FARMINGTON — Piedra Vista may have lost most of its size from its state runner-up team from a year ago, but a shorter bunch still thinks they have what it takes to get to the top of the mountain in 4A volleyball.
The team has lost Division I players Katie Hegarty, now at SMU, and Olivia Johnson, a freshman at Fairleigh Dickinson University, as well as McKenna Culp, who is more than 6 feet tall, at the hitter positions. And now PV is relying on a small but experienced group to help match the successes of the 2012 season, which included a 22-2 overall record, a District 1-4A title and a second-place finish in state behind St. Pius X.
"We are not backing down. We know there is going to be a lot of competition out there this year, and we have to be ready for everything that comes our way," said senior outside hitter Samantha Sofka. "Teams are definitely going to underestimate us because we lost size, but we are quick and that will help get us through this year."
PV's tallest hitter this year is sophomore Autum Begay at 5 feet 10 inches tall, but junior setter Vanessa Harris isn't concerned with the changes in personnel this year.
"I think we are all stepping in and doing our part at every position. Sofka has stepped up to the plate and is doing great," she said. "We have a lot of middles this year, and they are all working their hardest to be the top girl."
PV head coach Ron Becker is happy to have Harris back for a second year at varsity and is excited about the team's chemistry with her.
"Being the setter, I am kind of the quarterback in trying to control the game," Harris said. "I definitely feel that leadership will have to be big on my part this year."
Becker said the team took the state championship match loss to St. Pius very hard last year. Just getting back in the gym and in full swing for the high school season has been good for them, he said.
"Last year definitely was not the ending we were hoping for by any means, but it is really nice to get back into it," he said. "I am very happy with this group of girls, and I think this year is kind of different because we are not relying on one or two people. They are all stepping up and playing well together."
PV cruised to a district title with ease in 2012, but Becker, Harris and Sofka all said it will be more difficult this year.
"We are still confident in our district, but we definitely know that Farmington High is going to put up a good fight, and Aztec will be real tough," Sofka said.
Becker expects the stronger district to help his team continue improving throughout the late stages of the regular season. He also expects Las Cruces' Centennial to be the top contender in the state tournament this season.
"Centennial, by far and without question, is going to be at the top of the heap. They have a transfer from Mayfield who is 6-foot-2 and can jump very well," Becker said. "We are lucky we played them over the summer and know what we need to work on."
Coach: Dan Hickman, second season
Last year's finish: 13-10, 4-2 District 1-4A
Key returners: Francine Briones, Sarah Long, Lydia Byrom, Jordan Curry and Summer Otero
New additions: Ashley Flack and Ashley Schultz
Season outlook: "We have pretty much everybody back. We only had one senior last year who played a lot. Sharah Long will be a key outside hitter and Lydia Byrom as the other. Summer and Jordan in the middle are doing very well, and Flack and Schultz are working well as setters. Briones is a strong libero, and I think overall all the girls will help us out in a strong way in all of our rotations. We are very well-rounded. I know PV has Sofka as a hammer and she will be tough, and Aztec's Aubrey Folk is really good when she is on, and we will have to make sure we shut them down. This last year we added a lot to our belts as far as maturity. Our girls have showed a different level of play and confidence on the floor." -- Dan Hickman
Coach: Brian Joe, second season
Last year's finish: 8-13 overall, 2-4 District 1-4A
Key returners: Keeshawna Ockerman, Marley Max and Sharolyn Begay
New additions: Orquidea Reyes and Georgia Willie
Season outlook: "We are feeling good about our team. We lost Hannah Washburn, who was an amazing player, but as a team she is really the only starter we lost. The core group is still back this year. We had a lot of good summer practices and have worked hard in all areas. We are sitting pretty good from what I have seen, but we won't know until we start playing. The district is going to be good this year, and I expect every team to be in the race. It is going to be a really good season for volleyball in our area." – Brian Joe
Coach: Anna Strauss
Last year's finish: 7-15 overall, 0-6 District 1-4A
Key returners: Mikayla Paxton, Madie Sims, Taylor Santistevan, Samantha Strauss, Autumn Sutherland and Aubrey Folk
New additions: Becca Edgerton, Corey Zuniga, Sarah Adams and Danielle Swope
Coach Anna Strauss did not return phone calls Wednesday for comment.
Coach: Tami Bekes, fourth season
Last year's finish: 10-14 overall, 2-4 District 1-3A
Key returners: Tashai Werito, Shania Gallegos, Chelsea Largo and Louisa Maestas
New additions: Gabby Munoz, Jessica Burnham, Makayla Taylor and Kate Travis
Season outlook: "We have a couple of new girls stepping into the setter's role, and that is very important for us. We are doing good so far, and the girls did very well during our scrimmage last weekend. We really expect Gallegos to attack for us in the front row and for Werito to lead the team. We want to defend that district tournament championship and keep it in our gym. We want to defend that district tournament championship and keep it in our gym. The girls can do it. They have the heart, drive and work ethic to make it happen." -- Tami Bekes
Coach: Rae Collins, second season
Last year's finish: 13-7, 5-1 District 1-3A regular season champs
Key returners: Katura Garcia and Ashley john
New additions: Alyssa Sturgill and Tanisha Begay
Season outlook: "We are a big mix of old players and new players, and all the girls are getting along. We are working on our conditioning and doing weight training to get stronger this year. Last year, we tapered off at the end of the year and in the first round of state. This year, I am expecting more, and I have expressed that to the girls. We don't want to go home in one day from the state tournament. I know the girls from last year want to take the district tournament championship this year. I hope that gives them enough motivation, especially for the seniors." -- Rae Collins
Coach: Rainy Crisp
Last year's finish: 18-4, 14-2 District 1-2A champs
Key returners: Matheney Wilson, Jasmine Coleman, Keona Leano, Lashaunte Adams and Shanunique Tom
New additions: Sarena Gray, Michelle Lee, Rainy Sommer Yazzie and Diamond Jones
Season outlook: "We have seven returning players from last year's team. With that experience, we are looking very strong. The girls have all been through our tough eight team district and have been to the state tournament. We always get into the second round at state, but with this group we plan on going further this year. The goal is for the state semifinals or finals. Our district will be tough, as usual. It will be hard to defend that title and the girls know that as well. We are driving them to push and work harder." -- Rainy CrispJohn Livingston can be reached at email@example.com; 505-564-4648. Follow him on Twitter @jlivi2.