Commentary by

George Morse

  11/22/07

  The state volleyball tournament ended Nov. 17 with no local teams claiming a state championship. Nevertheless, this past season provided thrills for from Pojoaque to Gallina.

    We're fortunate in Northern New Mexico to have some of the best volleyball coaches anywhere in the state.

    McCurdy coach Steve Long was the newcomer to this group of distinguished coaches. In his first season as a head coach, Long took a McCurdy team that finished 4-16 season in 2006 to a 17-5 record and the District 3AA championship this season.

    The most impressive thing about McCurdy's season was that the turnaround was done with the same players who had won just four games the previous season. Long started with the basics, and you could see the improvement in fundamental skills in the Bobcats.

    Seniors Amanda Hernandez, Raven Salazar and Amanda Abeyta all played their positions with passion. As good a job as Long did, it wouldn't have worked if the players didn't dedicate themselves to learning the lessons he was teaching.

    Long will have some talent returning in middle hitter Brenda Avila and setter/hitter Kaitlin Vigil. Most importantly, he has brought back the Lady Bobcats' program.

    Coronado's Kamau Turner is another coach who has turned around a local program. The Lady Leopards won just one game in 2005.

    Turner arrived in 2006 and the results were immediate. The Leopards finished as runnerup in District 2AA in his first year, and this year finished 19-3 and won the district championship.

    Coronado may have suffered at the state tournmanent by playing in a weak district. There were no teams even close to the Leopards in District 2AA and when they met up with stiffer competition at state, the Leopards weren't ready.

    Turner's strength seems to be his ability to motivate his players. He will return two good hitters next year in Angie Schmitz and Jazmin Cordova.

    Pojoaque's Brian Ainsworth has already established himself as one of the premier volleyball coaches in New Mexico and this past season he did nothing to diminish his reputation. Pojoaque successfully replaced six seniors from its 2006 state championship team.

    The Elkettes will be strong again next season. They return all of their hitters and their libero. But the graduation of setter Jaymie Roybal will leave a big hole to fill.

    Roybal was the most versatile setter in Northern New Mexico. She utilized all her hitters and could set the outside, the middle and back set. She started for Pojoaque for three years, and she will be tough to replace.

    Ainsworth has experience developing setters, so I expect a new face will step in. I expect Pojoaque to be a fixture at the state volleyball tournament for years to come as long as Ainsworth is there.

    Incidentally, Pojoaque's district, District 2AAA, is the toughest district in the state. A team from that district has played in the Class AAA championship game the last four seasons.

    Española Valley's Sam Estrada had a similar task to Ainsworth's, having to replace six seniors, including four that moved onto to play college volleyball. Estrada, in his seventh year at Española, did just that, and Española made its third straight trip to the state tournament.

    A lack of consistent outside hitting hurt the Lady Sundevils. By the end of the season, Española's most effective hitter was sophomore Renee Roybal, who does a remarkable job since she is only 5 feet, 4 inches tall.

    Española should have another strong team next year. Roybal will return, as will middle hitters Veronica Quintana and Marisol Peña. Keep an eye on eighth-grader Madlyn Romero and freshman Serena Garcia. They are budding stars for the Sundevils.

    The tough part will be finding someone to take over as setter from Amberly Trujillo and at libero for Robyn Sanchez. Trujillo did a remarkable job in her first year at setter and Sanchez started for three years at Española.

    Estrada will likely find players to fill these positions. Hopefully, he will stay at Española for a few more years since he would be hard to replace.

    We get to see some good volleyball here in Northern New Mexico. This sport deserves more fan support.

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