Lady Warriors win thrilling district opener

........................................................................................................................................................................................

Thursday night’s victory against Hot Springs was one the Lady Warriors earned.

Photo by Jonathan Miller/El Defensor Chieftain: Ashley Pyke attempts a kill over Hot Spring’s Marissa Aguirre and Maria Chavez on Thursday evening. Socorro won in five sets.

On an emotional evening that served as a cancer awareness night, a fundraiser and the District 3-A/3A opener all in one, Socorro ground it out against a team that gave them nothing and battled on every point.

In the end, the Lady Warriors simply refused to lose. When all was said and done Socorro had willed itself past the Tigers in five sets, 25-20, 23-25, 25-16, 22-25, 15-4.

“We just have a lot of heart,” Socorro senior Maudie Mauldin said.

And in the type of slugfest where you basically throw out both the good and the bad things you do on the court and fight your way to a win, that intangible quality may have been the deciding factor.

“They really played with some heart, and they really wanted to fight and win this match,” Lady Warriors head coach Joni Mauldin said.

It was a victory both teams needed though, and in the opening two sets it looked like the match might come down to the wire.

In the first set, Socorro hopped out to a 16-11 lead. Both sides were playing loose and crisp, and the Tigers fighting their way back to 24-20 would be indicative of how the night would progress. A serve receive error on the Hot Springs side of the net ended the first set to give the Lady Warriors the early momentum, and when they jumped out to a 6-0 lead in the second set it looked briefly like they might run away with the match.

“They came out fighting right away,” Joni Mauldin said of her team.

But Hot Springs had no plans on being run out of the gymnasium, and it went on a 16-10 run to take a 17-16 lead after a Socorro return error. The Tigers extended their lead to 24-20, but a Bryahna Baca block cut that lead to 24-23 and it appeared the Lady Warriors might rally to take the set.

Marissa Sarate knocked a return into the top of the net, however, and just like that the match was even at one set apiece.

“We lost our momentum,” Joni Mauldin said. “I told the girls we have to keep our rhythm and keep them out of rhythm. Hesitation is evil.”

If hesitation is evil, the Lady Warriors were definitely on the side of good in the third set.

Socorro came out and played their quick game, executing accurate, short passes and didn’t really give the Tigers a chance to get into the set. When Sarate blasted an ace down the right sideline to end the third set, 25-16 in favor of the home team, Socorro was back in charge.

But those Tigers just would not yield.

Hot Springs opened up an 11-6 lead in the fourth set, and it wouldn’t relinquish it despite a Socorro comeback that cut that lead to 20-18. Up 24-22, the Tigers service game again proved the deciding factor as the Lady Warriors could not successfully find a way to return.

It was those pesky, mostly avoidable mental errors that caught up with Socorro again.

“Then they got nervous and they got scared to make mistakes,” Joni Mauldin said. “I told the girls you need to relax. Relax and play your game. I said feed off the crowd. This crowd is behind you and it really helps.”

The raucous crowd was indeed an advantage for Socorro. That, coupled with whatever Joni Mauldin told her team in the huddle after the fourth-set loss, was an advantage Hot Springs couldn’t overcome in the fifth and deciding set.

“She just told us to get in rhythm,” Maudie Mauldin said. “To get our passes, get in rhythm and everything will fall into place.”

Where everything fell into place for Socorro, everything fell apart for the Tigers.

The Lady Warriors sprinted to a 7-3 lead in the final set, and Ashley Pyke ripped a kill into the heart of the Hot Springs defense to make it 10-4. Then Sarate stepped up to the service line and reeled off five straight points to close out the match. Another Pyke kill down the middle, her most emphatic of the night, put the kibosh on the set and Socorro won the fifth set in dominating fashion, 15-4.

The victory moved the Lady Warriors to 9-8 on the season, but more importantly they’re off to a good start in district play at 1-0.

“We’ve been having really intense practices. We’re just not giving them any breaks,” Joni Mauldin said. “It showed tonight. Sometimes they struggle a little bit, but then they bounce back and that’s all I can ask for.”

Next up for Socorro is Silver. The 11-2 Fighting Colts are currently ranked fourth in 3A in the state and are also 1-0 in district.

“It’s always a fight with Silver City,” Joni Mauldin said.

But if the Lady Warriors can perform against Silver like they did against Hot Springs in the fifth set on Thursday, the only fight that can hold them back might be an internal one. Maudie Mauldin thinks her team just needs to be mentally ready.

“Sometimes we break down mentally, but when we’re all together, it comes together,” she said.

Socorro travels to Silver City to face the Colts on Oct. 23, and then it will go to Truth or Consequences for a rematch with Hot Springs on Oct. 30.