Netting results

M-CHS volleyball team brings back experience, high expectations

Laurel Chappell (white) and Beth Brown block Nickelle Oliver’s spike attempt in Tuesday morning’s volleyball practice at the Montezuma-Cortez High School Gym. M-CHS begins its season tonight at home versus Pagosa Springs at 6:30 p.m. Enlargephoto

Bobby Abplanalp/Cortez Journal

Laurel Chappell (white) and Beth Brown block Nickelle Oliver’s spike attempt in Tuesday morning’s volleyball practice at the Montezuma-Cortez High School Gym. M-CHS begins its season tonight at home versus Pagosa Springs at 6:30 p.m.

The Lady Panthers volleyball team had many near misses last season.

Including a five set loss to Delta at regionals that ended the season for Montezuma-Cortez High School.

Three seniors graduated from last year’s squad, but many experienced faces return to the hardwood. One of which is senior All-Conference returner Abby Engel. She’ll move to libero from opposite hitter.

Senior outside hitters Danielle Waltman and Devon Biery are back. The two are up front about the team’s high expectations.

“Each practice is getting better and better. I think we’ll go farther in the season,” Waltman said. “Last season was a good season. But this year, we have a team that meshes well together. We play well together and we’ve been together for a while.”

Engel and her teammates would love nothing more than to go out as seniors in the 4A state tournament.

“The goal is always to get to state. We really feel like we can do that,” she said.

Junior leading blocker Nickelle Oliver will be strong in the middle once again and a host of underclassmen look to make the grade for coach Barbara Chappell.

The pieces are in place for a big year on the volleyball court.

“A lot of young players have matured over the summer,” Chappell said. “We have a lot of depth this year. I feel really good about our ability. They know they have to work hard. They knew right away. As a coach, we didn’t have to get on them for that.”

M-CHS must start strong in the preseason to gain momentum heading into difficult 5A/4A Southwestern League play. Instead of embarking on a long bus ride to Colorado Springs, the Lady Panthers will head south of the border to Farmington, N.M., to participate in the Piedra Vista High School tourney. Before that, M-CHS will host its own tournament on Sept. 8. Regional teams Mancos, Dolores and Monument Valley (Ariz.) will be there. Those pesky Lady Panthers from Delta will be in Cortez, too.

“We travel so, so much in the season. It’s really hard to stay focused when you’re traveling that much. We’re excited to host this,” Chappell said.

Head junior varsity coach and lead assistant Casey Bauer is back on the bench. The former M-CHS and Colorado State standout, and European volleyball pro is passing, spiking and serving her valuable playing experience to both the JV and varsity.

“We compliment each other in so many ways. I’m really excited to have her back,” said Chappell about her assistant. “We are more of a co-coach. We bounce ideas off each other all the time. We practice (our teams) together. I feel like that’s how they develop. More touches the better.”

Biery feels her game has taken a major leap forward this season.

“I think it’s really good having them as coaches. They’ve made me so much better,” she said. “Practices are more intense and we get better every time. It’s because they push us to get better. They’re really encouraging.”

With more experience comes more success. The Lady Panthers were on the cusp of a great season a year ago with so many heartbreaking, gut wrenching losses. This 2012 year could be just the beginning of something special.

“I feel like the attitude and the atmosphere is all hard work,” Chappell said. “Last year, it was a lot of starting to grow that mental attitude. We’ve already started here with that focus. They’re hitting the ball, they’re finishing the ball and making sure we are winning that point. I feel that summer experience with a lot of the younger players, was huge.”

First serve is tonight at 6:30 p.m., versus Pagosa Springs inside the M-CHS Gym.

bobbya@cortezjournal.com.