Serving up a new look in 2012

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Time is a commodity that most coaches can never really have enough of. No matter how much a team practices and no matter how many repetitions it might get in, not many coaches — in any sport — ever feel truly prepared heading into the first contest of the season.

As the saying goes, you never really know what you have until that first game. For second year Socorro High School head volleyball coach Joni Mauldin and her squad this year, that first game is coming a bit sooner than in previous years.

In 2012, New Mexico Activities Association guidelines prohibit volleyball programs from holding official organized practices until Monday, Aug. 13. That gives Mauldin and her Lady Warriors just seven days before their first match to hold tryouts, put together rotations and gel as a team. That’s not an easy task for any coach, in any program, anywhere in the Milky Way.

“Having a game so quickly without having my teams set up is a challenge,” Mauldin said.

As with any athletic team, it takes time for volleyball players to set rotations, understand positioning and get familiar with each other’s style of play.

“Getting used to each other, playing to each other’s styles, that’s at a disadvantage,” Mauldin said. “Because having tryouts right now, then having a few days to set up my teams, and get them time on the court to play with each other, work on rotations, work on positioning. That’s where the disadvantage comes from.”

Socorro also lost a ton of experience from last year’s squad, which graduated six seniors. The 2011 Lady Warriors posted a 10-12 overall mark, but went 5-4 in district play, a record that almost earned them an at-large bid to the state tournament.

“We were crossing our fingers,” Mauldin said of last year’s tournament snub.

But regardless of the obstacles they face this year, the 2012 version of the Socorro volleyball team isn’t without players who have proven they can get the job done.

With three returning seniors in Maudi Mauldin, Bryanna Baca and Marissa Sarate, Socorro already has a solid base, and those players will be expected to carry a heavy load this season.

“More than likely, those girls will never come out of the game,” Mauldin said.

Add in juniors Ashley Pyke and Tamara Chavez, and you’ve got a crop of leaders with plenty of court time and knowledge of what it takes to be part of a successful program.

“I think the quality I see in the team that’s going to be, from my perspective, the varsity, is my three seniors and my powerhouse junior (Pike),” Mauldin said.

And it’s no accident that the Lady Warriors, even a few hours into their official season, have reason to aim for a successful 2012 campaign. Mauldin holds spring practices, and the unofficial, non-mandatory workouts over the summer have given her a good grasp on what type of offense she needs to run, as well as what role her younger girls will need to play.

“My younger girls that are coming back, I need them quick on the court, quick on their feet,” Mauldin said.

And quick will be the literal name of the game for Socorro this year. Without a lot of team height, the Lady Warriors will look to running a quick-style offense that negates the size of their opponents. They’ve been working on getting the ball to the setter quickly, and don’t look for them to call many five sets, or plays that involve high-arching sets from sideline to sideline.

“Having a quicker offense is going to be the key for my varsity team this year,” Mauldin said.

“We’ll be playing some teams with some height, and we can keep them on their toes by running our plays, which are a lot of quick plays.”

Another challenge Socorro is staring down this year is the loss of two district teams from 2011.

Truth or Consequences and Silver will be the only teams, along with Socorro, in District 3/3A, as Cobre and Hatch Valley have been realigned to Class 2A. That means the Lady Warriors will only have four district matches to prove their worth and earn a birth in the state tournament. Mauldin and company will be going through a smaller district schedule for the first time this year, and while that presents yet another hill to climb, the team is looking at it from a positive perspective.

“We’ll get a lot of touches on the ball before district,” Mauldin said.

They’ll play 4A Valencia twice this season as well as Cobre and Deming, both once. Throw in the Goddard Tournament and the Magdalena Invite and this squad might be considered a salty one before they take on T or C on Oct. 18 to start off 13 days of district competition.

While Mauldin admits there will be a good amount of pressure on this year’s team, she still has a blend of youth and experience she thinks will produce quality results. Especially since her older players take responsibility for the younger ones and strive for team unity.

“I think because of seeing the older girls, and the way they role model for the younger ones, they make it a culture,” Mauldin said.

“I think that’s what reflects on my younger girls, is seeing the older, more experienced girls. They have good sportsmanship and they try to help each other out. I think that’s what helps my younger girls get used to everything.”

There may very well be a few question marks surrounding the 2012 Lady Warriors volleyball team, but it’s still a sisterhood, a conglomerate of young women that, regardless of circumstance, have the highest hopes for this season. And if it all comes together like it can, a state tourney invite isn’t out of the question.

“I honestly think we could be district champs,” Mauldin said.

“That’s the ability level of my girls right now. I know that my girls can do it.”

Socorro serves up the start of the 2012 season on Monday, Aug. 20, at home against East Mountain.