All season long, it’s been one thing after another for Roswell and head volleyball coach Heather Baca. First, she was told that instead of competing against the likes of Goddard, Lovington, and Artesia, this season the Lady Coyotes would have to compete with the big dogs in district 5A: Hobbs, Clovis, and Carlsbad, thanks to reclassification.
What Roswell accomplished is amazing in that they are competing with schools that have double the number of students that Roswell has, plus more athletes to choose from than Roswell. Baca feels like there are nine great teams in 5A and she tries to prepare her team to compete against them every practice.
If that wasn’t enough the team had injuries and had some struggles, and looked like they would finish in last place, if they would finish the season at all. After starting the season 2-4 and losing the Zia Classic Tournament all bets were off as to what direction the team or season would go. Roswell was not playing well and Baca could have lost the team had she not stayed calm and stayed the course of teaching her core values to her team.
The team lost both of their stating middles and never got them back. They had some injuries early in the season, changes in the lineup, but Baca and her assistant coaches worked tirelessly as a staff to keep her team focused on the goals and the characteristics that she was trying to reinforce in the program.
“We kept reinforcing a message,” Baca said, “Hey that we have to persevere and that things will come together and they have. I think the kids are starting to see that and it’s the right time for the kids to see that. You just keep moving forward and doing the next right thing and that’s what we’ve been encouraging our kids through all of it. “
For all of her hard work and holding it together this season, Baca was recognized as the 5A Coach of the Year. The first of her career. Baca didn’t feel like there was any major game or practice that turned their season around — she thought the more the team played together, the better and more comfortable they became with each other and gradually began to trust each other and work as a team.
“Those accolades are nice,” Baca said, “but what you want to see as a coach is your kids competing at the highest level. I want to see growth from them as the season goes along and that they are competing at a higher level at the end of the year than at the beginning of the year.”
Somehow, something clicked with the victory over Lovington as the team went and won seven games out of nine and went 5-1 in district play to force a playoff game against Hobbs on Monday night. In their title matchup, it was very simple if Roswell hoped to punch their ticket to the state tournament and not leave it up to the committee, or chance they would have to defeat Hobbs in a one-match winner take all on a neutral site. What more could they ask for, right?
“Coach Baca is very deserving of being Coach of the Year in our District,” Hobbs coach Stacy Williams said. “She (Baca) is highly respected as a volleyball coach in the state. She does great not only coaching but instilling great character in her athletes. Congratulations to her and there Roswell Coyotes on a District Championship.”
On Monday, both teams wasted no time in delivering key shots during the game as Hobbs’ rushed out to a 25-23 lead in the first match. In the second match, the Lady Coyotes reversed the score and won, 25-23. In the third match, Roswell was slow starting and lost steam to lose the game 25-22.
“There were many moments against Hobbs,” Baca said, “that we’ve had to take a timeout and refocus, and persevere. What I’m most proud of about our team is they don’t quit, they could be down by 10 points and come back, beat their opponent. They’re (Lady Coyotes) are not going to give up and they’re going to fight for every point. My team turns the page quickly and moves on to do the next right thing, my kids are fighters.”
In the fourth game and playing for their district and state championship lives, the Lady Coyotes have done what they have all season — leaned on one another and dug deep to pull out a 25-18 win. In the fifth and final game of the match, as coach Baca has tried to instill in her team to be the first to five and then the first to 10 points. They ended up getting stops and digs from everyone on the team as they closed out Hobbs 15-10 to win the regular district title and to advance to the state playoffs.
“Our game plan was to play the very best volleyball we could,” Baca said. “We wanted to make sure that we insured our spot in the state tournament and we knew if we didn’t win the district that we’d only have one last-ditch effort to make it to state and that would be to win the district tournament. We just didn’t want to leave it up to fate or the criteria points. We just wanted to make sure we had an opportunity to go to state this year and winning the district championship ensures that.”
Baca credits the growth of her seniors as the season has gone on, which has spread through to the rest of the team.
This the third time Roswell coach Baca has won a regular season district title.
“I’ve known Heather (Baca) for a long time,” Clovis volleyball coach Ruth Chavez said. “First of all, she is a wonderful person whom I have great respect for. I always say that when you play Heather’s teams, they will be well-coached, well-disciplined and always tough to beat. They’re always strong defensively, so you have to prepare for the fact that they will get the ball back up so you can’t get frustrated. What a great honor for a great coach!”
Roswell will play 6:30 p.m Saturday at the Coywote Den.