By Mickey Winfield, PNT Staff Writer
The Portales Lady Ram volleyball team wasn’t happy with their semifinal exit from the state playoffs last season, and despite some key losses, they seem ready to stake their claim as one of the best in the state once again.
The Lady Rams are in the middle of a camp conducted by the Eastern New Mexico Zia volleyball staff at the Portales High School gym, but they are less than two weeks from the start of practice on Aug. 13.
According to head coach Ruth Chavez, graduation dealt a huge hit to the Lady Ram defense.
“We’re redoing our defense because we graduated five of our defensive players,” Lady Ram head coach Ruth Chavez said. “Once we find our defense, I think we’re going to be fine.”
Chief among the departed defensive players were defensive specialist Ella Erf, Tori Teague, Briana Hernandez, Amanda Terry and Montana Russell.
“It’s a big loss — all of them because those five girls have been working their defense as a unit for a long time. Yeah, it’s a loss — and they were experienced but we have younger girls who are going through the same thing that they went through and I think they’ll be good defensive kids for us.”
While the Lady Rams are overhauling their defense, the offense is virtually unchanged from a year ago.
“We’re back with a very strong offense,” Chavez said. “We’re big. We have a couple of girls right around six feet tall and so that’s going to help us size wise.”
And the Portales girls also have a key arrival.
“Tara Johnson is back. We didn’t have Tara last year,” Chavez said. “She’s a great athlete, I think she’s going to be amazing by the end of the season. Just having her on the court — she’s vocal, the kids respect her, It’s been just a whole new ball game with her out there.”
“I love volleyball,” Johnson, a junior, said. “I missed it so much. I’m rusty, but I guess it’s ’cause I haven’t played in a year.”
“I’ve been working all summer since they opened (the gym) in July,” Johnson said.
Chavez played outside hitter Jenna Wagner in several matches last year as a freshman, and the Portales coach believes that experience will pay off this year for Wagner.
“I think anytime you take someone young and you put them in that situation they come back stronger,” Chavez said. “Tara and Dallas played as freshman when we won state and they were back more confident and stronger the next year.”
The Lady Rams must also deal with the late start of practice, Aug. 13, which is just one day before the start of school.
“It is different because we don’t have a week of two-a-days like we usually do,” Chavez said. “But we had the gym open the entire month of July so we’ve seen everybody that we think is coming out.”
After the ENMU camp, the players will take a week off, before the start of practice on Aug. 13.