Clovis High senior Siobhan Flatow goes high for a kill during the Lady Wildcats practice session this week at Rock Staubus Gym. (CNJ staff photo: Andy DeLisle)
By Eric Butler: CNJ correspondent
Clovis High volleyball coach Darrel Ray has a plan in place, with quite a few variables, to replace a significant corps of graduated elements from last year’s team. Of course, the plan involves some very young players and some relatively untested athletes at key positions.
If it all falls into place, however, look for the Lady Wildcats to mount a vigorous defense of the District 4-5A title they won last year.
Big hitting weapon Aimee Hilburn graduated, along with middle blocker Brittany Blackmon, from a 17-7 squad that was edged in the Class 5A state quarterfinals by Mayfield. Just as much concern for Ray is the loss of other athletes who were not in the high-profile hitting positions.
“We lost a significant amount of passing. Three of the kids were seniors — Kim Perkins, Brianne Bracken and Jessica Russell,” said Ray, whose team opens the regular season against Frenship on Aug. 22 at Rock Staubus Gym.
Moreover, one of Clovis’ biggest losses happened when Andy Sweet took the athletic director’s job at Rio Rancho. His daughter, Tarrah, was the freshman setter for the Lady Wildcats last year.
But Ray says that senior Britni Montague is ready for her chance at the setting position this season.
“We have a very able setter,” he said. “She probably would have been our first setter last year, but with the pressure of the game sometimes — this girl is such a perfectionist. She hated to make mistakes and sometimes she’d let the mistakes weigh on her too much.
“Britni has since worked on that aspect, and has turned into a very pleasant surprise.”
While Ray is unsure about most of his hitting rotations, the one certainty seems to be that senior Siobhan Flatow will be one of the strong side hitters for the Lady Wildcats — duplicating a role she shared with Hilburn last year.
The time when Flatow’s turn in the front row is over, however, is when Ray’s job gets trickier. Clovis’ other outside hitting position is essentially up for grabs.
“That’s what we don’t know,” Ray said. “I’ve got several candidates — I’m just not sure how we’re going to work all that out.”
Junior Hayleigh Marshall, whom Ray calls “an exceptional server” and in possession of “a big gun for an arm” is one possibility, despite only standing 5-feet-7.
Senior Janell Gallegos, at 5-10, is another alternative. Last year, Gallegos primarily was used as a right side hitter and blocker.
In the middle, 5-11 junior Jasmine McDonald will likely get first dibs at a spot where she saw extensive playing time last year. Also in the mix for both middle and right side positions are sophomore Lainey Flatow and freshman Antiesha Brown.
The younger Flatow got some experience when Blackmon was restricted from playing come postseason time last year.
“Lainey was a very athletic freshman, and thank goodness we had her,” said Ray, who is toying with the idea of playing her at the right side. “She stepped right in at regionals and played and did a good job. She played fantastic that night against Mayfield. She did a great job out there over the summer.
“We may have a stereo set of Flatows.”
Brown is actually a possibility at all three front-line spots — despite her youth and her 5-feet-8 inches of height.
“She’s kind of in the same mode as (former CHS standout) Andrea Dawson,” Ray said. “When she hits the ground, she’s right back up and elevating — she’s a very effective blocker.
“What she has to learn how to do is be a hitter, because she just hasn’t got that many reps.”