Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
Editors note: As prep athletics slowly returns with the start of several sports, Journal North will be doing a series of previews of local high school volleyball squads as they prepare for the belated start to the season.
A standout season for the Horsemen went right down to the last set before they succumbed to rival Robertson in the Class 3A finals.
And with six of their nine top players returning, St. Michael’s could easily be in line for another extended playoff run again this season.
That is, of course, dependent on what kind of a season volleyball gets to have.
More than 70 athletes have shown up for workouts for teams from 7th grade to varsity, so it’s been quite the challenge simply to fit everybody into the gym under the health orders.
“It’s been a little bit nerve wracking,” coach Valerie Sandoval said. “We’re not sure how the season is going to look. The whole pandemic has taught coaches to be super patient. By July, I usually have all my plans made. Practice plans, everything is made up, but now we have to do everything day by day. It’s taken me a little bit out of my comfort zone.”
All in all, any sacrifices the coaching staff has to make is worth it, she said.
“I’m super glad the kids get to play, I think they need it,” Sandoval said. “The first games, we will probably have some growing pains, but that’s OK. I’m really excited. I’m ready for it begin.”
When it does begin, Sandoval will roll out a veteran lineup led by senior setter Jayla Martinez.
“She’s been in the program since seventh grade,” Sandoval said. “She was one of our setters last year. She’s definitely one of the leaders and has been waiting so long to be the senior setter on varsity.”
Up front, junior Rhegan Glidewell and sophomore Carmen Pacheco will be taking over the outside hitter positions
Glidewell “really stepped it up last year toward mid-district,” the coach said. “She found her confidence and started hitting the ball really well.”
Pacheco is newer to the program, but she had a good off season by hitting the weights, working on her cardio and on her vertical, Sandoval said, adding, “she’s really committed to be the best that she can be.”
It’s been a tough go for the Elkettes, who finally got back into the gym this past week.
“We weren’t allowed to do anything until now,” coach Joe Rodriguez said. “Kids needed a good distraction.”
Indeed, he has heard from as many as 50 players interested in the program, but so far he’s able to get only 27 into the gym, nine with each of the coaches.
“It’s first come, first served,” Rodriguez said. “The ones who have their stuff in. It’s tough.”
The good news, however, is that 10 varsity players return for Pojoaque, led by senior Alicia Quintana and junior defensive specialist Taylor Quintana.
Additionally, senior libero Kiara Martinez and setter Ayana Aguirre, who had a whopping 572 assists last season, are also back.
The players have certainly learned quite a bit from the situation, Rodriguez said.
“Just to enjoy it, don’t take it for granted,” he said. “After what we’re experiencing now, just getting the kids in the gym is good for them, not only physically, but also mentally.”
Throughout the summer, Rodriguez met with players in Zoom meetings, providing conditioning guidelines and drills that they could do.
“We just tried to keep them engaged,” he said.
One of the drawbacks is, however, facing teams from the Albuquerque metro area, where players have been continuing with club activities and going out of state for tournaments.
“There is an advantage,” Rodriguez said. “Albuquerque has a lot more clubs and they’re playing by different rules. A lot of kids were going over there getting workouts in, getting touches in. Our options are very few.”
It leaves the Elkettes in a tough place.
“The touches, communications, are going to take some time,” he said. “We are not there. It’s almost like starting over. It’s like the earliest preseason. That’s where we’re at. We can’t do scrimmages or do blocks. Once the rules get a little more open, then we can see what we can do. It’s going to be challenging.”
As soon as the Hilltoppers got the clear signal, they were at it.
“We’ve been pretty blessed,” coach Joe Palmer said. “As soon as we could start working out in June, we were ready to go. Then, we took the hiatus and got right back at it when the governor and the NMMA said we could.”
For Los Alamos, and likely most other schools, it is just a good feeling getting back into the gym.
“They have had that sense of relief,” Palmer said. “But they’re just kind of having to hold their breath for Oct. 10 (opening night), waiting to make sure they can play. The governor could say no all the way up to Oct. 9. They’re excited and they’ve been focused on what they can control. They can control their attitude and effort, and what they can do on the court.”
The ‘Toppers will be returning few varsity starters, but senior outside hitter Michaela Gonzales is a solid building block.
“She’s been really leading the team, and been very positive with the young group that came in,” Palmer said. “She could end up playing middle. She’s been pretty adept at that. That and her leadership.”
Senior Kim Melton is expected to take over as setter after being the understudy for several seasons.
“We’re looking very hard at her,” Palmer said. “She’s been performing well since June and has been waiting her time.”
Senior Elizabeth Atencia and sophomore Myella Krantz will both be given opportunities up front.
“The reality is, we believe that we can take our third district title in a row,” Palmer said. “With only eight teams going to state, if we can win our district and get a home game, then go down to (Rio Rancho) and win the semis, maybe we can end up playing for the championship.”