Tournaments are designed to foster improvement and give teams a look at programs they wouldn’t normally have a chance to see over the course of a typical pre-playoff season. And Las Cruces’ annual Jane Leupold Sweet 16 is one of the best in the state.
In addition to the host city’s perennially tough squads — Centennial, Mayfield, Las Cruces High and Organ Mountain — this year’s edition welcomed Artesia, Cleveland, Rio Rancho, Los Lunas, Roswell High, Goddard, Deming, Gadsden, Chaparral, Silver City, Santa Teresa and Alamogordo for a volleyball battle royale.
And after slugging through way through two rounds of pool play Friday, the Bulldogs came away with a solid split on Saturday, suffering their first loss of the year in a see-saw bout with Class 5A Gadsden, 2-3, before sweeping 5A Organ Mountain, 3-0.
“The girls played really well,” head coach Alan Williams said Saturday. “I think we did really well overall, and we definitely got better.”
The ‘Dogs were paired with Mayfield, Cleveland and Silver for the first round of pool play Friday. They were able to sweep both Mayfield and Silver but were swept by Cleveland as they strove to manage their roster.
“We’ve got some girls on the team that have some minor injuries, so we didn’t play everybody in pool play,” Williams said. “We just didn’t want some of those girls to play all day Friday and then all day Saturday as well.”
In the afternoon pools, Artesia came up short of Los Lunas but earned quality splits with 5A powers Rio Rancho and Centennial. That put them in a first-round bracket match against Gadsden that the girls in orange were nearly able to swing their way.
After falling behind the Panthers 0-2 on 20-25 and 22-25 losses, the Bulldogs came roaring back, taking Games Three and Four in extra points, 27-25 and 28-26. That brought the match down to Game Five, where the ‘Dogs came up just short, 13-15.
“They’re a good team,” Williams said of the Panthers. “They’ve always been well coached, they play great defense, and they have an outstanding hitter. Put all that together, and they were just a little too good for us in that game.”
The Artesia girls didn’t let the loss get them down, however. They proceeded to fight through another close match against Organ Mountain, besting the Knights in straight sets by finals of 28-26, 25-23 and 25-18.
“They weren’t quite as good as Gadsden was, but we still played well, and it was good to end the weekend with a win,” said Williams.
Overall, the coach was pleased with the experience gained as the team prepares to head into another tournament outing this weekend.
“Getting that experience in playing really tough teams is good, and I think we got a lot better,” Williams said. “It was a really good tournament. The game we lost against Gadsden was good for us because we had to make a lot of adjustments and just do things better over the course of the game, and we did. I was really proud of the girls for that.
“We also haven’t typically been passing the ball very well this season so far, but we did a lot better with that, which was important for us.”
The Bulldogs will now make the short trip north to Roswell this weekend for the Zia Classic, where they’ll open Friday as part of Pool B with Roswell High, Lovington, Mayfield, Alamogordo and Los Alamos. Pool A is comprised of Goddard, Miyamura, Organ Mountain, Carlsbad, Clovis and Hobbs.
“We’re just hoping to do the same thing we did this weekend, and that’s keep getting better,” said Williams.