Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
Entering her third season at the helm, Demonettes coach Josie Adams believes the team is prepared to take the next step as a successful program.
Although Santa Fe has to replace two graduated seniors who are now getting ready to play college ball, Adams has no worries about those vacancies.
“We definitely lost some of our strong seniors, but we’ve got some pretty powerful seniors coming back and we’re pretty excited,” Adams said. “We have several players on this team that will be playing in college. We’re trying to build the program. We keep getting our expectations higher and higher by pounding on their skills.”
Santa Fe is already coming off a strong Class 5A season in which it won District 5 and advanced to the state tournament’s final six.
“We’re super excited and just glad we’re getting a chance to play, so we’re happy,” Adams said. “We feel like we’re looking good.”
Despite the uncertainty of workouts with COVID-19 issues, some 60 players have been working out, she said, including 30 incoming freshmen.
That means competition to make all three squads will be fierce, she said.
As for the varsity, Adams is looking for strong contributions from outside hitter Laila Bernadino, who is 5-feet, 9-inches tall “and can jump out of the gym.”
Fellow outside hitter Isabella Melton is 5-10. The pair was third and fourth on the Demonettes in kills last season.
Middle blocker Jorja Chambers, who stands 6-0, was second in kills and led the team in blocks with 100.
“I think she’s going to be a big hitter and big in the middle,” Adams said of Chambers.
The senior trio forms the nucleus of what should be an extremely powerful offensive/defensive unit, she said.
“We’re looking at a couple of right sides and a couple of other middles to fill out the front row right now,” Adams said.
Among those is fellow senior Sydney Pino-Pacheco, who is finally a chance to make an impact.
The Demonettes will be breaking in a new setter in junior Belicia Esquivias, who saw plenty of work as the secondary setter last season.
“She’s been working all off season really hard,” Adams said. “She’s very focused, hard working and an amazing setter. She’s been connecting really well with the hitters and she also plays great defense.”
Junior Marissa Benavidez ably fills the defensive specialist/libero position again, making Santa Fe a well-rounded squad with the potential to once again make some post-season noise.
“We want to take our district again and have a good run at state,” Adams said. “They’re only taking the top eight teams so we’re working hard to be No. 1 in district. That’s very much our expectation.”
On one hand, the odd nature of this pre-season could very well benefit the Class 5A Jaguars, who return a veteran team that should be well-versed in the way coach Max Vargas wants.
“It’s kind of an advantage,” he said. “But I also want to see other girls have a chance to work with these seniors. It’s good because I already know how good they are, but I want to make my team more wider, get more looks at more girls and that’s been difficult to do.”
And on the other hand, getting the team organized into regular workouts has been a tough go with the 4-1 pod ratio that had been in place until just recently.
“It’s been very hard,” Vargas said. “We’re starting to pull in the right direction, moving around and getting to do some stuff, but we’re doing distance precautions so it’s hard to get up and running as a full squad.”
Still, with six returning seniors and three more juniors, this has the potential to be one of the best Jags team since Vargas has been head coach.
“We’re going to have a pretty good squad,” he said. “I think we’re going to be pretty competitive. I don’t like to be cocky, but we’re going to definitely make a run for our district.”
Capital will be placing significant pressure on Rebecca Sorensen to carry the team. A 5-9 middle blocker with springy legs, Sorensen is the type of player that teammates easily follow just because of her leadership qualities and her drive to succeed.
Ethena Silva will also help clog up the center of the court as a 6-0 middle blocker. Not as mobile as Sorensen, but she can still dominate with her height.
Likewise, Jeraldine De Los Santos is 5-10 and will be counted on to provide a strong offensive presence on the outside.
Big things are expected from ultra-athletic sophomore Katelyn Padilla, who is the younger sister of star Jaguars running Luke Padilla.
Alexandra Hernandez will continue her role as defensive specialist/libero, while Chanelle Jaeger will float through the lineup as a versatile player who can step in where needed.
“I would rate them as pretty good,” Vargas said of his team. “The team we had in 2017 was really good and I’d say this group is about as good as them.”
Over the past couple of seasons, the Sundevils have suffered at the hands of administrators who were not very well-versed in athletics.
With former Pecos boys basketball coach Ira Harge bringing high-level professionalism to the program, Española is poised to succeed.
And first up will be volleyball, where Nicole Romero becomes the third coach in as many seasons. But as a 2015 Sundevils graduate, she continues the legacy started by longtime, successful coach Damon Salazar.
“A lot of what I know is from him,” Romero said. “I would be continuing what I learned. It will work because it worked for so many years. It’s nice to be able to give back and have the girls have the experiences that I was able to have when I was in high school.”
Romero spent last season coaching at Desert Academy before returning to her alma mater, where she was an assistant two years ago in Salazar’s final season.
“Since I’ve played, I knew I wanted to coach,” she said. “Española Valley volleyball has always been good since I grew up being a part of it. I love the Valley and I love the sport and I love the pride Española brings.”
Romero said she expects the transition to be fairly easy since many of the seniors and juniors played for her on the junior varsity two years ago.
“They know how I coach, so it’s nice,” she said. “I’m coming in and they don’t have to adapt to a new coach. I know these girls even on a personal level because my little sister played with them. She’s off to be playing at Highlands now.”
As a former setter, Romero is looking for senior Anita DeAguero to control the team.
“In my mind, the setters are always the leaders,” the coach said. “Our setter, Anita, has been setting since she was a freshman so she has tons of experience. I want her to take the reins. When I talk to her, I talk to her like she was another coach because I respect her as a volleyball player. She runs the team.”
Miranda Salazar and Sophie Sena will also man the backline as defensive specialists and liberos.
Up front, Roxanne Deleon and Kianna Duran are ready to take over the hitting responsibilities.
The whole team, however, has a few kinks that need to be worked out.
“The girls, not putting down (last year’s coach Juliann Martinez), kind of got a little comfortable,” Romero said. “They got a little lazy and a little nonchalant. Me coming back, I have the way I like things done and expectations and they’re having to wake up to that.”