Meranda Romero’s moment on May 17 when she signed her letter of intent to play volleyball at New Mexico Highlands University has been foreshadowed for years.
All that was taken care of on that day was the guesswork of where the Española Valley High School graduate and Lady Sundevil libero would take her talents.
“I’ve been playing for so long and ever since I was like 5, that’s what I’ve planned on doing,” Romero said. “It’s always been the plan to go play somewhere and when I got the offer, it was just the best feeling. It was a dream come true.”
Her high school coach Damon Salazar — and her coach for many years beyond that — has seen this coming since Romero started tagging along at her two older sisters’ practices as early as the age of 5.
“She’d always ask me if she could get a ball,” Salazar said. “I told her, ‘Of course, you can get a ball, whenever you want.’ She’d go play volleyball against a wall by herself, dude. That was for years and she’d leave practice more sweaty than some of my girls.”
Fast forward to present day, and the same energy still lies within her, just ask her sister and new Desert Academy head coach Nicole Romero.
“She just loves the sport,” she said. “Every time I come home from work, that girl’s like, ‘Hey, let’s go outside. Are you ready? Let’s go play,’ and I’d be like, ‘Whoo! Let’s take a break though.’ She’s just in love with it, so I’m super happy and excited for her.”
Not just her love and dedication for the sport, but it’s Meranda Romero’s platform control on the court, otherwise known as her ability to use her arms to pass, that has blessed her with the opportunity to continue her career.
She tallied a team-leading 424 digs and received 522 serves this past season, while also serving up a team-second 35 aces.
“She’s always had one of the best platforms we’ve ever seen,” Salazar said. “She really worked the last couple of years to be a little more vocal and a little more aggressive too. You have to do that, because that libero is really kind of like a quarterback out there.”
Another great platform player Salazar knows well is his daughter, Karli Salazar, who has coached as an assistant at Highlands for the past four seasons. With the inside knowledge Damon Salazar had that one of the Lady Cowgirls’ defensive specialists wasn't going to return this coming season, the choice for Meranda Romero made even more sense.
“I know that team well and I know she can help them and help them quite a bit,” Damon Salazar said. “She’s already played their same type of style of passing like we played here, so that’s another plus.”
Damon Salazar also said the biggest difference from high school to the college level at Division II will be adjusting to the increase of speed the game is played at.
“When I get there, I expect it to be a lot and not to be easy,” Meranda Romero said. “It won’t be even close to what I’m used to because all the players will be a lot bigger and faster. They all have the ability (to play well) and It’ll be a lot tougher to get to my spots.”
With Jorden Coon not returning to head the Lady Wildcats this coming fall, Nicole Romero took advantage of the opportunity by applying and walked away with the job after officially being hired on May 13.
She spent this past season as an assistant under Damon Salazar at Española, and her experience stretches back to a player for the Lady Sundevils, along with playing collegiately for the University of the Southwest. During her senior year in 2014 at Española, Nicole Romero helped guide the Lady Sundevils to their best record (19-4) under coach Salazar, and a state tournament quarterfinal appearance that ended in a loss to the eventual champions from Centennial High School.
She takes over a Lady Wildcats team that ended last year on a strong surge by winning 10 of their final 11 matches, with the only loss coming in the quarterfinal of the state tournament to the state champions from Texico High School.
“I do see this year as a building year, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have the same success as last year even if they lost a few girls,” Nicole Romero said. “To take districts again would be great and to return to state is definitely the goal.”
What she’s most excited about? Finally being able to make all her own calls and coaching decisions.
“She related really well to our girls this year,” Damon Salazar said. “She’ll have to now transfer into being the taskmaster and the disciplinarian, which she’s not going to have a problem with because I use to have to hold her back and say, ‘No, let me be the heavyweight right now.’
Nicole Romero had a hard time disagreeing with Damon Salazar’s take.
“Sometimes I did end up getting Damon a few yellow cards this year,” She said laughing. “But, he definitely guided me the right way and he thought I was ready to take on the head coaching job at Desert Academy and I did too.”