By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer
PORTALES — At 5-foot-3, Eastern New Mexico University sophomore Kara Killian isn’t one to leave opponents shaking in their boots.
Still, as one of just three returning players this season, Killian wants to help prove the Zias are a team to be reckoned with this season.
“It’s a little different (team),” said Killian, who is from Amarillo and graduated from Randall H.S. “All three of us will kind of need to help out. (Leadership) just comes with coming back and knowing what to expect.”
The Zias went 8-19 last season (3-7 Lone Star Conference South), the program’s first losing season since 1989. Coach Mike Maguire, beginning his 20th and final season as head coach, is confident they can turn it around despite a last-place prediction in the South’s preseason poll.
Maguire, who said he will give up coaching to concentrate solely on his duties as athletic director after the season, said he likes the look of his own squad despite its relative inexperience.
“I think we’re a lot stronger than we were a year ago,” he said. “I think our players are more well-rounded and a little more focused.
“After seeing our squad, I think we could be in the top three for sure.”
Killian spent most of her time at setter last season, but is also learning to play the libero position in 2006.
“I’m just getting a feel for the back row,” she said. “I’m starting to see things more from back there.”
Vanessa Wilcox, a 5-10 sophomore middle blocker-outside hitter from Houston, and Marcie LeGrand, a 5-10 senior right-side hitter who also attended Randall, are the only returnees. Maguire was unsure of a starting lineup heading into this weekend’s season-opening tournament at Lakewood, Colo.-based Colorado Christian.
Others who should play key roles are 5-5 junior outside hitter Jessie Macknicki of Palmer, Alaska; 6-0 freshman right-side hitter Megan Kazakoff of Centennial, Colo., and 5-7 freshman setter Caitlin Murphy of Amarillo (Tascosa H.S.).
West Texas A&M was picked to replace two-time champion Abilene Christian at the top of the South standings this season, and Maguire sees the rival Lady Buffs as a solid favorite.
After that, he said, it’s wide open.
“I think it’s going to be closer than it was a year ago,” he said. “We’re just going to set our sights on taking one match at a time.”
Killian said the Zias, who were fifth in the division in 2005, are anxious to show their capabilities.
“We want to prove our team is good,” she said. “I think it’s motivation, but it’s a good position to be in. There’s more pressure on you when you’re picked higher.”