Shonto volleyball team headed to state with 7-0 sectional record

By Quentin Jodie
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, Oct. 31, 2013

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Times photo – Krista Allen)

Shonto Prep middle hitter Venecia Joe (14) goes up for a block against an Ash Fork defender on Oct. 25 in Shonto, Ariz. The Lady Grizzlies qualified for state in its first season as a varsity sport. (

At the start of this year's prep season the Arizona Interscholastic Association welcomed five full member schools to the organization.

Upon approval, each school has to meet certain requirements academically, such as being accredited by an appropriate accrediting agency and having certified personnel under contract with the local school board.

Each full-time member must show that they have the staffing, equipment and facilities needed for the types of athletic programs they plan to offer.

Once those standards are met each full-time member may participate in all AIA events, including "regional, interregional, or state athletic championship tournaments."

This year the Shonto Prep Grizzlies had its volleyball and basketball programs gained full membership. Prior to this year, the Grizzlies only had its wrestling program recognized by the AIA.

This past February, Leona Douga was the first girl to represent Shonto Prep at the state wrestling tournament, which was held at Tim's Toyota Center in Prescott, Ariz.

Next month, the Grizzlies will have some representation at the state level with the volleyball team finishing in first place in sectional play with a 7-0 record following Monday's 25-16, 25-17, 25-22 win over Seligman.

They finished ahead of Red Mesa as both teams will be headed to the Arizona Division V state volleyball tournament next week. First round actions starts on Nov. 7 in Prescott.

"I have a wealth of great talent on this team," Shonto Prep coach Merle Beard said in a telephone interview. "Every evening it's someone else shining."

Despite competing in its first year as varsity team sport, Beard said he had some high expectation for his squad since most of his girls play volleyball year round. In fact, four of his players played with the local Starlings team, a junior volleyball club.

"All the praises have to go back to the girls," he said. "They have the skills and knowledge to play volleyball and right now I am helping them build their athletic ability."

With the success of the program, Beard is hoping that a lot of the young girls will stay at Shonto Prep instead of transferring to neighboring high schools in Monument Valley, Page and Tuba City. According to Beard there are 71 students that attend Shonto Prep.

"Now that we are recognized by the AIA we want them to go to school here," he said. "We have a lot of support from the community and I'm hoping our enrollment will grow."

Earlier this year the Grizzlies participated in two tournaments - the Coconino Classic and the Apache Junction Invitational - and according to Beard they held their own against high-caliber teams such as Sedona Red Rock and Flagstaff Northland Prep.

"At the beginning they were kind of intimidated because they have never played at this level," Beard said. "But in reality they began to understand they can play with anybody. It doesn't matter that the other team is bigger than us. What matters is when the last ball is dropped."

The first-year coach said it was nice to play those larger schools since it helped them prepare for postseason play.

"The exposure they got was beneficial," Beard said. "I am real happy that we got invited to those two tournaments. We saw a lot of competitive teams."

Like most coaches Beard is hoping to add to their ledger as the Grizzlies enter the state playoffs with a 13-2 record, which includes five-set wins over Rock Point and Red Mesa.

"I've coached in the area for eight years and I knew what the other programs were like," Beard said. "And you know some programs have changed but they are becoming more organized and that makes the competition that more competitive."

For a good part of league play, the Grizzlies have relied heavily on junior middle hitter Venecia Joe and outside hitter Bridgett Lowe.

"They really know where to hit the ball," Shonto Prep assistant coach Tyson Calamity said of the two hitters. "But in truth our offense starts with the pass."

Calamity said that will be one of the keys to advancing into the state tournament.

"We are a decent serving team but we have to make sure we have good passes," he said. "That is one of the most important fundamentals of volleyball and we're going to focus on that."

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