By Kevin Wilson
CLOVIS — Brooke Lopez was confident, but understandably not convinced, heading into Saturday.
The Portales senior setter knew she’d gotten better, and could say the same for her Ram teammates. But you never quite know how you are when you only play each other for three weeks, or when your volleyball team graduated all of its key defensive positions.
“With us losing our back row, I was kind of nervous coming into today,” the 5-foot-3 1/2 Lopez said between matches Saturday at Rock Staubus Gymnasium. “But so far, we’ve done great with them. Each game, things get better.”
If Portales is to thrive against its tough pre-district schedule and make a deep run in its first year as a Class 4A school, it will need to continue that upward trend.
Lopez is one of three seniors on a team that the players and coach Ruth Chavez say has the unusual combination of youth and experience, as a junior class returns many key players from last year like Sheraya Cox and Kambrey Blakey.
“The girls have a lot of experience,” said Chavez, entering her 14th season as head coach. “I feel like we have a very experienced team even though we have just three seniors. We don’t have a go-to girl, but we have a lot of players who can do the job.”
The pre-district schedule, which begins Tuesday night at Hobbs, is loaded with Class 5A and 6A schools. Outside of its October invitational tournament, Class 3A powers Texico and Hatch Valley are the only schools below Class 5A.
That tournament field, Chavez said, should be tough with three 2013 state champions — Fort Sumner, Hatch Valley and Pojoaque — in a field that also includes Sandia Prep, Moriarty, Texico and Clovis.
Though she liked what she saw on Saturday, including a three-game win over Clovis in its final scrimmage, Chavez said a consistent concern will be the play of the back row, because nothing happens offensively without a good back row to start things.
“They’re good players,” Chavez said. “They just haven’t been on the back row for a long time.”
Chavez said Blakey has been hitting the ball very well so far, but notes having experienced setters does play a role in that.
Lopez, in her second year as a setter, said the transition from junior year to senior year has been much smoother than her sophomore to junior transition.
“My connection with my hitters, I feel, is so much better,” Lopez said. “We have a real bond.
“We have good leadership as seniors, and the class under us is great as well. They came back with a lot of maturity, and they came back a lot better.”
26 — at Hobbs, 7 p.m.
2 — Roswell High, 7 p.m.; 5-6 — at Moriarty tournament; 9 — Clovis, 7 p.m.; 11 — Hope Christian, 7 p.m.; 16 — Roswell Goddard, 7 p.m.; 18 — at Artesia, 7 p.m.; 23 — at Roswell High, 7 p.m.; 30 — at Roswell Goddard, 7 p.m.
3-4 — Peyton Chavez tournament; 7 — Artesia, 7 p.m.; 11 — Roswell High, 7 p.m.; 14 — Texico, 7 p.m.; 18 — East Mountain, 1 p.m.-x; 21 — Ruidoso, 5:30 p.m.-x; 23 — at Clovis, 6:45 p.m.; 25 — at East Mountain, 2:30 p.m.-x; 30 — at Ruidoso, TBA-x.
x-Denotes District 4-4A matches.