Looking to his team to help him shoulder the leadership load this fall, an on-the-mend Thad Cano couldn’t help but beam as he kicked back courtside Wednesday afternoon before a spirited afternoon practice.
Allowing the Ignacio High School volleyball team to pretty much compose their own rules and code of conduct – excluding three non-debatable items mandated by Cano – for 2019, the eighth-year varsity skipper exuded confidence his crew will become tighter-knit through such self-accountability, be able to bounce ideas off their commander-in-chief and his assistants, and ultimately perform at a level befitting their talent.
“If I had to compare team ability over the years, the last team that’s this amazing was the 2015 team,” he recalled. “We would have gone to state, but we had two injuries – a sprained ankle, concussion – and we still almost squeaked by. This year, I do see this team making it all the way.”
Makayla Howell, one of only two seniors on the team along with Bella Pena, said tryouts were tough this year.
“We have a pretty solid group of girls for this program,” she said. “Everyone’s really committed and really wants to play volleyball. I think it’ll be a good year.”
2018 ended with Ignacio standing 8-15 overall, a result closely mirroring 2017’s 9-14 mark and 2016’s 7-14, as IHS again sought to replicate 2015’s 15-9 performance, which ended up one win short (Paonia eliminated the Bobats 25-21, 25-20, 25-21 in the Region G Tournament) of a trip to the Denver Coliseum and the CHSAA Class 2A State Championships.
All told, the ever-positive Cano – admittedly curious to see just how in-depth recent scalpel work beneath bandages guarding his right rotator cuff actually is – will begin 2019 standing 63-94 overall since succeeding Bayli Stillwell in 2012 but with a capable core upon which to build despite the graduation of 10 seniors back in May.
Along with Howell, a Second Team All-San Juan Basin League pick last season, Pena and sophomore Alexis Pontine, the returning talent pool includes junior setter Marisa Carmenoros and classmates Ebonee Gomez (Honorable Mention All-SJBL), Charlize Valdez and Jayden Brunson, meaning court speed won’t be lacking. Fellow junior Shelcie Gosney should again help Howell in keeping foes honest at the net, along with emerging versatile sophomore Lexy Young.
“We’re all pretty hyped and ready to just start the season,” Pontine said. “I think, so far, we have a really good team dynamic. We’re working really good together and I’m really excited. I think we have a really good chance at state.”
Last season’s C-team MVP, Jazmin Carmenoros, could also find herself called up her junior year as a depth-providing swing player, as could many others.
“Reviewing stats from tryouts, we’ll probably take one more day to really evaluate our JV and C teams,” said Cano, asked when he might name a varsity roster. “So, we should have everybody announced, the whole program announced, by late Friday or early Monday morning.
“The athletic ability that we have this year is amazing. So, no newly-needed work there. We’ll work hard on the mental component and players buying in. Not only at the varsity level but from the C-team up, we’re really working on players having a say in how the program’s run. And the energy level speaks for itself.”
After a summer itinerary including team camps at Adams State University in Alamosa and Fort Lewis College in Durango, where Cano noted IHS scored wins over both 4A Durango and 5A Piedra Vista of Farmington, plus a trip to 2A Hoehne’s camp, the Bobcats will conclude their preseason Aug. 24 in Pagosa Springs at the Pirate 4 Corners Scrimmages.
“People haven’t seen, except for the Fort Lewis experience, the caliber of athletes, the performance of these young ladies,” said Cano. “A little bit of fine-tuning, and on the 24th they’ll see what we have. Going forth, definitely we’ll be a force to be reckoned with.”
Also highlighting the schedule are a Sept. 26 test at 3A Pagosa Springs, a journey to the Sept. 28 Simla Invitational, an Oct. 22 visit from SJBL nemesis Dolores, and an Oct. 29 home finale versus 3A Montezuma-Cortez preceding a trip to the Nov. 1-2 Rye Invite and conclusion of regular-season action.
“I’m going to go hard this year,” said Howell. “I go hard every year, but this is my senior year, so I’m really excited. I’ve seen a lot of hard work, and everyone has a really good attitude. So, I think we’re ready to play with whoever we have to.”