By Eric Butler
FORT SUMNER — With no seniors on this year’s squad and possibly needing time to integrate two of the state’s top small school athletes into the system, Fort Sumner’s volleyball team has the makings of a powerhouse in 2004.
But don’t forget about this year.
The Vixens returns several key players for last year’s team that finished as the Class 1A runnerup, losing a four-game battle with Des Moines in the state championship match.
All-state setter Leslie Wood will quarterback the Vixens offensive attack, which will be paced by outside hitter Kayla Britain and middle blocker Tobea Patterson. Wood, Britain and Patterson are all juniors who were regulars on the Fort Sumner squad last year.
Lisa McMath, in her 12th year overall as the Vixens coach, will have to replace graduated starters Sonja Moyer, Hannah Oliver and Megan McCollum.
One way she’ll do it is by utilizing the talents of twins Kelly and Sandy Fortner, both juniors this year.
The Fortners transferred to Fort Sumner from Tucumcari when their father, Brian Fortner, took the Vixens girls basketball head coaching job.
McMath said the biggest thing the sisters add is depth.
“I think it might not be until another year where you might see the benefit of them, because they haven’t had a lot of skill work — and are coming into a new offense,” McMath said. “They’re very athletic and they’ll help us in just challenging girls, making everybody pick up the pace.
“Like Kayla, she’s already stepped up her hitting, because of the pressure they’re putting on. We just need to keep working on team chemistry.”
McMath rates Melrose and Elida as the toughest competition in the Vixens’ district schedule. On the state level, Des Moines literally still looms large as the Demons return most of their 6-foot-average front line.
If they meet again, Des Moines would have an edge in senior leadership
“We’re fine, we’re still strong — but we don’t have any seniors,” Wood said. “(Coach McMath) is depending on us to step up and lead, like me and Tobea and Kayla, because we were here last year. This year, we’re all getting used to each other, but next year we should be really strong.”
Britain says, though, that this year’s goal isn’t just to jell.
“We’ve got a couple of new girls and they’re learning quick, because they’re real athletic. Hopefully, if we just work together as a team, we’ll be pretty good,” Britain says. “We always want to win state. Next year, we’ll be way good because we’ll have that year together. But we have a chance this year. There’s always a chance if you work hard.”