Peñasco makes strong run in Class 2A state tournament

Lady Panthers fall short of reaching championship game

By Matthew Narvaiz sports@taosnews.com
Posted 11/20/19

The Peñasco Lady Panthers gave it their best shot.

Four games spanning three days -- and with three separate 8 a.m. matches -- the Lady Panthers made it all the way until Championship Saturday of the Class 2A state volleyball tournament before falling to Mescalero Apache in five sets on Saturday morning (Nov. 16) in the quarterfinals.

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Peñasco makes strong run in Class 2A state tournament

Lady Panthers fall short of reaching championship game

Posted

The Peñasco Lady Panthers gave it their best shot.

Four games spanning three days -- and with three separate 8 a.m. matches -- the Lady Panthers made it all the way until Championship Saturday of the Class 2A state volleyball tournament before falling to Mescalero Apache in five sets on Saturday morning (Nov. 16) in the quarterfinals.

"The girls played well," head coach Maxine Abeyta said. "They had an awesome state tournament."

This year featured a double bracket elimination up until the quarterfinals -- meaning that, early on in the tournament, a team can lose a match and still be able to play at least one more before being eliminated totally.

And that's exactly how Peñasco's state tournament run started -- with a loss. However, it was a hard-fought loss and one that set the tone for some of the Lady Panthers' wins later on in the tournament.

In their next match on Friday morning (Nov. 15), the Lady Panthers faced No. 7 Eunice, a team Abeyta said neither she nor her squad knew much about. But it was a match they knew they had to win.

In the Eunice match, Peñasco was able to take the first two sets, before dropping the next two. It was close in the fifth and final set, but the Lady Panthers took a 15-11 set win, keeping their hopes alive for a Class 2A championship.

Again, in a match later in the day, the Lady Panthers faced a team they didn't know much about in No. 11 Magdalena. Abeyta said from watching them, however, she gauged that Magdalena was a team that "didn't give up" and that she saw a long, arduous match forthcoming.

But that didn't exactly happen. Instead, Peñasco took a commanding win in a sweep of straight sets. More impressively, Abeyta said, was that her team was at full steam since they knew the position they were in.

"Our mistakes were limited, serves were going over and it was ours for the taking," Abeyta said of her team's win over Magdalena. "[We were] running on all cylinders - it was great."

That win bumped Peñasco even closer to the championship game -- though this time, the stakes were much higher.

Mescalero Apache, who came in ranked as the No. 5 seed, had that same fighting mentality as the Lady Panthers.

Peñasco started out strong in the game, Abeyta said. The Lady Panthers came out aggressive -- as they did against Magdalena -- and took the first set with relative ease.

Although they won the second set, Abeyta said she noticed a shift of momentum in the third set.

From there, Mescalero Apache took full advantage of Peñasco's mishaps and won the third, fourth and fifth sets to take the match victory.

With the loss, the Lady Panthers were effectively eliminated from the state volleyball tournament.

In total, Carly Gonzales had 59 assists and 46 kills over four matches. She led her team in both categories.

Ariana MacAuley, on the other hand, was a force on the attacking side for the Lady Panthers, too, having contributed 40 kills.

Abeyta said that this was the furthest into the state tournament a team she's coached has made it.

She would have liked to make it further -- a championship, perhaps -- but Abeyta is a firm believer that things happen for a reason.

More than anything, though, Abeyta said she was proud of her six seniors and the mindset with which they performed even in the face of defeat.

Abeyta said that Tammy Richards, the assistant director of sports for the New Mexico Activities Association, overheard Alexandra Sandoval, a Peñasco senior, say something about how the state tournament was meant for players like her to be "good role models for the younger generations."

That impressed Richards and it also helped Abeyta realize something important.

"I've always said - it's not about wins or losses, but how it shapes your character and how sports will help you in life," Abeyta said. "This is a small step to bigger and better things."

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