleyball team is trying to exhibit this week.

The reason Portales is trying to stay soft-spoken is to try not to bring attention to the obvious — that the top-seeded Lady Rams can be described as an overwhelming favorite in today’s 2 p.m. regional qualifier match against 16th-seeded Wingate, mainly because no stronger word exists to describe what looks to be a mismatch.

While Portales is 18-3, undefeated in nine Class 3A matches and holds a nine-match winning streak, the visiting Bears are 2-13 in 3A, with both of those victories coming against District 1-3A rival Cuba, which did not qualify for the regionals.

Also, one of those 13 losses came against Portales, a 25-13, 25-14, 25-13 thumping in bracket play in September at the Zia Classic in Roswell.

Portales coach Ruth Chavez admitted she didn’t remember much about the match, except that it “was not a close match.” The video of the match, Chavez said, also reminded her of how much the Lady Rams have improved over the season.

Still, she’s trying not to discount the Bears.

“We aren’t taking Wingate lightly,” Chavez said. “We’re preparing like we’re playing the No. 1 team. We didn’t change anything up for them.”

That could be bad news for Wingate. Simply put, Portales has the home court advantage, more victories and more height — the Bears tallest player is 5-foot-8 senior Larisa Morgan, while Portales’ front line of Morgan Hill, Megan Kabrick and Bethany Self averages six feet.

The biggest thing Wingate offers, Montana Russell said, is a sense of unpredictability.

“They have short serves,” the junior said. “Their hits can go anywhere.”

Dallas Russell spent most of a Thursday interview letting her sister speak. Though aggressive on the volleyball court, she lets her sister take the lead elsewhere.

“She helps me,” the younger Russell said. “When the coaches tell me something I don’t understand, she helps me.”

Should Portales claim a victory today, it will earn a trip to Albuquerque for what could be called the second round of the state tournament — the first round is technically this weekend, with seven other regional qualifier matches at the schools of the top seeds. Pool play begins Thursday at La Cueva High School, with bracket play at Johnson Gym on the campus of the University of New Mexico.