Nicole Romero learned from one of the most well-known volleyball coaches in Northern New Mexico, so its no surprise the first-year Desert Academy head coach has the Lady Wildcats playing sound and superb volleyball.
The 2015 Española Valley High School graduate and former Lady Sundevil was polished not only as a player by former Española head coach Damon Salazar, but she was also mentored by him as an assistant coach last season.
One thing she’s still working on in her first year calling the shots on her own, and admitted is hard to replicate, is the intensity Salazar brought to the sidelines and practices that coincided with successful teams.
She’s still doing her best though.
“Working with Damon last year was great because he’s been around volleyball for so long,” Romero said. “Not working with that guy, you can say it’s not as intense, I guess.”
The skills the Desert Academy players are learning are coming down the ladder from Salazar, which he passed on not only to Romero, but as well as Raylynn Quintana.
The 2017 Española graduate assists Romero on the bench, and the two still click just like when Romero set for Quintana, who was her right side hitter for a period of time at Española.
“She asked if I needed help, and I couldn’t have been more excited about bringing her on,” Romero said. “We’re on the same page, we know the same volleyball and she’s intense also. Sometimes I get a little heated, and she’s really good at saying, ‘Hey, hey, you’re OK, you’re good,’ so, I love her and appreciate her. I’ll keep her forever; we’ll be a duo for a long time.”
The two’s wealth of volleyball knowledge has been a game changer for Desert seniors like Michaela Glinsky and Olivia Rigatti.
It’s the third coaching staff they’ve cycled through while at Desert, and both their new coaches have been a tremendous boost to their senior seasons.
“I really love what they’ve done coming in here because they’ve showed us so much technique,” Glinsky — the team leader with 175 kills — said. “At the start of the year, coach Romero completely reworked my swing and it’s been amazing. Both of their skill-level is so amazing that we just have so much respect for them — we learn so much from them every day.”
Rigatti said both coaches pack high-heated intensity, but it’s all a positive ruboff.
“They’re really intense, but not to the point where it defeats everyone’s confidence,” Rigatti said. “They lift you up and make you really work to get better.”
Get better as the season has gone along is what Romero and Quintana’s team has done.
Desert’s latest victory, a 3-1 (25-17, 18-25, 25-20, 27-25) win at McCurdy Charter School on Oct. 24 pushed the Lady Wildcats to 11-6 overall and atop the District 2-2A standings at 5-0.
Glinsky had a game-high whopping 26 kills, while Rigatti added 12. The swings of the two are a force to be reckoned with when the team can pass successfully to setter Sophie Nathanson, who racked up 49 assists against the Lady Bobcats.
“Sometimes we rely on our two hitters too much,” Romero said. “We’re still trying to work with the others, but my setter, she’s hurt but refuses to go out ever. The girls struggle without her, so I’m glad she’s fighting through it.”
Desert hosts Monte Del Sol on Friday in the regular season and District finale, and a win would secure the Lady Wildcats the District Championship — a task Desert has accomplished the last two seasons.
Teaching technique to reach that goal has been priority No. 1 for Romero in her first year, but she the said attitude and discipline she and Quintana have implemented has also played a huge part in winning matches.
She credited the same discipline she learned from Salazar as to not only helping her succeed as a player at the University of the Southwest, but in life in general.
“I want them to not just remember me as someone they learned volleyball from, but remember me as someone who made an impact on them in life and in their emotional state,” Romero said. “After playing high school and then going into college and learning that discipline, I never would have made it in college — I wouldn’t have made it now, here in life.”