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Teams want title repeats

In every new high school sports season, everyone is starting over to some extent.

That extent varies greatly among the Rio West’s three defending state champions as the 2013 volleyball season begins: Cleveland in Class 5A has the biggest bit of rebuilding to accomplish; St. Pius in 4A has perhaps the least turmoil; 2A champ Bosque School has many returning players but also a new coach.

At Cleveland, a sparkling run to the 2012 5A crown was one rife with veteran seniors.

Now the Storm’s one returnee with any significant playing time is star junior setter Briana Ainsworth, daughter of coach Brian Ainsworth.

“We’ve asked her to step up and go into the leadership role,” Brian Ainsworth. “She’s helping us coach the kids on the floor.”

New weapons for the Storm, which lost middle blocker Stephanie Sena to an ACL injury in the summer, include senior middle Selika Martin, junior outside hitter Larimar Rodriguez and junior outside Kennedy Vote.

“We’re real young, real inexperienced,” Ainsworth says. “It’s going to be a process.”

Cleveland’s primary rivals in District 1-5A – Rio Rancho and Cibola – also were top contenders in state a year ago.

Rio Rancho, which eliminated Cibola in the 5A tournament, is in a similar boat as Cleveland although with more experience returning.

Junior six-footer Erika Barbour was a starter since the eighth grade before undergoing shoulder surgery a year ago. She’s back now and will be fed at the outside by junior setter Ashley Cooke, who will also have junior middle Tya Watts and junior outside Olivia Adams as other options.

“I like this team. We serve well, we pass well, but we have to be a better blocking team and better in transition,” coach Toby Manzanares said.

The team with perhaps the most talent returning is Cibola. The Cougars have major weapons in junior outside hitter Tatiayna Battle and senior outside Samantha Griffo as well as a good crop of freshmen.

“Lots of tools, lots of talent,” Manzanares said of the rival Cougars.

Valley finished 11-8 in 2012 and missed the state playoffs by losing a district championship match to Albuquerque High. The Vikings start 2013 with new coach Ferdinand Grady – the school’s third coach in three years.

Volcano Vista, in 1-5A, and West Mesa, in 5-5A, will try to work up their district ladders.

At West Mesa, coach Melita White has seniors Justis Abeyta, Donna Garcia and Jessica Salazar back with plenty of other new players.

“It’s going to be interesting,” White said. “I have good seniors, but a lot of sophomores. They’re learning.”

Volcano Vista is led by junior libero Savannah Sewell and junior middle Jane Cisar.

At St. Pius, the Sartans lost key starters Lexi Biondi and Lauren Roveto, but also bring back first-team all-state libero Mercedes Pacheco, junior outside Julia Landavazo and senior setter Caley Skroch.

“It’s kind of more pressure this year,” said St. Pius coach Dianna Strickland, whose team’s 4A title last year ended a streak of four straight losses in the championship game. “I think we kind of got discounted because we hadn’t made it all the way. I keep telling them now they have to play twice as hard and twice as fast because they’re all out for us.”

Bosque School, after capturing its first state title, has a new coach in Ben Curry, who succeeds Scott Grady. The Bobcats bring back plenty as only two seniors graduated. Back for the ‘Cats are 6-foot-3 senior middle Alex Corcoran, 6-2 junior Carly Beddingfield, senior setter Alyson Murphy and 5-10 junior Dani Rae Wascher.

“We need to look at working on what we can do to be a better volleyball team on a daily basis,” said Curry.

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