For three of the last four years, the Bronco volleyball team won the Region V tournament, qualifying the team for a berth at the NJCAA nationals. To repeat that achievement is a goal that coach Shelby Forchtner wants paramount in her players’ minds.
“Every year, no matter what, our thought process is to win a conference championship, to win the regional tournament andto be the representation for the national tournament. Even my first year when we were five and whatever, that was our goal going into the next year. So it’s big for us to instill that in our kids’ minds,” she said.
And with a solid core of returners and a strong freshman class, that goal is equally doable in 2017.
“We’re pretty excited about this year,” the coach said. “We have six kids returning; a transfer coming in from New Mexico State; and then 10 freshmen who are kind of rounding out our class. So we’re pretty deep in every position, and our practices look pretty good because of it.
McKayla Landreth, a 6-foot middle from Summerville, S.C., is one of those returners. She was ranked No. 4 in the nation in blocking last season and is be back to continue that effort this year.
Mirna Kovačević, a 6-2 setter from from Serbia, didn’t get a lot of playing time at the beginning of the season last year, but proved herself towards the end and worked hard in the off season.
“She did a really good job when we were playing UTEP and New Mexico State,” Forchtner said. “She finally came around and was doing a lot of good things right before she left for the break in May.”
Gali Sanchez, a 5-9 middle from Roswell High, and 6-2 Hannah Davis, an outside hitter from Utah, also saw action last year.
“Both can play in several different slots: they’ve been on the outside, middle, right side,” the coach said.
Rounding out the returners is 5-8 outside hitter Vasiti Baleilomaloma from Fiji.
“She’s swinging on the outside and doing some really good things as well,” the coach said. “That class of kids, they’re athletic and they know the system well.”
The seventh sophomore is Briana Bustillos, a 5-5 libero/defensive specialist from Gadsden, who spent her freshman season at New Mexico State.
“Having a transfer coming in just kind of helps round out that class,” the coach said.
Then there’s the 10 freshmen, who Forchtner is equally excited about.
Kim Trauboth, a 5-8 outside hitter from Germany “is doing a really good job,” the coach said. “She’s very smart. She’s a very good six-rotation player.”
Karen Paola Rivera-Herrera is a 5-8 setter/outside hitter from Mexico.
“She is doing really good things in our gym right now as a freshman,” Forchtner said. “Then we’ve got a few other key kids. Maria (Morris, 5-10, OH) from Las Vegas, Nev., is kind of swinging in all three slots. Megan (Martinez, 6-0) from El Paso and Beki (Eaton, 5-10) from Florida are both middles. Then we’ve got some really good defenders, a kid from Vegas, Karime (Raygoza, 5-6, OH/L); a prep for the West Point Academy, Valentina (Vincent, 5-6, DS/L), and a New Mexico kid, Lexi (Jackson, 5-3, DS/L), who are all rounding out the defensive positions. So there are a lot of good things going on in that class.”
The final freshman in the mix is Agape Maufa from American Samoa, who, the coach said, has a a big, heavy arm. “She’s constantly trying to take out people’s heads, which is fun to watch,” laughed coach Fortchner.
As has been the case for 10 years, the Broncos open the season at home, hosting the NMMI Classic Aug.25-26. There will be two teams from the Western Junior College Athletic Conference: NMMI and Odessa; Hutchinson, Garden City and Seward County, from the Jayhawk Conference; and Eastern Arizona, South Mountain, Pima from the Arizona Community College Athletic Conference.
Forchtner is expecting some good competition. “To start off the season it’s always a really competitive environment, just to see where you’re at,” she said. “You get to play good teams and some of these teams we won’t face again, so it’s nice to start off in a strong environment and see where your team is.”
After that, the Broncos spend all their non-conference time at tournaments on the road, traveling to Prescott, Ariz.; Odessa, Texas; Las Vegas, Nev.; Hutchinson, Kans; Tyler, Texas; and Pasadena, Texas.
“I think last year was our most competitive schedule that we’ve played to date, since I’ve been here, and this year it’s very similar,” Forchtner said. “So I’m pretty excited to get to Vegas and Tyler and Hutch. I know there’s going to be nationally ranked teams in all those places, and we’re set to play them. So that’s exciting for us.”
And then there’s the Western Junior College Athletic Conference, which is never easy, with perennial powerhouses such as Odessa, Midland and, of course, the Broncos, all vying for the conference title and beyond.
“We’re definitely looking forward to pretty much all the places we’re going to go, just because we have a good schedule set up to play competitively the whole year.”
Coach Fortchner hopes that tough schedule will help out her squad when the Region V West Postseason Tournament rolls around, held this year in Odessa, TX on Nov. 3-4. If the Broncos can win that – as they did last year – they’ll earn another automatic bid to the NJCAA National Championships.