By Dave Wagner
With a strong nucleus of seniors, fifth-year Clovis High School volleyball coach Darrel Ray figures this could be the Lady Wildcats’ time to challenge at the state level.
A half-dozen seniors saw action on last year’s 16-7 squad that reached the Class 5A regional round. A seventh senior, middle blocker Jessica Wymore was injured in an automobile accident on Wednesday and is expected to miss up to eight weeks.
“This should be a payoff year for us,” Ray said. “We’ve been tailoring this (senior) class since they were sophomores.”
Ray has moved 5-9 senior Monique Walker, a second-team all-state selection last year as an outside hitter, to a middle blocker position.
“We wanted to do that to add to our blocking ability,” he said. “Her arms and legs are long enough that she plays like a 6-foot-2 girl, and it’s also easier for us to move her around.
“She’s one of the better ones in the state; she’s got outstanding hops. And if she’s not our best passer, she’s probably one of our two best.”
Senior Alissa McDowell was schedule to share the other middle position with Wymore, but she’ll have to step into it on a full-time basis for now. She said she’s ready for the challenge.
“Over the years I’ve gradually gotten better,” McDowell said. “Others have seen me improve, and I’ve seen me improve.
“We have a stronger mentality this year. If we play to the best of our abilities, I think we can beat anybody in the state.”
Other seniors who will be counted on are outside hitter Jessica Hohn, setter Tara Ray and defensive specialists Sara Salguero and Dani Millender. The Lady Cats are also looking for help from junior defensive specialist Roxanne Luera and sophomore outside hitter Aimee Hilburn.
“We’ve all played together so long that we have a huge team unity,” McDowell said of the seniors. “With the skills we’ve developed, we should be a really tough team this year.”
Darrel Ray also said the Lady Cats have the potential to beat anyone in the state. Defending champion Rio Rancho and state runnerup and defending Class 4-5A district champion Eldorado should again be among the top teams in New Mexico.
“I don’t think we’re going to take too much of a backseat to anybody,” he said. “There’s some great teams in the state, but I think we’re among them.”