If Tuesday’s season opener was any indication, the Durango High School volleyball team could be poised for its best season in recent memory.
Aside from the second set in the opener against Monticello, Utah, the Demons played a sharp, clean game and rolled past the Buckaroos 25-23, 21-25, 25-19 and 25-18.
In the second set, the Demons lost the clean passing and accurate hitting that pushed them to victory in the first set, when they rode a wave of energy from their home fans.
“We’ve never had a crowd that big since I’ve been at the high school. Coming out to that big of a crowd, we were super pumped and we played really well,” senior setter Brianna Brown said. “In the second set, the crowd kind of died down and that’s when we lost the momentum.”
Everyone got in on the action for Durango (1-0). The back row made diving digs to keep rallies going while the front row provided hammering kills to ignite the crowd and silence the Buckaroos (4-4). Standing out among the Demons was sophomore libero Millie O’Ketter, who was playing in her first varsity match.
“She’s definitely a game changer for us,” Durango head coach Colleen Vogt said of O’Ketter. “She’s very mature in the game of volleyball and knows where to be. ... She doesn’t play like a sophomore.”
The Demons lost eight seniors from last year’s team, but again fields a team filled with upperclassmen – five seniors and five juniors – and returned some of its top players from 2016.
Back to command the front row are seniors Lana Razma and Ally Snow, last season’s top hitters who were top two on the team in kills with 196 and 145 kills, respectively. There to help them on to an even better season is fellow senior Brianna Brown, who led the Demons with 418 assists in 2016.
“The chemistry between a setter and a hitter is probably the most important on the entire team. You could see it was working, especially with the quicker sets,” Razma said.
Ready to make an impact and take some of the pressure off Razma and Snow on the front row are junior middle blockers Sierra Martin and Taylor Wolf. The size of the two juniors alone – Martin is 5-foot-11 while Wolf is listed at 6-foot-2 – should be enough to make opposing teams pay attention.
“Taylor and Sierra are great in the middle and we’re happy to have them – especially as juniors,” Vogt said. “We feel like they have a learning curve, but they’ve already improved so much. We just tell them to be explosive and be available every time. They’re making great strides every day at practice.”
The biggest question for Durango this season is how quickly the returning varsity players can mesh with the newcomers.
Brown and Razma said getting the new varsity players ready for the speed and intensity of the varsity game, and getting them used to the returning varsity players’ style are two of their biggest focuses moving into the season. Fortunately, the Demons will have more than a week to get ready for their next match when they host Montezuma-Cortez on Sept. 7.
“Varsity is a different battle from (junior varsity). I think we’ve showed them that in practice,” Razma said. “We’re pushing them in practice, Colleen is pushing them in practice, probably more than they ever have in volleyball, and they’re doing amazing on the court.”