Clovis Christian sophomore Jennifer Schaap serves during practice on Friday at the CCS gym. (CNJ staff photo: Tony Bullocks)
By Eric Butler: CNJ correspondent
If there are a couple of rules of thumb about small-school volleyball in the eastern part of the state, it might go a little like this over the last few years: Texico will be an annual contender in Class 2A and Fort Sumner will be likewise in 1A.
Last year, for example, the Lady Wolverines advanced to the 2A championship match before falling to unbeaten Ramah. Fort Sumner, although in a near complete rebuilding mode, still managed to win its regional tournament and advance to the 1A quarterfinals.
Although both have suffered losses heading into this season, Texico and Fort Sumner figure to live up to the recent standard.
The Lady Wolverines graduated five players from their state runner-up squad, including hitters Stephanie Bailey and Lori Richardson. This season, Texico coach Mike Littlejohn is looking to the likes of seniors Zandi Queener and Leslie Vannatta to emerge as consistent hitting threats.
Jaryse Harris, a sophomore, is also expected to contribute from the strong side while junior Brooke Bailey will hit from the middle.
Littlejohn expects a trio of freshmen, whom he calls “long and lean,” to make an impact this season as well. Middle blockers Kaitlin Luscombe and Shay Henderson and outside hitter Victoria Richards are the ninth-graders that should see playing time.
“We had a pretty decent JV,” he said. “We’ve got some kids that are going to step up and play pretty good.”
At Fort Sumner, the graduation loss of three players was supplemented — in a bad way — by ACL injuries in the last few months to a pair of Vixens setters.
Freshman Rita Herrera’s torn ACL was operated on in June and she may be able to return by mid-October. Coach Lisa McMath’s backup plan was to use her daughter, freshman Justyne McMath, at the setter until she too injured her knee.
Now McMath plans on splitting the setting duties between senior Alex Owens and sophomore Rachel Chavez — both normally outside hitters.
“My middles (Bree’Anna Lucero and Carrie Cortese) are pretty good jumpers,” McMath said. “Right now, we’ve got our work cut out for us. If our setter comes back, we’ll be better.”
Fort Sumner beat Elida back for the district crown a year ago while Floyd, Melrose and Dora finished back in the pack.
For Elida, a team that lost to Fort Sumner four times, the distance may have been breached somewhat by the Vixens’ injuries and by the fact that the Lady Tigers lost only one regular, Kodi Armitage, to graduation. This season, seniors Alicia Cross-Smith and Lindsey Ward figure to lead the Elida hitting attack.
At Floyd, second-year coach Tandee Delk has a crop of talented freshmen moving into the varsity mix as well as sophomore transfer Kelsey Gray from Portales. All of this should give Delk plenty of options to go with established hitters such as junior middle blockers Rachel Wilhite and Brook Reed.
At Melrose, Sonja Moyer, 21, takes over the Lady Buffaloes just three years removed from her playing days at Fort Sumner. An assistant at Melrose last year, Moyer will count on returnees such as senior setter Zanessa Dodd to lead the way.
“We had the potential last year, but we had a few setbacks as far as injuries,” Moyer said.
Dora coach Myra Skinner, beginning her fourth season, used three freshmen — Tearney O’Connor, Kendra Merrick and Audra Pinkston — as starters a year ago and is hoping that experience will help the Lady Coyotes this time around.
“They’re working harder than I’ve ever seen them work before,” Skinner said. “I just hope that all of it pays off with some wins so the girls know it leads to something.”
In District 4-1A, Grady and Clovis Christian advanced to the regionals in ’05.
Grady only lost one senior to graduation (Heather Blackburn) and may be poised to return to the state round in coach Missi Glover’s third year. Senior Aerial Verble and junior Katarina Grau will lead the Lady Bronchos’ hitting attack, while junior Alora Pond will set up the offense.
“Last year was a real rebuilding year for us. This year, I feel we’ll be real competitive,” Glover said.
Clovis Christian, meanwhile, will have to replace six graduates — including hitter Tasha Daale and all-state setter Mollie Peterson.
Taking on more prominent roles for the Lady Eagles this season will be sophomore Jennifer Schaap at middle blocker, senior setter Sidnee Pool and junior outside hitter Cristen Wofford.
“Even though we have a lot of new kids, we’re going to be real salty,” Clovis Christian coach Ceil Boatman said. “I believe they’ll be able to perform as well as last year.