My Top Five in 5A August 27, 2023August 22, 2023 by Rich And the season is upon us already. There is a lot of great talent across the state at all classes. The following teams, in my opinion, are the ones to keep a close eye on. La Cueva The Bears are still the team to beat for the ’23 campaign. Coming off a successful, undefeated 2022 season, the Bears will stay at the top until someone can topple their reign. Personnel-wise, the most significant loss for the Bears will be Ella Sanders (MaxPreps POY in New Mexico). Keep an eye on OH Tea Kalajdzic to step up. Her numbers were a little inconsistent towards the end of the season, going from an impressive .608 HP in the tournament against Eldorado to a .091 HP versus Cleveland, with three sets played in each match.La Cueva looks solid with juniors Chloe Chafins in at setter, Karyna Werley at S/RS, and Kylie Butters at MB/RS. Las Cruces Falling to La Cueva in the ’22 championship game, the Dawgs are returning most of their starters from last season, losing only OH/S Alexis Massey and setter Lina Figueroa.There is a lot of consistency across the front row, including OH Mytzelth Morales, RS Amar’e Stout, and middle Mercedes Willis, all battle-tested. The player to watch is sophomore Addison Massey at OH. The younger sister of Alexis, the Bulldawg offense is centered around Addison, her athleticism and natural feel for the game.I think it will be telling how Cruces fares at the Margaret Hussmann Tournament at Frank HS in El Paso. The El Paso schools generally have a few weeks of games played before the New Mexico schools start, and there is a lot of talent – especially with Franklin. If the Bulldawgs have a strong outing, top four in this case, I think we’re looking at a team that can topple the Bears.This is my pick to win the Blue this season. Cibola The Cougars bring a lot experience to the 2023 season, returning five seasoned players to the roster.Defensively, Makayla Martinez will be the cornerstone, surrounded by equally experienced defenders in Snell and Sistoza. Senior Ruby Peek in at setter stepped up last season and will be instrumental in leading Cibola forward. From the hitter perspective, the duo of Parker and Lopez will cause some headaches for opposing defenses. 265 kills in 101 sets almost doubles her production from the 2022 season. Her serving skills also proved valuable, racking up 32 aces and a serving percentage of 81.3 – not bad.As always, as the season progresses, we’ll starting seeing how the teams fare, but on paper, Cibola looks as strong as most. I think this year’s squad will be handing out some surprises, especially at Metro. Cleveland Another up and coming program, Cleveland was a tenacious squad, progressing through the consolation bracket defeating their cross-town rivals, Rio Rancho, only to fall to the eventual champs, La Cueva.With the graduation of libero Aubrey Ortiz, look to senior Haylie Griego to step in and take control of the defense. The Storm have the setter position well covered, with Marian Hatch and Julia Buchner in tow. Besides averaging 9.9 blocks/set in 77 sets played, Hatch has some interesting stats, included 25 blocks in 25 attempts last season.At the net, Cleveland has a rather large group of players with considerable experience. Keep an eye on Savage, Wild, Sniper and Heffner. Much like the Cougars, I think the Storm is a wildcard, and with the amount of maturity in the squad, they are as dangerous a team, as any in the Albuquerque area. Centennial This will be the most interesting team to watch, simply because of the exit of long-time coach Al Rosen. A perennial winner, Rosen had a season that was somewhat of a disappointment given the talent and experience on his squad.The season very uncharacteristic, despite being lead by ’22 and ’23 Gatorade POY and Arizona recruit Tess Fuqua as well as NMSU recruit Bella Castro at libero. Now coached by Art Aguirre, the former Santa Teresa coach, my big question is how the culture changes, and who steps up to fill in some pretty big shoes left by Fuqua. The number two hitter was Molly Walton – a very capable OH who racked up 256 kills and a .168 HP. In the middle, watch out for Emyrson Gunn. My player to watch is senior opposite/middle, Samya Carter, a super-athletic MB/OPP, I think will step up a wreak some havoc at the net.Since the Hawks have been playing in class 5A, the level of competition between them and the Bulldawgs has been at a very high level. How will Aguirre and his squad address the coaching acumen of Dawg head coach Keith Leupold and his team? It will be interesting to see what happens down south.