Josie Adams is the head coach of the Santa Fe High volleyball team, but she made it clear who is driving the bus this year.
That task will fall to the Demonettes. With a lineup that is upperclassmen-heavy (11 of the 13 varsity players are juniors or seniors) and in their second year under Adams’ guidance, she feels they can take the reins and guide the team for the 2019 season.
“We’ve just backed off and let them talk it out,” Adams said. “In that huddle [during matches], just let them talk. Let them figure it out. We did that a lot over the summer. We did that at [the University of Texas-El Paso camp]. We did that at the New Mexico Games.”
The strategy was productive, as Santa Fe High finished second at the UTEP camp and won the New Mexico Games tournament in July. The progress the Demonettes have made from last year is noticeable, and the players are feeding off their gains.
Last year, the Demonettes made it to the Class 5A State Tournament for the first time since 2005 (they reached the 4A state tournament in 2012 when the team was in the next largest classification) and reached the quarterfinals. The goal this season is to go even farther — perhaps to the final Saturday of the season in mid-November — but to get there, the captains understand that they have to win the day in front of them.
“That experience made us value the game individually on its own,” senior captain Salome Romp said. “It pushes ourselves to make each game be the most intense and toughest game — like it’s the biggest game of the year.”
That sense of urgency was lacking at times last year. Some of it was the changing of the guard from former head coach Sam Estrada to Adams, but another important facet that Adams wanted to change was the culture. Far too often, it seemed like the Demonettes played well in spates, but the consistency was lacking. It led to great performances in one game, then a letdown in the next.
Those stretches were far fewer last year, but the moments when they appeared came at key times, like in Game 1 of the 5A quarterfinal against Las Cruces. Santa Fe High battled the third-seeded Lady Bulldogs to a 22-all tie, but the defense crumbled a bit as Las Cruces scored the last three points and went on to sweep the match.
While that demonstrated that the Demonettes had shortened the runs opponents made on them, it also showed that they needed to learn how to keep momentum. Adams and her coaching staff admitted that one area the team needed to improve was conditioning.
“We’ve set the bar high, so high, as far as work ethic,” Adams said. “We’re getting girls who want to do that. It is showing up as far as who’s coming out. We had a pretty tough summer that was pretty rigorous. These girls ran six miles a week, and they probably ran more than that with the drills we did.”
The offseason also saw Santa Fe High recommit itself to improving passing and serving skills. Adams said she didn’t let the players work on other areas until late in the summer because she wanted to dedicate more time to fundamentals. When the training wheels finally came off, practices and matches ran much more smoothly.
That was especially true of the play in the middle. The trio of Ainsley Reynolds-Smith, Jorja Chambers and Leila Pierpoint provide power on the offensive side as well as an effective wall that takes some of the pressure off the back row to dig hits.
“The middles as a group have been working real hard this summer,” Reynolds-Smith said. “Especially with Courtney [Overbrook, the senior setter], making sure our touches are good and everything is consistent.”
The key to all of that, though, is the chemistry the team has developed in the offseason and the leadership of Romp, Overbrook and Reynolds-Smith, the team captains. Romp said the lines of communication are wide open and constructive criticism offered to each other is taken with the understanding that it is meant to help everyone get better. It’s an element that has been a missing ingredient to building a strong program.
“It is 100 percent better,” Overbrook said.
“Last year, we had a great team, don’t get me wrong,” Romp said. “This year, everyone is close, we’re focused and we’re there for each other. This is our a second family.”
And just like any good family, sometimes it’s best to let members talk things out.