Espanola Volleyball Wants A Better Ending

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 Espanola valley volleyball coach Damon Salazar is beginning his 11th season with the Lady Sundevils. Espanola is looking to bounce back from a disappointing 7-12 season and return to the State volleyball tournament.

Espanola Volleyball Wants Better Ending

It was not your typical ending to the season for last year’s Espanola Valley High School volleyball team. After five years of advancing to the State volleyball tournament, the Lady Sundevils sat at home last year during the tournament. Espanola finished just 7-12 on the season and 3-5 in District 2-5A. Towards the end of the season, Espanola played like all the players were not on the same page.

“We’re working super hard not to have the same year as last year,” senior Chloe Fell said. “Nobody wants to feel that way anymore.”

Fell was nursing a bad back Aug. 13 and not participating in practice. She is going to be one of Espanola’s outside hitters.

“We never really worked as a team,” Fell said. “This season, we bond well. We all just connect together.”

The other outside hitter will be junior Dulce Maldonado. Likely the Sundevils’ most powerful hitter, she never quite reached her potential last season. She has been working hard during the summer to improve her overall game. At 5 feet, 10 inches, she has the height to be a dominating hitter.

“I’m so excited this season,” Maldonado said. “The vibe is different. I’m so excited to see what’s in store for us.”

Maldonado’s potential as a hitter has always been there. Her improvement has come in the other aspects of her game.

”I’ve really been working hard on my defense this summer,” she said. “I’m getting to  some balls I wasn’t getting to last season.” 

​Junior Dulce Maldonado is one of Espanola's best hitters and has been working to improve her defense.

Maldonado is maturing as a hitter, realizing it’s not just about hitting the ball hard.

“It’s better to be smart,” Maldonado said. “Instead of just crushing the ball, seeing what’s open on the court. My libero helps me out a lot.”

Senior Meranda Romero is Espanola’s libero, a defensive specialist who can freely substitute throughout the game. She cannot hit from the front row, but can hit from the back row if needed. She also watches the court to see where the holes on the defense are and passes that along to the hitters.

“We have great seniors and we want to make this year count,” Romero said. “We’re just super close. It’s my job to hype the team up and give them confidence. If we lose a point, focus on the next point and get a side out right away.”

The libero has to be the team’s best passer. A well-run offense always starts with a good pass.

“They count on me to get the ball where it needs to go,” Romero said.

Seeing her first full season of action on the varsity will be senior Izabel Sena, who saw a lot of action on the junior varsity. Sena will be one of Espanola’s two setters in Coach Damon Salazar’s 6-2 offense.

“Anita is very creative and has good instincts,” Coach Salazar said. “Izabel has great hands. She needs to develop her confidence.”

Sena also has the height to contribute as a blocker and hit from the right side. Setters are the ones who give the hitters the opportunity for kills.

‘I’ve been working all summer to develop better skills,” Sena said. “Anita’s (DeAguero) helping me. She makes me a better player.”

DeAguero is just a sophomore, but has seen varsity time since the eighth grade and has the most experience setting for the varsity.

“It’s my job to give the hitter a consistent ball all the time,” she said.

DeAguero spends time on the bench because she doesn’t have the height (4 feet, 11 inches) to block at the net. She doesn’t let that time go to waste.

“I can watch the game and see what’s going on,” DeAguero said. “See what the other team is doing. See the open areas on the court.”

​Sophomore Anita DeAguero (left) will be one of the setters in Espanola's 6-2 offense

The Sundevils will have two younger players at middle blocker in sophomore Kianna Duran and freshman Roxanne DeLeon. Duran developed quickly last year as a freshman.

“We might be a little bit better blocking team than last year,” Coach Salazar said. “We’re working on Roxanne’s arm swing.”

Coach Salazar enters his 11th season with the Sundevils. He survived having to reapply for the job this spring. He has had three children compete for Espanola, including volleyball players Kristi Salazar and Karli Salazar. Son Sean Salazar played baseball and football for Espanola. His dedication to Espanola and its volleyball program is without question.

“We have three really good players,” Coach Salazar said. “Dulce this summer was probably our best hitter and her defense is much improved. Meranda one of the better liberos in the state. With Chloe, we’re one of the better passing teams.”

Regina Rodella, Danielle Kaye, Dominique Archuleta and Jasmine Baca will also see action, with Baca possibly hitting from the right side.

“Overall, we’re solid,” Coach Salazar said. “We run very competitive practices. We need to be good passers if we are going to reach our potential. Consistency is what we need to work on. I’d give us a B+ to an A-.”

Espanola will host a volleyball jamboree Aug. 25 with many of the local teams competing. The Sundevils will open their season Sept. 7 at the Piedra Vista High School tournament in Farmington. Their home opener is Sept. 11 against Belen High School. Espanola will compete in District 2-4A against Los Alamos High School, Moriarty High School, Taos High School and local rival Pojoaque Valley High School.