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Pirates open volleyball season at home Saturday

The Pirate volleyball team takes to the home court Saturday to face 2A Sangre de Cristo in the season opener.

The match with the rival from the San Luis Valley (a team that returns half of the starting lineup from 2009 and is highly regarded in its classification as the season begins) is the first of three during the week, with tough challenges awaiting at 4A Cortez on Tuesday, Sept. 8, and in a home match against 5A Durango Thursday, Sept. 10.

Coach Andy Rice welcomes back some veterans to a team that is looking to improve on a season last year that saw the program fail to make post-season play. Four seniors are back for the 2009 go-round: middle hitter Kala Matzdorf, setter Casey Meekins, opposite Jessica Blum and middle hitter Megan Bryant. They are joined by juniors Breezy Bryant (outside hitter/setter) and defensive specialist Sienna Stretton. Junior outside Brinda Wallis will move to the varsity this season and a number of other players should see varsity time, including defensive specialist Kelsi Lucero, middle hitter Magan Kraetsch, outside hitter Brooklyn DuCharme and middle hitter Katie Armbrecht.

Team members got in some productive action this summer at tournaments at Adams State College, Fort Lewis and the University of New Mexico, going 18-12 at the three events. Matzdorf was named to the UNM all-tournament team. the team also participated in the annual pre-season scrimmages last weekend.

“We appear to have some depth, as our two-a-day practices have been more competitive than the couple of years,” said Rice. “The setter position could be our key; Casey Meekins and Breezy Bryant did not get much experience setting last year. All our seniors have made incremental improvements in their strength, ability and mental toughness. Megan (Bryant) and Jess (Blum) have been pleasant surprises with their early-season play; Megan has shown a tremendous work ethic and Jess is probably hitting the ball the hardest on the team. Wallis has emerged as a go-to hitter on the outside and I would say she has the highest volleyball IQ of the group. She has made great strides from last season and is a testament to what can happen when a lot of work is put into an off-season. Breezy Bryant has been our most versatile player; she will probably be hitting outside, but could be expected to set at times. Stretton had a nice performance last weekend.

“The team started sluggish at the scrimmage last weekend. It seemed they were feeling each other out and that their roles are still being defined. Our fundamental skills were good, but our communication didn’t improve until the third or fourth match. We are better and deeper at most positions than we have been the last few seasons. We will have to make strides as the season progresses to make the postseason, but we are confident we will gel and make it happen.”

Making it happen will demand winning performances in what shapes up to be a difficult schedule. With only five home matches this year, Rice notes his team will need to be “road warriors” to accomplish their goals.

The Pirates face three New Mexico teams on their home courts: Farmington, Piedra Vista and Kirtland Central. The team also takes to the road for the Fowler tournament and league games against Monte Vista, Bayfield and Centauri (now being coached by former PSHS player Kim Canty).

Aside from Sangre de Cristo and Durango, the Pirates meet only their league foes in Pagosa.

Bayfield would seem to be the pre-season favorite in the league this season, with Monte Vista — a ascendent program last year — looking to be a contender.

“Bayfield returns the Rifilato sisters,” said Rice, “and they looked very good last weekend. They are the clear favorite for the league this season, but games are not played on paper for a reason. Monte Vista will also return a talented team and although they lost a returning all-league player, Shelly Malouf, for several weeks to a broken collarbone, they will be formidable throughout the season. Kim Canty takes over the Centauri Falcons and we are excited for her and her team. Kim was an excellent player here and has a good cerebral grasp of the game. The league season should be exciting and interesting.”

Action at the PSHS gym Saturday begins with a C-team match at 4 p.m.