Lady Wolverines, Vixens prepare to defend crowns

CNJ staff photo: Tony Bullocks Senior Brooke Bailey passes the ball to a teammate during Texico volleyball practice on Friday. The Lady Wolverines are preparing to defend the Class 2A state championship they won last November.

By Eric Butler: CNJ correspondent

The last time a group of athletes like this came through, Texico volleyball coach Mike Littlejohn got a cut in the action equal to one state championship. This time, the Lady Wolverines may be primed for more.

Texico begins the season as the reigning Class 2A champs. The state title of 2006 was the fifth overall for Littlejohn, who most recently reaped success in 2001 when a crew of talented Wolverines were earning championships in both basketball and volleyball.

Last year, Texico also won titles in both sports and, in volleyball, brings back almost everybody from the team that knocked off Estancia in the 2A finale.

Only one player — hitter Leslie Vannatta — graduated, so Littlejohn’s main job may be to keep his group from getting overconfident.

“You think winning it was hard, try repeating,” Littlejohn said. “The target’s on the back. They’re going to have to work harder than they did last year, because everybody else is going to be trying to knock them off. Last year, we probably slipped up on some people.”

Still, the Lady Wolverines seem more than well-equiped to present major problems for any challengers. Texico brings back senior setter Bryn Mayfield, who will coordinate attacks with middles Brooke Bailey and Kaitlin Luscombe as well as outside hitters Victoria Richards and Jaryse Harris.

Defensive specialist Faith Martin is the team’s libero — where she was selected as a first-team all-state player. Class 2A all-state status was also accorded to Harris, Richards, Luscombe and Mayfield at season’s end last year.

“We’re trying to get our skills back to what they were,” Littlejohn said. “Our hitting has got to improve from where it was last year. Everything has to (improve). It should, and it will, because they’re all a year older.”

In Class 1A, the defending state champs are the Fort Sumner Vixens. Earning its fourth championship under coach Lisa McMath, Fort Sumner upended district rival Elida in a state semifinal before beating Tatum in the title match.

Although the Vixens have graduated leading hitter Alex Owens, they have some returning ammo.

Bree’Anna Lucero scored 13 kills and five blocks in the championship match and is only a junior. Racheal Chavez, also a junior, registered 12 kills in the Class 1A finale.

The Vixens’ tradition of success can be a little overwhelming to those, even in District 3-1A, trying to knock them off.

In Melrose, former Fort Sumner player Sonja Moyer is now the coach and, as her second year begins, she says that overcoming mental hurdles is a big task for her Lady Buffaloes.

“They, for some reason, have a little fear of Fort Sumner and we struggled when we played them,” Moyer says. “The girls have a lot of heart, though, so that’s always promising to me.”

Melrose will look for points from the senior middle-hitting tandem of Kimberly Lyons and Toni Burdine while outside hitter TaNeil Roberts, also a senior, should contribute as well. Lauren Graham returns as a defensive specialist for her senior season while the Lady Buffs’ setting chores should be split between sophomore Kelly Wagley and junior Lainey Widner.

In District 4-1A, Grady figures to be in the running for a district title behind senior hitter Katarina Grau and senior setter Alora Pond while Clovis Christian will attempt to challenge, although the Lady Eagles will do it under a new coach. Laura Hubby replaced longtime CCS coach Ceil Boatman in the offseason and says she’s looking forward to the challenge.

The Lady Eagles have returning starters in senior Cristen Wofford at middle blocker, senior Whitney Miller at setter-outside hitter and 6-foot-1 junior Jennifer Schaap at middle blocker. Clovis Christian should also get some time at the setter position from Carissa Engel, a sophomore who transfered from Las Vegas, Nev.

The school made its first appearance at the state tournament last year, falling to Elida in the quarterfinal round.

“It’s been a real eye-opener so far,” Hubby said. “But the girls have done a real good job of training me as a new coach.”