Volleyball stronger, but needs a few things

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“Stop … the girl drama …. now!”

That’s what I heard a coach say when I passed by a volleyball team’s huddle last season. If only it were as simple as a that one command.

Getting teenage athletes to grow up and get along with each other, to respect themselves and each other, and to always think of greater team goals as career-long projects for coaches, especially in volleyball.

These are not easy tasks, and it’s commendable for adults to take on the task of leading young women in the multi-faceted process of student athletics. These coaches need a lot of support and cooperation — from athletes, administrators, parents, teachers and others.

It’s tough to assess how much support each of this county’s three volleyball programs has without being directly involved with the team on a daily basis. However, the 2012-13 season featured at least one major off-the-court distraction in each program.

There are some things that need to be added to the volleyball culture in this county — and some things that need to be taken away. It’s not that the sport is “broken” and needs to be fixed, but like with soccer, rodeo, Little League and swimming, there are still major obstacles in getting volleyball marketed to the next generation of athletes.

One thing that must be added is more club volleyball. Yes, the rules and season structure of club volleyball makes it difficult, as do the locations and the expense. But for players and teams to become not only college-caliber athletes, but also competitive at the high-school level, club sports are an unfortunate necessity in winning championships.

Just ask Belen’s Victoria Spragg, who committed verbally to the University of New Mexico as a sophomore last spring, about the importance of club sports. Ask Aizlinn Gutierrez, the Valencia High star who is the county’s lone selection for the 2013 Class 4A/5A North-South all star match, if she feels like her jump serve and other elements of her game improved with help from club coaches.

Another thing that could improve are standard start times. It’s enough to put up with unpredictable tournaments and C-team and junior varsity matches that might go either two or three games each. However, the decision by District 6-4A schools, and others in New Mexico, to hold varsity matches at about 6 p.m. is tough for fans to handle.

It works out well for getting the evening over with early, and not cutting late into school nights (or media workloads that don’t begin until volleyball is done). But 6 p.m. matches make it tough for some adults to get from their jobs to the matches on time.

If the county ever gets six rocking soccer teams at the same time, with tons of fans, 4 p.m. soccer matches and 6 p.m. volleyball are not going to work well together.

All coaches should be allowed to have as much control as possible in putting their own schedules together, and this is especially critical in volleyball and wrestling, which seem to have more nuances to New Mexico Activities Association limitations.

Valencia coach Karen Chavez was suspended one match by Los Lunas Schools athletics director Wilson Holland after an issue regarding the NMAA’s 20-match limit. Apparently, the issue stemmed from both the amount of complete matches at the Lady Jaguars’ two tournaments and a trip to West Mesa.

Let’s put aside, for a moment, volleyball’s wacky disregard for pool play (What other sport has intense competition that doesn’t count toward match limitations — except for two-day track meets counting as one event?)

Valencia’s trip to the Belen Invite involved two complete matches, while the Moriarty Invite had three matches. When debating about taking a West Mesa match off the schedule, it isn’t clear if Chavez made it obvious enough to Holland that the Jags were at the 20-match limit, at which point the district could have decided to simply pay a cancellation fine for dropping West Mesa. Holland directed her in an email not to cancel any matches.

Chavez ended up playing the third match of the day at West Mesa, using all junior-varsity players, who forged an improbable victory. It helped that many varsity players were at a University of New Mexico showcase that day.

But rather than commend Chavez for her ingenuity, Holland suspended her, when he could have shown support for the program by fighting the NMAA to establish the third West Mesa match as a JV contest, and keep the second Valencia-Los Lunas match from being forfeited.

The much-anticipated Jaguar-Tiger match, a community event of sorts, was never played.

Not only could Holland have been more communicative and supportive in working with Chavez in fixing the over-scheduling before it happened, but it also seems like this should have been dealt with long before October. It seems there are many schedule-limitation issues, and not just in volleyball, that could have been addressed many months before the season began.

The support volleyball needs, sometimes seems great, but it’s no more than basketball, and much less than football or track. The sport could be marketed in a way that helps it really take off in Valencia County.


-- Email the author at jbrooks@news-bulletin.com.