Despite uncertainty surrounding the season, the Española Valley High School volleyball team is ready to start its season under a new head coach.
Nicole Romero takes over as the team’s head coach, replacing JuliAnn Martinez, for what will certainly be a unique season.
Romero graduated from Española Valley High School in 2015 where she was the setter for a team that three times made the quarterfinals.
“As awful as it might sound, we won, all the time,” she said. “I just remember winning and looking at my teammates faces and kind of laughing because the other team was so hurt.”
After two years playing at University of the Southwest and another year playing softball, Romero graduated and returned to Española and was an assistant coach for the Sundevils for a year.
Last year, she took her first head coaching position at Desert Academy, leading the Wildcats to a 13-10 record and a state tournament appearance, when the Española position opened.
“I jumped right on it,” Romero said. “I used to play here, I used to coach here, I know the girls really well. I always wanted to come back. I just didn’t think it’d be as soon as it is, but I’m happy to be with Española. It feels like home, it feels like I’m supposed to be here.”
The challenge will be having the first game just days after the start of full practices.
“I don’t know,” she said when asked how the team would be ready. “I’m just hoping that the girls will have chemistry and they’ll click.”
Romero said the preparation for the season is tough, and she has moments where she needs to “lock myself in a room and just breathe and rethink everything,” but she is focused on setting an example for athletes.
Despite describing herself as very competitive, Romero’s biggest goals for the Sundevils are off the court. She said she wants the volleyball players to be happy, and to have the best grades academically of all athletes.
Another challenge the team anticipates is playing games in empty gymnasiums.
“Being from Española, the fans are great, and the community is great, and the students thrive off of that,” she said. "So it’s gonna be difficult for a lot of schools, just no fans and no support. Fans can be the momentum changer.”
The Sundevils return senior setter Anita DeAguero for her fourth year, as is Miranda Salazar at libero. Romero also pointed to Robin Garcia as a new player to keep an eye on as a strong young hitter on a junior and senior-heavy team.
“She is putting the ball down and I don’t know how she’s doing it but she’s figuring it out,” Romero said of Garcia.
Romero said that because she played and coached under longtime coach Damon Salazar, her style of play won’t be very different, though she will add a few wrinkles to defensive positioning.
“It’s rough, but we’re making it work, and it could be a lot worse,” Romero said of starting the season under a pandemic.