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Volleyball home season opens Sept. 7

The Pirate volleyball team begins the 2010 season with a mission: to ascend once again to the top spot in the Intermountain League and to move on to post-season play.

Last year was a tough one for the Pirates, but the team returns to the court with a new head coach, Connie O’Donnell, and an expanded league that offers more opportunities for success in the region.

O’Donnell is no stranger to the Pirate program, having served for seven years as assistant coach to Penné Hamilton. O’Donnell has the advantage of welcoming a core of seasoned veterans as well as some strong athletes coming into the varsity program, and is looking forward to the upcoming challenges.

Back this year are seniors Kelsi Lucero, Alyssa Laydon, Magan Kraetsch, Brinda Wallis, Breezy Bryant and Sienna Stretton. Kraetsch could get ample time in the front row and Stretton will play the right side. O’Donnell is going to a 6-2 offense this season (an offense that utilizes two setters, the active setter coming out of the back row) and Wallis and Bryant are tabbed as the setters. When not in the back row, both are outside hitters of note. Junior Katie Armbrecht is set for time in the middle as is sophomore Gabby Pajak. Brooklynn DuCharme could play right front and left back.

The team had a chance to test itself last Saturday as the Pirates hosted a scrimmage featuring five other schools: Durango, Cortez, Alamosa, Bayfield and Ignacio.

“The scrimmage went well,” said the coach. “I was happy with the players’ attitudes; they were encouraging each other and were positive, and this is always a step in the right direction.”

The scrimmage gave O’Donnell a live-action chance to continue putting her approach to the game into the program. “We’ve been working on doing things right,” she said, “emphasizing the basics, re-enforcing muscle memory, staying on our feet. I’m old school — I want our players to be good at all the basic skills.”

The regular season begins Saturday at the Monte Vista Tournament. The hosts and Pagosa will be joined by Alamosa, Centauri, Sangre de Cristo, Sargent and Center.

The first home match of the year will be Tuesday, when the Cortez panthers come to town. C team action begins at 4 p.m. Cortez has been a Class 4A power for a quite a few years, making a number of trips to the state tournament and figures to provide the Pirates a strong test.

Pagosa faces other teams from larger schools during the season, including Durango, Farmington, Aztec, Piedra Vista and Kirtland Central.

Then there are the Intermountain League foes.

Bayfield returns a strong team, riding on the crest of a wave of success that took the team to the top level of the Class 3A ranks last year, with a trip to the state tournament. Monte Vista had its most successful year in recent memory last season, advancing to post season play. Centauri, under the tutelage of former Pirate Kim Canty, improved as the year went on and finished third at the district tourney. Alamosa joins the IML this season, with the Mean Moose providing yet another factor in the league race.

“I’m glad to see the addition to the league,” said O’Donnell. “I think we can do well if we maintain positive attitudes and if the players trust each other and trust me. We’re changing some things, and sometimes that’s a hard thing to do. Our staff (O’Donnell and assistants Chantelle Kay and Kathy Holland) are working together with similar ideas about the sport, and we are looking forward to a good year.”

Home matches this season, in addition to Cortez, include Farmington (Sept. 14), Piedra Vista (Sept. 21), Alamosa (Sept. 23), Bayfield (Sept. 28), Kirtland Central (Sept. 30), Monte Vista (Oct. 7) and Centauri (Oct. 16).