Lady Rattlers earn first district title in 40 years
November 10, 2021
Sirens heard in Tucumcari late Tuesday weren’t because of a fire or a wreck on the interstate.
Those sounds from first-responder vehicles served as a welcome-home celebration and an escort for a bus of a Tucumcari volleyball team that won its first district title in more than 40 years.
The Lady Rattlers earned a District 4-3A championship earlier in the evening by defeating New Mexico Military Institute 25-20, 25-19, 25-22 at Roswell.
Though Tucumcari (9-11 overall, 3-1 in district) qualified for an at-large berth in the state tournment two years ago, it won its first district title since 1979 on Tuesday. Dexter (5-16) also finished 3-1 in district play, but Tucumcari prevailed in the number of sets won.
Tucumcari coach Dana Benavidez said her team played well during its second matchup this season against the Lady Colts (4-17, 0-4).
“We were poised and under control,” she said. “They would have a few errors, but they would fight back and get it under control. They played calm and didn’t get frazzled.”
Amber Owen led the Lady Rattlers with 13 kills, and Caylee Benavidez added eight. Alexus Lafferty made 35 serve receptions and 12 digs against NMMI. Alexis Ramirez totaled four service aces, and Madison Dysart added three.
Coach Benavidez acknowledged she and many other players cried during their celebrations of a district championship right after match point.
“It was very emotional and very exciting,” Benavidez said. “Our goal the whole year was to win district.
“To have coached the seniors for four years and have my own daughter on the team, to have kids on the team who’ve played for me since eighth grade, it’s big,” she added. “I was so happy for them.”
Owen, Tucumcari’s co-captain, served match point Tuesday.
Owen said it was “really cool” to win that match and a district title, but the impact didn’t quite register until the team bus returned home late Tuesday.
“When we came home, we drove under the overpass (on First Street) and we were met with an escort to drive us through town, that’s when it really hit,” she said. “We won. We did it, this thing we’d talked about.”
Benavidez said she and her team were all too aware Tucumcari hadn’t won a district volleyball championship in more than 40 years. The evidence was visible during each practice inside the Snake Pit.
“The (district championship) banner hangs in the gym,” she said. “The only number on that is 1979. They’d look up there in the last couple of years and say, ‘It’s been a long time.’”
Owen admitted the lengthy district title drought was a motivator.
“This was my fifth year on the volleyball team, and Dana has talked about putting a number on that banner every year, and we did it this year,” she said. “It was pretty cool.”