FARMINGTON — Piedra Vista prefers not to disregard the possibility of being a 6A volleyball title contender, despite fielding a squad this fall that will be heavy on future talent.

The Lady Panthers lost six seniors from 2016, but they hope their incoming underclassmen can help the team remain in the playoff hunt in 2017.

“I think they’re really determined to help the program and benefit us,” said outside hitter Haley Golden, the squad's only senior. “The seniors left an amazing reputation for us, how we did at district and state. I’d really love to keep that reputation.”

Some of the younger players had their first major test playing in an offseason tournament earlier this month in Rio Rancho, and coach Ron Becker is encouraged by the strides they’ve made so far as part of PV’s uptempo playing style.

“They played some really top-level teams, and they played right with them,” Becker said. “I’m really excited to see what their upside is. It’s just going to take a little bit of time because they don’t have the experience. I guarantee you they can (learn fast), and they already are.”

PV squared off against teams like 6A power and 2015 state champ La Cueva during that tournament, engaging in a close battle. Becker said PV’s performance during that match was “one of the most inspiring things” he saw out of his younger squad, mentioning the Panthers kept up with the speedy Lady Bears for much of the match.

Becker said he wants to see PV, which went 20-5 and reached the 6A state quarterfinals in 2016, eliminate more unforced errors and have better-controlled digs against harder-hitting teams.

Otherwise, Becker said his team is coming up with hard-hit strikes of its own and getting key points.

Despite its youth, PV returns some varsity experience from last year. Key returners include Golden, junior setter Sam Harris, junior middle hitter Courtney Moore and freshman outside hitter Kacee Moore.

Courtney Moore is recovering from a slightly torn patella in both her knees, but she hopes to be back on the floor by late September or early October.

“I’m really ready for that. No one understands how hard it will be until it actually happens,” she said. “This is definitely a rebuilding year, but I definitely wouldn’t count us out. We’re going to work with the season and see how it progresses. (The underclassmen) are definitely great athletes, all of them. There’s really no telling where they can go from here.”

Despite their relative lack of experience this season, the Panthers’ window of opportunity to win it all remains open.

Golden said it’s important that the underclassmen not let things like missed serves frustrate them in varsity matches. She also said it’s important that the younger players not get too stressed out about preserving PV’s strong volleyball reputation.

“I know all of these girls are capable of doing that, turning in your blocks, getting the set. We all can do it,” Golden said. “Every time we step on the court, it’s to win and to try to make it all the way.”

PV opens the 2017 regular season at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Kirtland Central.

Matt Hollinshead covers sports for the Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577.