FARMINGTON— Nearly everything in District 1-4A volleyball is new.
New teams come to the district after the recent reclassification from the New Mexico Activities Association, while new coaches take over the programs at Bloomfield, Kirtland Central and Shiprock.
After finishing last season 7-12 overall and 0-6 in the former District 1-4A, Kirtland Central enters the season after graduating the bulk of the team's front line, including Keeshawna Ockerman and Marley Max, who combined for 262 of the Lady Broncos 398 kills, and Sharolyn Begay, who combined with Ockerman and Max for 115 of the team's 140 blocks on the season.
With the loss of so much production, first year head coach Nadia Watson is looking to junior Alex Cambridge to lead the Lady Broncos this season.
"Alex played the libero last season, so she was more in and out of the back row. I have her moving around a lot, because she can play basically any position," Watson said of Cambridge, who appeared in 47 of the team's 61 sets last season. "She'll be one to watch. She's a little firecracker. She's all over the court, tries her best, and I think she is going to be the leader of this squad."
With Cambridge roaming the court in a defensive role, Watson expects senior Koelle Bradley to provide an offensive boost for Kirtland Central.
"She only plays front row, but when she gets a good set she can place the ball wherever she needs and do it with power," Watson said of the 5-foot-8-inch middle hitter.
Being crowned the state champions is the ultimate goal for every team, but Watson said a more realistic goal for the Lady Broncos would be finishing with a winning record and contending the district title and a berth in the state tournament.
Kirtland Central held its first scrimmage last week, which Watson called a good eye-opener for the young team.
"My girls were kind of wide eyed with that first shock of playing, but I think we got the jitters out," Watson said. "I noticed during the scrimmage some of the girls would fall back into some of their bad habits."
Watson said that during the first part of the season the focus will be on breaking the team's bad habits and getting ready for the district games rather than worrying about wins and losses.
"I'm not so much worried about our early-season games," Watson said. "I think they're a good warmup for us to see what's coming in district play, and I think we'll be ready to go when the district play gets going."
Shiprock, which reached the state tournament at the 3A level last season, returns just two players, Lisa Harry and Tanisha Begay, who appeared in more than 20 sets in 2013.
"We're kind of a team in transition right now," said first year head coach Krista DeVries. "We lost seven seniors from last year, and we have a brand new coaching staff."
With the loss of so many key players from last year's squad, DeVries has been tweaking the Lady Chieftain lineup, trying players at new positions to fill team needs and take advantage of the team's athleticism.
"Alyssa Harvey, who played back row defense, this year we're going to use her in more of a hitting role and see how she fares," DeVries said.
With the position changes, the Shiprock coaching staff has been working with the front line and hitters to improve their effectiveness and take advantage of the team's passing ability, which DeVries calls one of the team's biggest strengths behind the play of Harry, the team's senior libero.
Harry, who DeVries praised as a "phenomenal passer," should also set up the Lady Chieftains' biggest offensive threat, Begay, who as a freshman last season ranked second on the team with 91 kills and held the top kill and hitting percentage for attacking players.
"She's just an all-around athlete," DeVries said of the 5-foot-8-inch middle hitter. "I've got some pretty big plans for Tanisha this season."
Based on the team's first couple weeks of practice and a scrimmage at Bayfield, Colo., DeVries sees no reason why the Lady Chieftains won't be able to return to the state tournament.
"I had some modest goals for us, but I think we're going to do pretty well," DeVries said. "I think we can do just as well if not better than last year. I fully expect to have a state showing."
Rae Collins take over the Bloomfield volleyball team, which finished the 2013 season with a 1-18 record and returns the majority of last year's roster.
After the season's first weeks of practice, Collins said she is optimistic of the direction the team is heading and is looking to her senior players to take on the leadership roles.
"I'm expecting a lot out of my seniors," Collins said. "We're really working on building a strong team dynamic, and they're going to bring a lot to that."
Collins said the senior class has embraced their new leadership roles, buying into the team's goal of building unity and working with the younger players to prepare them for the varsity level.
Included in the senior class is Shania Gallegos, who lead the Lady Bobcats with 72 kills last season, and Gabby Munoz, who after playing as an outside hitter last season, is moving to libero to help solidify the Bloomfield defense.
Of the three new head coaches, Collins is the only one with high school coaching experience after heading the Shiprock program. But after reclassification and a new district, Collins said any team could come out on top of the district.
"I think each team is going to be different," Collins said, pointing out the different coaching changes. "And I haven't seen Zuni at all. We don't know what they have, so going there to play, that will be different. Who knows what the season will bring. We'll just have to see how it all works out."