Local volleyball teams ready for action

By Dave Wagner: Freedom Newspapers

The Portales Lady Rams will have to overcome a heavy hit from graduation to top last year. Meantime, the Clovis Lady Wildcats are still striving for the blue trophy.

Portales was pushed to five games by Pojoaque last November before nailing down its fourth Class 3A state volleyball title in six years under coach Ruth Chavez. Despite losing four starters from a 22-3 squad, the best record in her tenure, Chavez remains optimistic about this season.

“We’re all right,” she said. “Our (junior varsity team) was pretty solid.”

Clovis will also have number of holes to fill from last season, but coach Darrel Ray is ready to tackle the challenge.

“It’s going to take us a while again,” Ray said. “But we get good kids from the junior high programs, and we always have good athletes.”

Area prep squads begin fall practice on Monday, with season openers on tap for most teams near the end of August.

Chavez, who has been on the PHS volleyball staff for 19 seasons, isn’t used to seeing her team’s season end before the finals. Since she became head coach, that’s happened only once — in 2004, when the Lady Rams reached the 3A semifinals despite a 7-16 record.

Senior outside hitter Briana Hernandez and junior outside hitter-middle hitter Bethany Self have the most experience on the team.

“We can make another run at it,” Chavez said. “We’ll have to work hard and fill some spots, but our season goals will be the same.”

Among the key losses for Clovis is outside hitter Aimee Hilburn, selected the state’s female prep athlete of the year for 2005-06 by the Albuquerque Journal.

Ray, whose teams have been unable to get past the 5A quarterfinals in his tenure, is hoping senior outside hitters Siobhan Flatow and Janelle Gallegos and senior defensive specialist Cynthia Lucio can assume leadership roles on the court for the Lady Cats.

“The talent that Aimee brings to the floor is something you can’t just replace,” he said. “But we’ve got some kids who’ll be able to step up and do the job.”