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FARMINGTON — After finishing a game out of first place in District 1-4A last season, expectations for the Kirtland Central volleyball team are sky-high.

The Lady Broncos went 16-6 last year and boasted an impressive 8-2 mark in district play. Though they were bounced in the first round of the state tournament by Ruidoso, head coach Nadia Watson said the team exceeded her expectations.

Now, with a familiarity of the roster and a full offseason to prepare, Watson, in her second year at KCHS, calls 2015 a "defining season" for her as a coach.

"Last year was more like 'I'm going to do the best I can with what I have then work hard in the summer,'" Watson said. "Now I'm hoping to make a real change because I'm comfortable here. I want the girls to become better athletes and better students. Every coach inherits something, but it's about making a change and leaving a mark with what you inherit."

On the court, Watson believes the taste her players got at last year's state tournament will make them better as a unit.

"Now they know what it takes to compete at a certain level," she said. "I think we should contend. Playing at a state level was something my girls weren't used to at all last year, so that part's out of the way."

Senior Alex Cambridge, a First-Team All-District player last season, will play on the outside for KCHS and should once again be among the best overall players in 4A, and Watson is expecting big things out of sophomore Nia Nelson playing in the middle.

The Lady Broncos will open their season at Ignacio (Colo.) on Sept. 1.

With a number of top players returning and a feel for the program in her second year as head coach at Shiprock, Terry Atcitty said she thinks her girls should be right in the thick of the district championship conversation.

"We have pretty good potential this year with five seniors on the team and a good mix of younger girls," Atcitty said. "We should have a pretty good run. I'm excited."

Shiprock went 10-11 last year, and finished 6-3 in the district, which was good for third overall behind Wingate and Kirtland Central, respectively.

Atcitty said hitting should be a strength of the team.

"The potential of our good hitters stands out to me," she said. "They're young and they're showing good teamwork and good chemistry together."

Sophomores Kylie McKinley and Chamika Begaye, along with junior Tanisha Begay, are expected to pack a punch for Shiprock as the team's elite middle hitters.

The Lady Chieftains will get their first taste of action on Friday, Sept. 4, when Shiprock hosts the "Set 2 Kill" tournament.

"I think (Set 2 Kill) will be the first ever tournament we've hosted at Shiprock," Atcitty said. "Then we're going to do a couple more tournaments before we get into district play. And I think (those tournaments) will really get us ready for our district opponents if we're not already."

In the ultra-competitive District 1-4A, Bloomfield struggled in 2014 under first-year head coach Rae Collins, going 4-16 and 1-9 in the district.

After losing six seniors from 2014, and listing just one senior on the roster this season, it would seem as if Bloomfield's struggles will only carry on, but that's not how Collins sees it.

"One thing I notice is that my younger players are very hungry and very driven," Collins said. "That's a good thing, because my young players are helping our new, even younger players get to where they need to be. Most of my leaders this year will be sophomores."

Those eleventh graders are Loren Waresback, who will be mostly utilized as a middle hitter after doing a lot of outside hitting in 2014, and Elena Florez, the Lady Bobcats' top setter.

Junior Natasha Largo will be Bloomfield's starting libero. Collins said she thinks Largo will do a good job setting the tone for the team, while the lone senior, Kate Travis, has already put a team-first attitude on display in a major way in summer practices.

The first tilt on Bloomfield's schedule will be a road game against Dulce on Thursday.

Jake Newby covers sports for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577 and jnewby@daily-times.com. Follow him @JakeNewby07 on Twitter.

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