New Mexico Volleyball Preview: Prep, Shiprock, KC

By Alastair Lee Bitsoi
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, August 23, 2012

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A fter solid season's last year, which included a district championship for Navajo Prep and runner-up finishes for both Shiprock and Kirtland Central in their respective conferences, as well as state tournament berths, the San Juan County schools are looking for more success this year on the volleyball hardwood.

All three schools will participate in a scrimmage this weekend in Bloomfield that features other schools like Aztec, Bloomfield, Gallup, Miyamura, Shiprock Northwest, and Piedra Vista.

It's also a time for these head coaches to determine and identify what necessary adjustments are needed before playing in their season openers in the next few weeks. NAVAJO PREP

Like every year, whether it's in academics or sports, the expectation for the Navajo Prep Lady Eagles are nothing less than being competitive.

'We expect to win district,' said Navajo Prep head coach Rainy Crisp. 'We still want to make an appearance in the state tournament.'

To have a successful season and to get that far into the post-season, Crisp said she is going to rely on the leadership and experience of four returning players. Those players are senior libero Lynn Begay, senior middle hitter Danielle Coleman, and underclassmen Desmarie Hanley, Keona Leano and Mathaney Wilson, who logged minutes from last year's Final Four team that was eliminated by eventual Class 2A state champion, Texico.

Crisp said she expects Coleman, who averaged 7 kills per game last season, to have a breakout year.

'She's got the skill,' Crisp said. 'The team is going to follow her. If she comes out ready to play, the team will follow her ' this is the year she has to be a lot smarter because other teams know her pretty well.'

Also joining this year's squad is freshman newcomer, Jasmine Coleman, the kid sister to Danielle.

'I'm looking at her to feel some big shoes,' Crisp, adding that she graduated six seniors from last year's squad. 'She's a versatile player.'

Although expected to defend their district title, Crisp said it's going to be tougher to defend because the district now has become a power conference with 8 solid teams.

'We're really going to fight hard to defend our district title,' Crisp said. 'Rehoboth is always competitive, as well as Ramah. It's not going to be easy for us.'

Besides Ramah and Rehoboth, the district also includes Crownpoint, Navajo Pine, Newcomb, Tohatchi, and Zuni.

'I'm not too much of a fan of a bigger district because we're limited our non-conference schedule,' Crisp said. 'With a smaller district, we were able to get more teams from the area into the state playoffs.'

Nonetheless, she said the Lady Eagles are going to be competitive.

'With the team I have, we're going to be competitive,' Crisp said. 'We have some girls coming up to the varsity team that will push each other.'

The Lady Eagles open their season against Shiprock on Sept. 4 in Shiprock. SHIPROCK

First year Shiprock head coach Rae Collins thinks the Lady Chieftains have the ingredients to do very well this season.

'I think the girls are going to be really good,' said Collins, who previously coached at Rio Grande High School in Albuquerque.

Collins has every reason to think her team will fare better this year because she returns six players from last year's squad that finished second in District 1-3A, and also has six other girls to choose from for added depth.

Key returners for the Lady Chieftains include Tyler Charley, Sasha Joe, Lindsay Mark, Samantha Natonabah, Chiasonya Nelson and Olivia Whitehorse.

'They're confident,' Collins said of her veteran players. 'They want to go to state. They have all the skills and capabilities.'

On top of her veteran players, Collins will also rely on six other underclassmen to fill out her 12-man roster. Those players who will be competing for one the varsity spots include Ronnie Curley, Katura Garcia, Melissa Harwood, Lisa Harry, Shiniya Harry, Alyssa Harvey, Taylor Henderson, who transferred from Kirtland Central, Ashley John, Desiree John and Mariah Lee.

'They have the foot work,' Collins said of the underclassmen, before adding, 'That is the one thing I like about them. They are hardworking and dependable.'

With the depth of this year's quad, Collins said, she is going to find out what will work this weekend at the scrimmage in Bloomfield.

'What I'm trying to work on is a faster offense,' Collins said. 'With a faster offense, they have the capabilities to do well. I'm trying to find out which positions work for the team and for that individual.'

Collins added, 'Each girl has a strength. I just need to find out who fits where, when we go to the Bloomfield scrimmage.'

As for the district race, and based on what she knows from historical information, she expects the Lady Chieftains to be challenged by Bloomfield, who is back in 3A, and archrival, Wingate.

'Bloomfield has usually been solid. I expect them to be pretty tough,' Collins said. 'I don't know much about Wingate, but when I think of them I think of basketball.'

In addition to both Bloomfield and Wingate, the 1-3A district also includes Thoreau.

Shiprock opens its season with Albuquerque Bosque Prep on Aug. 31 in Albuquerque. KIRTLAND CENTRAL

With 8 seniors lost to graduation from last year's squad that went 17-6 and a second place finish in District 1-4A, Kirtland Central Broncos head coach Brian Joe said this year's team will be different.

'We are going to be a different team than how we did last year,' Joe said. 'We are young and with what we have we are going to have to play fast and precise.'

Joe said he is going to rely on outside hitters Keeshawna Ockerman and Hannah Washburn, who are the only two girls with varsity experience.

In addition to Ockerman and Washburn, Joe said setter Sherilyn Begay is another key player.

'I worked with her during the off season,' Joe said. 'She's really stepped up and improved quite a bit. She been our best setter so far over the last two years I've coached.'

Joe said Piedra Vista, who returns most of their players including Southern Methodist University bound and outside hitter Katie Hegarty, is the district's top contender.

'I would like to shoot for the top in the district, but PV is a big hurdle to overcome,' he added. 'From what I understand, they didn't lose a lot of girls from last year.'

Despite the youth on this year's squad, Joe said there is enough talent on the team to make it to the state tournament.

'Our goal is to make state,' he said, explaining that it's too early to determine where his team is until they starting playing. What he knows, though, is that his team is working hard.

'The girls are working hard, they're really coachable,' he said. 'I'm looking forward to how they're going to do this season. I am positive we will have a winning record.'

Kirtland Central's first game is against Ignacio on Aug. 30.

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