By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer
The Portales Lady Rams will have to overcome a heavy hit from graduation to top last year. Meantime, the Clovis Lady Wildcats are still striving for the blue trophy.
Portales was pushed to five games by Pojoaque last November before nailing down its fourth Class 3A state volleyball title in six years under coach Ruth Chavez. Despite losing four starters from a 22-3 squad, the best record in her tenure, Chavez remains optimistic about this season.
“We’re all right,” she said. “Our (junior varsity team) was pretty solid.”
Clovis will also have number of holes to fill from last season, but coach Darrel Ray is ready to tackle the challenge.
“It’s going to take us a while again,” Ray said. “But we get good kids from the junior high programs, and we always have good athletes.”
Area prep squads begin fall practice on Monday, with season openers on tap for most teams near the end of August.
Chavez, who has been on the PHS volleyball staff for 19 seasons, isn’t used to seeing her team’s season end before the finals. Since she became head coach, that’s happened only once — in 2004, when the Lady Rams reached the 3A semifinals despite a 7-16 record.
Senior outside hitter Briana Hernandez and junior outside hitter-middle hitter Bethany Self have the most experience on the team.
“We can make another run at it,” Chavez said. “We’ll have to work hard and fill some spots, but our season goals will be the same.”
Among the key losses for Clovis is outside hitter Aimee Hilburn, selected the state’s female prep athlete of the year for 2005-06 by the Albuquerque Journal.
Ray, whose teams have been unable to get past the 5A quarterfinals in his tenure, is hoping senior outside hitters Siobhan Flatow and Janelle Gallegos and senior defensive specialist Cynthia Lucio can assume leadership roles on the court for the Lady Cats.
“The talent that Aimee brings to the floor is something you can’t just replace,” he said. “But we’ve got some kids who’ll be able to step up and do the job.”
Area prep volleyball capsules
Clovis Lady Wildcats
Coach: Darrel Ray (7th year)
2005 record: 17-7 (3-1 district)
Of note: The Lady Cats graduated four of their top 10 players and lost a fifth, sophomore-to-be setter Tarrah Sweet, when her father Andy — an assistant for Ray for the past two seasons — was named the athletic director at Rio Rancho High School.
Quotable: “You either see it as a ‘rebuild’ or a ‘reload.’” — Ray, on replacing the departed talent from last year.
Clovis Christian Lady Eagles
Coach: Ceil Boatman (11th year)
2005 record: 17-7 (7-3 district)
Of note: The Lady Eagles advanced beyond the district tournament last year for the first time since the school became eligible for NMAA postseason play in 2003. They lost to Elida in the regional semifinals.
Quotable: “We’ve got some new kids coming up. I think we’ll do well. We’ve got enough people to pick up the slack.” — Boatman, on losing four senior starters from last year’s squad.
Fort Sumner Vixens
Coach: Lisa McMath (15th year)
2005 record: 17-7 (7-1 district)
Of note: McMath is in her third coaching stint at the school; she began in 1989. Her teams have won state championships in each of the last three presidential election years (1996, 2000, 2004).
Quotable: “Our setter from last year (Rita Herrera) tore her ACL. (Replacing her) will be the key for us.” — McMath.
Grady Lady Bronchos
Coach: Missi Glover (3rd year)
2005 record: 14-7 (10-0 district)
Of note: After going unbeaten through regular-season district play, the Lady Bronchos were upended by Clovis Christian in the finals of the district tournament.
Quotable: “We should be awfully competitive in our district. I think we lost less (to graduation) than anybody.” — Glover, whose team returns five starters.
Melrose Lady Buffaloes
Coach: Sonja Moyer (1st year)
2005 record: n/a.
Of note: Moyer, a 2003 Fort Sumner graduate and currently a student at Eastern New Mexico University, is a contract coach. After assisting Jason Lee last season at Melrose, the two have reversed roles this year. Moyer will be Lee’s assistant in girls basketball and track.
Quotable: “Basically, most of my team is returning. With the experience we’ve got returning, I’m seeing good things in our future.” — Moyer.
Texico Lady Wolverines
Coach: Mike Littlejohn (26th year)
2005 record: 20-6 (6-0 district). The Lady Wolverines lost to unbeaten Ramah in the Class 2A state championship match.
Of note: Littlejohn has coached Texico into state championship matches in either Class 1A or 2A nine times, winning titles in 1980, 1984, 1985 and 2001.
Quotable: “We’re going to be young. We’ve got our setter and our libero back, but we’ll be inexperienced in several places.” — Littlejohn.
Portales Lady Rams
Coach: Ruth Chavez (7th year)
2005 record: 22-3 (4-0 district), edging Pojoaque 16-14 in the fifth game for its fourth Class 3A state title under Chavez.
Of note: Portales ended the 2005 season on a 13-match winning streak, and went 13-0 last year against 3A competition.
Quotable: “We’re planning on coming back strong. Our strong point is our defense.” — Chavez, who lost four starters to graduation.
Dora Lady Coyotes
Coach: Myra Skinner (3rd year)
2005 record: n/a.
Of note: The Lady Coyotes return three of their top eight players from last season — two sophomores and a junior.
Quotable: “We’re young, but we’ve got a lot of talent. It’s (a matter of) molding that talent and getting everybody in the right positions.” — Skinner.
Elida Lady Tigers
Coach: Darrell Chenault (6th year)
2005 record: 13-9 (5-3 district)
Of note: Elida has made it to the Class 1A state quarterfinals each of the past two seasons.
Quotable: “We’ve got back a lot of girls who like to play volleyball. We’re still relatively young — there will be three seniors on this squad, and one junior — but we’re excited.” — Chenault.
Floyd Lady Broncos
Coach: Tandee Delk (2nd year)
2005 record: 13-8 (5-3 district)
Of note: A 1994 Melrose graduate, Delk was the Lady Buffs’ head coach from 2000-02, leading the team to a Class 1A state runnerup finish in 2000.
Quotable: “We’re a young team this year, but we’ve got lots and lots of talent. The girls worked really hard this summer in camp.” — Delk.