The long and short of it is this year’s Belen High School volleyball team may be better prepared to compete than any other Lady Eagle team in recent history — thanks to a week-long trip to Long Beach, Calif. earlier this month and an uncharacteristically tall lineup.
Well, tall is a relative term. But Belen, which is notorious for its petite teams, has more height now than any time in recent years. And that alone could make them better.
“We’ve always had to be real scrapping in the past because we haven’t had the height,” said Lady Eagle head coach Barbara Rodriguez. “We’re a little bit taller than we were in the past, so we might be blocking some balls, and that would be an added strength.”
Belen is hoping to be a stronger team this season than it was a year ago when a diminutive Lady Eagle team finished the season with a 3-16 record and didn’t win a district game.
“Last year, we were pretty small, so we had to play with a lot of heart and dedication. I couldn’t have asked for anything else from those girls,” Rodriguez said.
If the Lady Eagles are going to improve on last year’s record, they will have to continue to be a scrappy team with a big heart and will have to utilize what height they have.
Junior Elisha Mitchell is the team’s tallest player at 5-11. She’s a strong hitter out of the middle, Rodriguez said, and a good blocker. Mitchell will share middle-blocking duties with two sophomores — 5-foot-9-inch Savanna Rodriguez and 5-foot-10-inch Aliza McDuffie.
Outside hitters include Elisa Wader, one of three seniors on the team, and juniors Lisa Benavidez and Theresa Swann.
Swann’s strength is as a blocker, Rodriguez said, and Wader is the team’s most solid and consistent hitter. The coach said Benavidez has looked impressive in the first weeks of practice. “Lisa’s really swinging away. When she develops some more consistency, that I think will come with maturity, she will be awesome,” she said.
Teresa “Tess” Armijo is one of the team’s best outside hitters, Rodriguez said, but will primarily be used as a setter, opposite fellow-senior Navora Cordova.
“They both can set the ball real well,” the coach said of her setting cadre. “Navora has a little bit more experience setting because she set for her JV team. Tess is an excellent outside hitter. She’s real smart on the court and has the most varsity experience. We’ll use her as a setter, but there will probably be times when we play her on the outside and go 5-1 (offense), with Navora setting.”
The season begins for the Lady Eagles when they host the Belen Invitational Aug. 30-31. Rodriguez said she’ll start the season with eight players on the varsity roster.
“We’ll start with eight, but we’re looking to swing (junior) Monica Garcia, to come up from JV to play some defense for us in the back row, and (freshmen) Keitta Torres, who is very athletic and can really jump and get over the net. But the girls are playing for positions every day in practice,” she said.
Seven of the eight varsity players attended a camp at the University of California-Long Beach earlier this month. Long Beach is one of the top college programs in the country. Rodriguez said going to the camp was a good experience for her girls because they got a glimpse of how volleyball is played at a high level.
The camp was also beneficial because it gave the girls an opportunity to sharpen their individual skills before they started practicing as a team.
An added benefit, the coach said, was that the girls had a chance to go to the beach and visit Catalina Island.
“If nothing else, it was good bonding time,” she said. “They had a lot of time together, which was really good.”