By Dave Wagner
TEXICO — If Mike Littlejohn were a betting man, he might have wagered last year’s Texico volleyball team would have a better chance at a Class 2A state championship than the talented, senior-laden 2001 squad that actually won it.
That would come as a surprise to a lot of people, he admitted. Still, the Lady Spikers did fashion an 18-4 record and made it to the regional round of the playoffs before they were upended in a tight five-game match by Hope Christian.
Littlejohn said his team has a chance to be among the best in 2A again in 2003, although there are some holes to fill. And senior Sissy Loper, a second-team Class 2A selection as a middle hitter last year, is now out for a couple of weeks with an ankle injury as she tries to make the transition to the setter.
“Last year we replaced (graduated) seniors with seniors; this year, we’re replacing seniors with sophomores and juniors, and sometimes that’s tough,” Littlejohn said. “If you’ve got seniors coming back, they’ve probably at least played quite a bit as juniors.
“But I definitely think we’re capable of winning the whole thing. I really think if we continue to improve, we have the capability of being pretty good.”
Loper’s injury is expected to keep her out of the team’s first two matches, Littlejohn said. She should be back by the time the Lady Spikers try to defend their Mountain Top Tournament championship Sept. 12-13 at Cloudcroft.
Junior Ashley Littlejohn, an outside hitter and the coach’s daughter, said the Lady Spikers are still trying to hit their stride.
“We’re a young team, and right now we’re kind of inconsistent,” she said. “I think once we start working together, we’ll realize we have the ability to get back to state.”
Mike Littlejohn said the 2002 version of the Lady Spikers came along quicker than he expected. In fact, their only three losses prior to regionals were to the top three teams in Class 1A — Des Moines, Tatum and Fort Sumner.
“Last year’s team’s made adjustments real quick,” he said. “I thought we had the best team (in 2A) — and I still do.
“I really think this group has a chance of being one of the top three or four teams in the state if our work ethic is what it needs to be.”
His daughter agrees with him.
“Last year was a really good year for us, but thinks just didn’t go our way at regionals,” Ashley Littlejohn said. “We lost a lot (to graduation), but we’re replacing it with a lot. We’re going to come back stronger than most people think.”