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Even though the St. Michael’s volleyball team checked in this season with a fairly young squad, coach Valerie Sandoval saw no reason why the Horsemen’s consistent success as a program would in any way diminish.
“The coaches and I are so invested in the program and we get the same investment back from our student athletes,” she said. From varsity through seventh grade, we run the program the same way. The girls come up to varsity already knowing how the program works, how it runs, what’s expected.”
What’s expected is pretty easy: hard work, hustle, teamwork. And the end result is predictably solid squads that will contend for the state championship year after year.
“Not having to retrain the players every single year is important,” Sandoval said. “We start at the bottom and so there’s no need to rebuild. We’re never rebuilding, reloading is a good word.”
Outside hitter Rhegan Glidewell, the one senior starter on the squad, said the potential of the team is starting to come together as the Horsemen finish up the pre-district portion of the schedule.
“We’ve had to learn to grow together as team,” she said. “It’s been a little difficult and we’ve had our ups and downs. But we’re pretty hard workers and we all try our best 100% of the time.”
With the short spring, out-of-season high school slate, several starting players were not with St. Mike’s, instead opting to play club ball.
So Sandoval made it a priority this summer to get the players onto the same page again.
“We did have a good summer program,” she said. “The girls were really engaged. They were really eager, especially after COVID last year, not all the girls on varsity were able to play because of the shift in the schedule. This year is especially sweet because things are somewhat normal.”
Sophomore libero Alex Crespin was one of those players who made the transition from club back to high school ball.
“I would have to say this season has gone, honestly, as expected for me,” she said. “I expected us to have a little bit of trouble in the beginning, and now we’re really starting to mesh well.”
Indeed, at last week’s Tournament of Champions, the Horsemen swept through the silver division without dropping a set, handily beating larger schools Belen, Valencia and Piedra Vista.
The Horsemen will get a stern test Tuesday when it meets nearby rival Santa Fe, which is coming off an appearance in the 5A state championship game in the spring. It will be the final pre-district match for St. Mike’s before heading into rugged District 2-3A play and perennial championship contender and nemesis Robertson.
“I feel like we grew so much as a team in our preseason (pre-district),” Sandoval said. “As I mentioned, these girls are young, but they’re building that mental toughness. Being freshmen and sophomores, we’ve come a far way in the games we’ve played so far.”
Sophomore middle blocker Rebekah Bagwell, who also chose club over high school in the spring, said the results thus far speak for themselves.
“I knew that we would be a newer team, but I feel like we’ve gotten to mesh together and bond along with each other and we support each other,” she said. “Our back line and front row are coming together. It’s been going together pretty good.”
One of the true strengths of the team is its versatility across the front.
In addition to Glidewell and Bagwell, sophomore Alana Overton and freshmen Maya Pino and Marissa Sandoval-Moya are capable of providing offense, while Sandoval-Moya and junior Carley Gravel have been adept at running the offense.
Role playing juniors Alex Stringer and Carmen Pacheco have been solid in spelling the starters.
“We’ve been working with the girls on playing more than one position in the event that we do have to move things around,” Sandoval said, referring to potential virus-related issues. “It’s really benefited us. At first it wasn’t always something they loved. They were definitely out of their comfort zone and it was a little tough learning new positions but they’ve really adapted and grown into it and taken on the challenge.”
And that’s the way Sandoval expects the Horsemen to attack the rest of the season, as well.
“Come district, we pretty much have a solid rotation so we can focus on the district matches,” she said. “And we don’t even mention the word ‘state.’ It’s not allowed. It’s too easy to get distracted and look too far ahead.”