Lady Cats shorthanded heading into state match

By Jesse Wolfersberger: CNJ staff writer

Two major speed bumps have risen in front of the Clovis Lady Wildcats volleyball team in their bid to reach Albuquerque.

Senior outside hitter Aimee Hilburn sprained an ankle at practice this week and senior middle-hitter Brittany Blackmon was suspended from school Friday after an altercation, Clovis coach Darrel Ray said.

Ray said Hilburn is expected to play today when his fifth-seeded Lady Cats (16-6) host No. 12 Las Cruces Onate (9-13) in the first round of the Class 5A state tournament. Blackmon will miss the rest of the season, Ray said.

Hilburn rolled her right ankle Thursday on the last drill at practice, Ray said.

“She certainly thinks she’ll be able to play,” Ray said. “But seeing her walk I know she won’t be 100 percent. She has been our go-to player all year long. She was as consistent this year as anyone in this game could be.”

Hilburn said she can still be productive even if she is not at full speed.

“I feel pretty good,” Hilburn said. “I think I’ll be about 75 to 80 percent.”

The Clovis coach is hoping his team will be able to dispatch Onate in as few games as possible for Hilburn’s sake.

“Hopefully we’ll win and win quickly so we can minimize the wear and tear on Aimee’s ankle,” Ray said. “I doubt it will be an Aimee-like game, but I know she’ll play far better than people will expect her to.”

Ray said Blackmon has been suspended from school and athletics for five days because of a confrontation in a school hallway.

“It was a verbal confrontation that led to blows,” Ray said. “And school policy is that she is suspended for five days.”

Blackmon would be eligible to play Friday, potentially the semifinals of the state tournament, but Ray said Blackmon’s season is over.

“We’ll be in Albuquerque, and we’re not coming back to get her,” Ray said. “Besides, how fair would it be for her to jump in there after not practicing or playing all week.”

Ray said Hilburn’s injury and Blackmon’s suspension make Saturday’s game a bigger challenge than it already was.

“It wasn’t going to be easy anyway,” Ray said. “And we had pretty much the same lineup all year, we were kinda spoiled.”

Hilburn said the team is doing their best to focus on Onate instead of recent setbacks.

“We’re trying to keep our heads held high,” Hilburn said. “We’re trying to stay on the positive side.”