Clovis junior Siobhan Flatow, right, and sophomore Jasmine McDonald, hidden at left, attempt to block a spike during Friday’s practice at Rock Staubus Gym. (CNJ staff photo: Eric Kluth)
By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer
Before they even started last season, Clovis High volleyball coach Darrel Ray said the Lady Wildcats had two things going against them — lack of size and lack of experience.
Those factors helped set the stage for a 5-16 campaign, including 2-6 in District 4-5A. It was Ray’s first losing record in his five seasons at Clovis.
“They played hard,” Ray said of his 2004 squad. “They had lots of heart. I felt like we got better as the year went, especially our younger kids.”
While he isn’t sure how good his team will be this fall, the sixth-year coach is confident the Lady Wildcats will be better.
With 6-foot senior outside hitter Aimee Hilburn returning to the squad after sitting out last year and 5-10 senior middle hitter Brittany Blackmon playing the sport for the first time in high school, the Lady Cats should be a far more athletic contingent in 2005.
Those two, along with numerous returning regulars, give the Lady Cats plenty of hope for a return to postseason contention.
“One of the things that we didn’t have last year was a ‘terminator,’ someone you can put on the corner who can get a kill for you,” Ray said. “With Aimee, we’ll go toe-to-toe with anybody.
“Brittany comes in with ‘sophomore’ experience, but the athleticism is there. She’s been in big basketball games and big track meets, so it’s not like she hasn’t been tested.”
Returning seniors who were starters much or all the time last year are 5-5 libero Jessica Russell, 5-7 defensive specialist Kim Perkins and 5-6 defensive specialist Brianne Bracken. Others back are 5-9 junior outside hitter Siobhan Flatow, 5-7 defensive specialist Cynthia Lucio, 5-11 sophomore middle hitter Jasmine McDonald and 5-10 junior outside hitter Janell Gallegos.
Ray is moving Flatow to an outside position after she played as an undersized middle last season.
“This year we have more of an all-around team, and we have a lot more confidence,” Lucio said. “I think we have everything we need to be successful.
“I can see a difference from last year. Our hitters are going to be a bigger factor.”
Tarrah Sweet, a 5-8 freshman from Yucca Junior High, is likely to get the nod at setter, with 5-8 junior Britni Montague backing her up.
“It’s a big jump (from junior high), and a big jump for a freshman to get the sets where they need to be,” said Sweet, who suffered a jammed thumb during the week but said she should be OK by the Aug. 23 opener against Frenship at Wolfforth, Texas.
“I hope we overcome last year’s difficulties,” Sweet said. “Even being a setter, there’s a lot of pressure, but I’m not too nervous. I’ve adapted to the girls well, and they’ve adapted to me.”
Ray said he plans to employ at least eight or nine players regularly early in the season.
“This is probably the deepest team that we’ve had,” he said. “I think they have the potential (to reach the state tournament). The question will be how our middles play and how our young setters do.”
Despite no Albuquerque schools in what is only a three-team district this year, Ray warned that the competition from Hobbs and Carlsbad remains formidable.
“Carlsbad has a very good team coming back, and they’re probably the team to beat,” he said. “Hobbs is just chock full of seniors. We’ll really be the youngest team in the district.”