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Mattie McCombs sends a kill past a Carlsbad blocker during Game Three Tuesday at Bulldog Pit. (Brienne Green - Daily Press)

Mattie McCombs sends a kill past a Carlsbad blocker during Game Three Tuesday at Bulldog Pit. (Brienne Green – Daily Press)

While opening the season with the county rivalry might seem a bit nerve wracking to some, it’s certainly worked out well for Artesia.

The Bulldog volleyball team picked up where the football squad left off Tuesday at Bulldog Pit, kicking off their 2016 campaign with a 3-0 sweep of the Class 6A Cavegirls before an enthusiastic home crowd.

As chants of “USA” intermingled with “Bulldogs” on “America Night” at the gym, the Artesia girls got off to a quick and dominant start against the girls in blue that gave them the momentum they needed.

“I really felt like we played well,” head coach Alan Williams said following the match. “I felt like we executed well, and I was really pleased with that. In the first game of the season, you expect it might get sloppy, but we did what we needed to do, and I was proud of that.”

The ‘Dogs bounded out to a quick double-digit lead in Game One Tuesday, but a few misplaced serves saw the Cavegirls back within seven, 20-13, late. Two from the line by Kacey Thurman and a tip-over
by Stacia Martinez, however, brought Artesia two points away from the win, 23-14, and a pair of hits out of bounds by Carlsbad sealed the deal, 25-15.

A two-point service by Kyrah Gonzales that included kills from Gonzales and Kamryn Carrera gave the Bulldogs an early cushion in the second contest. Three from service by Kamryn Esquibel made it 11-5, but from there, Carlsbad was able to log intermittent points amidst a side-out battle that brought them within striking distance, 16-14.

A Mattie McCombs three-point service was interrupted on what would have been the fourth by an iffy touch call of a Cavegirl hit out of bounds, but the Bulldogs kept their composure, picking up two points from Esquibel and ending the game on a Paityn Houghtaling spike that pinballed around the Carlsbad defense before hitting the court, 25-17.

Artesia again gained the upper hand early in the third set, but the bout would dissolve into a side-out marathon, with the Cavegirls again chipping their way to a 15-12 advantage.

Two aces by Esquibel and a hit out of bounds put the ‘Dogs back on top, but a few defensive miscues by Artesia found Carlsbad in control in the final points, 23-20. A Shaylee Fuller kill returned the ball to the Bulldogs, however, and a hit into the net and Martinez K tied the game at 23-all.

Carlsbad was able to force the side-out for game point but was called for a net violation, and with the score tied again at 24, a Fuller tip and a hit out of bounds during the service of McCombs preserved the sweep, 26-24.

“We really came out strong in the first game,” said Williams. “We missed some serves that let them back in, but other than that, I was really pleased with the way the girls played. That last game was close, but it was good to see us score those last few points when we had to.

“We missed some serves early, but the rest of the match, I thought we did pretty good with that. Really our serving is what helped us get the big leads in the match, and for a first game, I thought our offense was pretty good.”

The ‘Dogs will now head to Las Cruces Friday and Saturday for the annual Sweet 16 Tournament, and Williams hopes to see his netters continue to build on what they started Tuesday.

“The girls did well, and they all seemed to have fun,” said the coach. “It was a good game to win. It was Carlsbad, we were trying to follow what the boys did on Friday night, and we had a great crowd here for our first game of the season, so I was really pleased.”