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Rams reload for 2018

Only two players return from last year's squad.

 

August 26, 2018

Eric Murray

Junior Abi Cameron is one of several new starters for Portales volleyball this season. During Wednesday's practice, she works on her setting.

PORTALES — While Portales’ volleyball team is young, coach Charity Gomez believes that it can compete with anybody as long as it stays principled.

Gomez’ squad returns just two starters in senior Taylee Rippee and junior Aaliyah Austin for 2018.

“We just have a program philosophy,” Gomez said. “There’s a few things that win volleyball games, and we feel that it doesn’t matter what age they are, because everyone does the same drills (within our program).

“We’re drilling towards those things, like siding-out, serving it tough, defending the left. That’s where all of our drills are geared towards, and we feel like we really need to be good at that.”

Gomez says that her teams have had good attackers in the middle, and with Rippee back, that could very well continue this year. Rippee was one of the leading attackers in the state last year, while Austin graduated to varsity late in the year and started the rest of the way.

Those two pieces are the only returning starters from last year’s 16-6, District 4-4A regular season championship squad. However, Austin recently suffered an ankle injury in practice, meaning that she may go from outside hitter to libero, until she gets healthy. However, she may not be ready for next week’s opener.

At any rate, Portales will have lots of youth, one way or another. There’s only one other senior on the roster, and that’s Abby Brown. However, this is Brown’s first year on the varsity squad.

Besides Rippee and Austin, Gomez projects sophomore Mattison Blakey as the team’s starting setter, along with junior Abi Cameron. Sophomore Alexis Ryen is playing the middle, along with Kinzie Davis.

In fact, Gomez thinks that it could be Davis and Blakey as the team’s breakout players this year. “(Kinzie Davis is) really coming along. She’s one of those types, kind of like a Lindsay Blakey, where she’s in here every single day,” Gomez said.

“She stays after practice every single day, we watch volleyball together, we talk about volleyball all day. She just likes it and she’s really into it. When you have that, as a player, you’re gonna improve pretty quickly. She just puts the time in. Her and Mattison — just because they’re changing positions — but they’re here everyday.”

As for Rippee, she had 232 kills and 41 blocks as a junior in ‘17. Needless to say, until others come into their own, she’ll be the focal point of this Rams team. “In order to get the ball to the middle of the floor, you have to ball control it and you have to pass it really well,” Gomez explained.

“In order for us to be successful early, I think that’s something that we have to be able to do, to get her the ball. Our other attackers are sophomores and juniors. Until they kinda get acclimated to this level, our focus has been how we can get the ball to (Rippee).”

Gomez says that she does expect growing pains in the early part of the season, but her focus is getting her team ready for district play. She especially feels that way since district success means so much in terms of qualifying for the state tournament.

One advantage for her team is that District 4, like most districts around the state, is realigned — and smaller. Now, Portales will play Goddard, Artesia and Lovington, instead of four teams like a season ago.

Gomez says that her team has played those schools throughout the summer, and have experience some success along the way. And with the opener not coming until mid-October, it gives the young Rams time to figure things out.

But while the geographical location of the new district is more favorable, the scheduling is not. “This year, (the NMAA) moved our district games. It used to be Tuesdays and Saturdays, but now it’s Tuesdays and Thursdays,” Gomez said.

“It’s unfortunate, because I liked having Tuesday/Saturday, because we could play a match and prepare, and now we have one day to prepare. I don’t know who set that, but I don’t know any coach that would want that type of schedule.”

Nonetheless, Gomez is excited for the new district and its challenges. Portales’ first district game is Oct. 16 at Goddard. The Rams’ regular season opener is Thursday at home against Roswell. Varsity start time is expected for 6:30 p.m.

 
 

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