FARMINGTON —The Piedra Vista volleyball team has been nothing short of dominant over the last six seasons, winning the district title each year. But like many other schools around the state, class realignment creates a new challenge for the Lady Panthers, who moved from 5A to 6A this year.
PV joins Cleveland — last year’s 6A state runner-up, which lost to former District 1-6A member La Cueva in the final — Volcano Vista, a 6A semifinalist a year ago, Cibola and Rio Rancho in District 1-6A.
“I’m excited for the move because the competition is going to be really good. The state champion has come out of that district the last seven years for volleyball,” PV coach Ron Becker said. “I’m excited to play that tougher competition, and it will make us better in the long run.”
The move to 6A and a loaded district will threaten PV’s run of six straight district titles, but Becker said this season is the perfect time for the Lady Panthers to make the jump. The Lady Panthers will return a wealth of experience this season with six seniors and three juniors on the roster. The only underclassman listed on the roster is 6-foot-3 Courtney Moore, who saw a lot of playing time as a freshman.
During the summer, PV played three of the four members of District 1-6A, and Becker said the team fared well.
While the Lady Panthers will face new and tougher challenges this year, PV won’t change its style of play. Under the direction of Becker, the Lady Panthers have preferred an up-tempo offense, and Becker said the team’s quickness and hitting ability is at one of the highest levels in years.
“We’re kind of back to having solid hitters in every position, and I’m excited to see how they do,” Becker said.
Navajo Prep, Shiprock searching for district title
The Navajo Prep and Shiprock volleyball teams will be vying for the District 1-4A title, but the battle won’t be limited to those two programs.
Wingate and Thoreau join Prep and Shiprock in the district and could challenge either team for the crown.
Prep is the newcomer to the district after class realignment moved the school from 3A to 4A, but the move up shouldn’t be much of a factor in the team’s success. Whether it was in 2A or 3A, Prep has reached the state quarterfinals every year since 2007.
“We’re really focusing on trying to speed up the game — we’re trying to run more quick hits,” Prep coach Rainy Crisp said. “And we’re really trying to perfect our defense, our spacing in the back row and our serves, because the little things are going to make a big difference in the game.”
Leading the Lady Eagles this season will be seniors Gabrielle Noon, Harlei Hacessa, Kaylee Wood and Diamond Jones, who was a second team All-State selection last season.
Also taking on a larger role for Prep is junior Martinique Larvingo, who Crisp is hoping will fill the void left after Jasmine Coleman — who was a two-time first-team All-State selection — graduated.
“We have a strong senior group who have been on the team for the last three or four years. This is really their time to step up,” Crisp said. “With them and the younger players coming up, as long as we continue to work together and come together, by the time district and state comes, we should be pretty solid.”
Shiprock comes into the season with a duo on the front line as talented and intimidating as any other team could field with senior Tanisha Begay and junior Chamika Begaye.
The two strong hitters should be able to provide an offensive punch powerful enough to keep the opposition at bay while the rest of the team builds its chemistry heading into the district schedule.
“Right now, we’re really working on our rotations and getting the girls comfortable in their positions until they get comfortable in where they need to be,” Shiprock coach Teri Atcitty said.
The Lady Chieftains also enter the season with a bevy of returning players. Atcitty said the team’s experience from making the 4A state tournament last season should be beneficial, especially when the Lady Chieftains are in close matches during the district schedule.
Wingate enters 2016 as one of the most consistent teams in the state and has compiled winning records in each of the last nine seasons.
After winning just two games as a very young team last season, Thoreau returns a roster full of experience that could prove to be the difference in a turnaround season.
Karl Schneider is the sports editor for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4648.