Volleyball team faces tough opponent
August 18, 2021
The Tucumcari High School volleyball team begins its season with a tough opponent right away when it hosts defending Class 1A champion Melrose on Thursday.
The varsity game will start about 6 p.m., after the junior varsity and C-team matches.
Tucumcari coach Dana Benavidez, entering her sixth season, said facing a perennial power such as the Lady Buffaloes might pay future dividends.
"It's rough to meet a team of that caliber right away, but it will help us prepare for the rest of the season. It will help us throughout the year," she said.
Senior outside hitter Amber Owen is the top spiker returning from last season's 2-9 squad. Junior libero Alexus Lafferty also is a returning starter and, like Owen, in 2019 played on the Lady Rattlers' first state playoffs team in 30 years. Both have been named team captains.
Benavidez said she's trying out players for another setter and outside hitter. The latter will have big shoes to fill; that was the spot occupied by last season's top hitter, Felicity Lopez, who graduated.
"We have some returning players who were freshmen and sophomores, so we have a lot of room to grow, but I think we're going to do well," Benavidez said.
The other Lady Rattler seniors are Madison Dysart, Izabela Reid and Elena Gutierrez.
She said the Lady Rattlers are strong defensively on the floor but not necessarily at the net.
"We need to work on our blocking," Benavidez said. "We struggled with it last year, so we need to focus on defense and being able to control other team's hits. We're strong with digging, but we need help with the blocking."
The Lady Rattlers have a full schedule this fall, compared to the condensed one they played in the late winter because of COVID-19 restrictions.
In addition to a full slate of district and non-district matches, Tucumcari will participate in tournaments at Logan, Santa Fe Indian and its own Tucumcari Invitational.
After a transitional season, the Logan volleyball team should be among the contenders in rugged District 6, along with Melrose and Fort Sumner.
The Lady Longhorns finished 6-5 during the abbreviated season after winning three straight Class 1A titles. Longtime coach Robert Young returns four players from that team with significant varsity experience.
"I think we look pretty good," he said about his team's early practices. "Our chemistry is pretty good. I like what I'm seeing.
"We have a mix of old and young this year," he added. "So I'm looking forward to seeing how they develop. How well they meld together will determine how much success we have. That's the bottom line, really."
Among the returnees are junior Rilee Nials and senior Reece Goldston, who were second and third respectively in kills last season. Senior Kyra Conway also led the team in aces and digs.
Young noted some strengths and weaknesses with his squad so far.
"We should be a really good serving team and be good with our floor defense," he said. "We're pretty fast. In team camps, our serving has been tough. I'm hoping we can stay consistent with it.
"Honestly, we're going to have to get better on serve receive. If we can get that first pass going, we can run our offense really efficiently."
Young also acknowledged his team doesn't have as many dominant spikers as it did two seasons ago.
"I don't have four or five big hitters like I did. We're going to have to be smart when we hit," he said.
Logan's season opener will be during its Logan Invitational on the weekend of Aug. 27-28.
San Jon's volleyball team last season was young and inexperienced, and it showed during a 0-10 campaign in its unforgiving District 6 schedule.
This year's Lady Coyotes still are young, but they have eight sophomores and freshmen returning with varsity experience. San Jon has no juniors, and its lone senior is a transfer who's relearning the game after sitting out a season.
"Our sophomores are very good leaders on the court and off the court," second-year coach Jaree Elliott said. "Those eight freshmen and sophomores have played together since they were in second and third grade, so they have really good bonds."
Elliott said Sarah Archuleta, Bailey McEwen and Chantzee and Karlee Elliott "are coming on" with their hitting in practice, as has the rest of the squad.
"The growth over the summer from last season is phenomenal," she said. "We've been in the gym for eight days, and the growth from day one to day eight is pretty amazing. We're very excited."
That said, Elliott said her team needs to work on several aspects of its game.
"We need to work on passing," she said. "Everything starts with the pass, so our passing is critical.
"We also need to work on our defense as far as getting on the floor, being gritty."
San Jon opens its season Saturday on the road against Roy-Mosquero. Its home opener is against Elida on Aug. 24, after the junior varsity match at 4:30 p.m.