Editor's note: The Durango Herald will run season previews before each fall sports teams' home openers.
The Wolverines want to play.
Man, do they want to play.
The Bayfield High School volleyball team, after a summer of tournaments, camps and more tournaments, is eager to play ... for real.
The Wolverines serve up the first match of the new high school season against Mancos on Thursday evening at the BHS gymnasium.
Varsity match time is 6 p.m. - or earlier, if the junior varsity and freshman matches finish early, which they often did last season.
"It's a different mentality with these kids," head coach Kelley Rifilato said.
"They just want to play."
She said after a successful summer when they played numerous Class 5A and 4A schools, the Wolverines don't care about the size of the opponent's school or the size of the opponent's front line.
"We're not big. We don't have big girls. But our girls don't care how big they (opponents) are. They just want to play."
Last summer, the Wolverines challenged the likes of Class 5A power Fort Collins, 5A Ponderosa, 5A Columbine, 4A Roosevelt and New Mexico stalwarts such as La Cueva (Albuquerque) and Rio Rancho.
Bayfield beat La Cueva and split with Rio Rancho. It beat Columbine. It nearly beat Fort Collins.
Rifilato said BHS features a bundle of athletic players who are ultra-competitive.
"These kids are great track athletes. They're good basketball players. They're good soccer players," Rifilato said. "They're all driven kids."
She left out the volleyball part.
But that's obvious after a 27-4 record last year and a returning core of players including three all-conference picks from a year ago: senior Gabriella Rifilato, senior Shelby Williamson and sophomore Katherine Rifilato.
Gabriella Rifilato was the Intermountain League player of the year last season when the Wolverines won the conference title and advanced to the state playoffs.
"The speed ... the speed on defense showed in the summer," coach Rifilato said.
Gabriella Rifilato will handle most of the setting duties again this season. She'll have sister Katherine Rifilato to hammer away on one side.
Mikayla Moss returns with experience. After a ton of defensive duties last year, she'll be one of the outside hitters for the BHS multiple offense this year.
Williamson returns as the team's starting libero.
Laurel McCormick also is back from a year ago.
They'll be joined by Brianna Cox, Caitlin Simbeck, Jacey Sirios and Sierra Aten - all athletic in terms of jumping, running and quickness, coach Rifilato said.
Jen Phelps - a freshman - will handle duties in the middle.
"She's a very athletic kid. She's adapting very well to the pace of the game," coach Rifilato said.
Last year, the Wolverines used a freshman outside hitter (Katherine Rifilato), which helped make this year's transition with yet another freshman front-liner a bit easier, the BHS coach said.
Depth and versatility also will help this year, she said.
"All of our hitters are so different, it creates a little havoc," coach Rifilato said, reinforcing the team's focus from last year on serving and defense.
"We want to serve tough," she said.
A flurry of jump serves and other tough-to-return offerings helped the Wolverines power through the IML last year.
"We definitely want to serve tough.
"I think they had a true test this summer," coach Rifilato said. "The commitment level with four team camps was there.
"This group of kids loves it," she said.
Coach Rifilato said the Wolverines also are excited about playing in two college venues this season.
They'll play Alamosa at Adams State College right before an Adams State-Western State volleyball match.
They'll also play Ignacio in a special Four Corners Pink Digs cancer benefit match at Fort Lewis College before the Skyhawks' Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference match against Nebraska-Kearney.