FARMINGTON — The Gallup High School volleyball team not only went unbeaten in District 1-4A competition last year, it lost only one game in the 10 matches against its district rivals.
With a mark of 30 games to one last season, the Bengals easily won the district title and also earned a four seed in the state volleyball tournament, winning 18 matches in the regular season.
Gallup will be seeking its third straight district title when the prep volleyball season opens later this week across the state of New Mexico. The Bengals will kick off their campaign on Saturday, Aug. 27 on the road against Valencia, while local district rivals like Bloomfield, Kirtland Central, Shiprock and Aztec will get a slight headstart on the season.
For the Lady Broncos, the approach to this season will be to get off to a fast start under head coach Nadia Begay-Watson, who's hoping to see her team make the postseason for a second straight year.
"We need to do more of the little things early on," said Begay-Watson just a few days ahead of their season opener, on the road on Thursday at Navajo Prep.
The Lady Broncos finished 13-10 last year in the regular season, with a 7-3 mark in the district, which earned them a spot in the Class 4A state tournament before being eliminated in a play-in match by Pojoaque Valley. They'll be bringing back a number of key starters from last season in hopes of closing the gap on Gallup.
Senior Don'Alyssa White-David and junior Emilia Clani will be two of those returnees this season that Begay-Watson will be relying on to set the tone.
"We've got quite a few solid players returning this season," Begay said. "(White-David) has looked really good in our most recent practices and we're counting on her to be a big part of our success. (Clani) will need to step up big time for us."
There are also some new starters on the team who are expected to do their share of replacing the likes of Adriona Nargo and Andrea Thomas, who graduated over the summer.
Damara Cowboy is expected to be a big contributor for the Broncos as well, with her, Clani and Shayonna Prettyboy doing their part at the setter position.
Begay-Watson, in addition to Bloomfield head coach Sunni Corley, was happy to see the resurgence in numbers of those trying out for the team over the summer.
"We had quite a bit of kids trying out, with more than 50 players coming out," Begay said. "I don't know if that was just because of coming out of the pandemic last year, but we got to see a lot of new faces and that made it difficult to make cuts."
Corley, who is entering her seventh season as Bloomfield head coach, was excited to see the participation over the summer for incoming freshmen and younger students taking part in camps and tryouts.
"Things just dropped off there for a couple of years, but now we're seeing those kids coming back and that's so good to see," Corley said. "Not only is it important for this year, but for the future of the program."
The Lady Bobcats, who finished last season with a record of 10-11 (5-5 District) will be hoping for some more stability from their returning starters as well as a group of newcomers to the roster.
"We didn't play with a lot of consistency last year," Corley said. "And that's a big deal in our district, because you can't really get behind against those teams."
Gone from this season's roster are graduates like Samantha Overson, who led the Bobcats with 137 kills and more than 100 assists. Corley is confident that some of new her newer faces and returning starters will step up to the challenge this season, which gets underway on Tuesday, Aug. 23 on the road against Ramah.
Seniors Amia Goins and Gerilynn Delagarito are likely to be the top returning starters for the Bobcats, according to Corley.
"They've both played multiple years for me," Corley said. "And they've both been very strong, consistent, confident players and really good role models for the newcomers coming up."
Corley said the most exciting aspect of her team this season will be in their desire to get into the action right away.
"They want to win, they want to succeed because they're all very competitive," Corley said. "Those are the things you really need coming into a new season."
Aztec's volleyball team, under head coach Anna Strauss, will be looking to rebound this season as well, coming off an 8-14 overall mark last year in which they lost eight of 10 matches in district.
Seniors Nizhoni Yellow, who led the Lady Tigers with 175 kills last season, as well as Kelila Lewis, will be called upon to turn the fortunes around this season, which begins on Tuesday, Aug. 23 at home against Crownpoint. Lewis and senior Cataya Moffett combined for more than 250 digs last season, to go along with another returning senior Beyonca Poyer, who led the team in that category with 202.
For more information on the Aztec High School volleyball team, check out their official page on MaxPreps.com.
This article originally appeared on Farmington Daily Times: Local volleyball teams prepare for tough task of chasing down Gallup