|Head coach Amanda Puckett talks with her team during practice. The first year coach has a senior heavy team for her debut season. VVN/Travis Guy|
|Senior Kayter Zillmer passes the ball as her teammates see where it is going during practice. VVN/Travis Guy|
The Mingus Union volleyball team advanced to the second round of the state tournament before being eliminated by eventual winner Tuba City.
The Marauders were the only team to win a set against the state champions, which was somewhat of a consolation, according to some of the team.
"It was a little bit frustrating, at the same time, because if we could have beat them, we would have been the only team that had beat them," senior middle blocker Sarah Cochrane. "I think it definitely helped cushioned the blow, that we had at least taken a set off them."
For first-year head coach Amanda Puckett, she is not worrying about that, or the girls 14-7 2012 record. What she is concerned with is improving her team, which has included training a new setter and a summer conditioning program, and building more team chemistry, so Marauders can deliver the best product on the court.
Entering 2013, Puckett has a team full of experience. She sports nine seniors, many of whom played on varsity and traveled to the state tournament. While the seniors certainly know how each other plays and are able to work with each other, other girls on varsity are able to work right in because many of the girls played on a club team together during the off season.
"We have a really strong team," said senior libero Laura Wylie. "We have a lot of returning girls coming (back) this year, and we played club ball with a lot of them, so we have a lot of chemistry on the court still, even without our seniors."
Even though the girls already have a team chemistry, they do need to develop more. One of the main reasons that has to happen is because the Marauders are training a new setter, Aubrea Tuell, who did not play significant minutes at the setter position before this year.
"I know they had a really good setter last year that we've lost," Puckett said. "We're training a setter, who wasn't setting last year really, so we definitely have some inexperience's in some spots, but I think the team chemistry is what will probably carry us pretty far."
The experience has helped the team fill the spots vacated by 2012's seniors, and according to Wylie, Tuell is coming along at setter and so is the team's development around her.
"We just need good chemistry on the court," Wylie said. "We have a new setter (Aubrey Tuell), so that means she needs to create new chemistry with her hitters, but its coming along well."
With a new coach in Puckett, the team went about their summer training program in a different way than before. Puckett held open gym during the month of June and followed that up with a new conditioning program in July. The conditioning focused making sure the girls were in shape come try outs, and improving their vertical leap. Puckett did this with running drills, working on leg strength and plyometrics.
"I had a lot of my older girls come to conditioning, open gyms, and the more they're together, the more they're able to connect with each other," Puckett said. "They played club together, most of them did, so I think that they've been together a long time, so they definitely have that good chemistry, and I've seen it grow already, especially with me too. Building the relationships with them is most important for me."
The conditioning program has been an good for the Marauders, who are "a lot farther than people thought we were going to be," said Puckett.
"It was hard, but it definitely helped a lot. It was definitely worth it. It's paying off," Cochrance said.
While there was a large presence form the experienced players at the summer workouts, this was a new experience for them. Puckett said that she was told the team was not forced to do conditioning during the summer in previous years. The players would come to try outs and then as the preseason progressed, they would get into shape. The first year coach wanted to be able to focus on the game at the beginning of the season, which made the conditioning program so important to her.
"From what I've been told, in the past, they weren't really forced to do conditioning, it was just, you come to try-outs, hopefully you're in shape (or) you get in shape during try-outs," Puckett said. "My goal was to get them fit already, before we start, so I don't have to build on that during the season, that they're already up to where they should be when they get started. So we did a lot of plyometrics and conditioning, running drills, that kind of thing, working on leg strength (and) shoulder strength. We did open gyms in June, and then it was conditioning in July, and I focused on a lot of jumping for sure, plyometrics and shoulders."
To make sure everyone that would be on varsity was on the same level, Puckett had the girls do a mile run test and, "shuttle runs and sprint tests they had to pass, and those that came to conditioning passed their tests, those who didn't, didn't."
The improvements made during the summer are evident to Cochrane, who said that she believes everyone stepped up and made sure they would be ready for the upcoming season, "because it's our senior year, so we want it to be our best season."
The Marauders will be playing many teams that they have not before, so some of their upcoming matches are a bit of an unknown to them. Despite this, Wylie and Coachrane agreed that matches against Sedona and Prescott are circled on the calendar.
"We're playing a lot of new teams this year, so I'm not totally familiar, but it would have to be either Sedona or Prescott. Prescott because they've always been, not a rival of ours, but something we've always looked up to, because they're very talented," Cochrane said. "And then Sedona because, its Sedona. We're pretty much rivals, so its always fun to beat them."
For Puckett, she is not familiar with any of the teams they will be playing, only knowing what her team has told her, so she said that she is looking forward to all of the matches. She added that since she is not familiar with any of the teams, that gives her the chance to worry about her team and not what the other team will be trying to do.
"I'm looking forward to all the matches," Puckett said. "I don't have anything set aside to focus on one team over the other, because honestly, I don't know. I don't know where these schools are, because I'm still new to the area. I think that puts me at an advantage, because I'm not overthinking things to make them overthink things. They know about it, they can tell me about it, but I'm just focusing on one game at a time."
Even though Puckett is focused on one game at a time, she believes the experience on the team will carry them far. She has "high expectations," and thinks that with a group of nine seniors, "this year could be the year for us."
Puckett is not the only one that has her sights set on an eventual state title. Wylie said that the seniors will be even more motivated to win state, since it is their final year to try and do so. Cochrance, while aiming to get to state, is also working on improving her overall game and becoming a leader on the team.
"My goal is to make sure that I push my team to their ability," Puckett said. "I want to make sure that they give me everything that they have, and if they have a little bit more, then more. I want to focus on the relationship I build with them, because I think that would make good team chemistry, which therefore I think makes winning teams, when you have good team chemistry. My focus is creating that good relationship with them and making sure that they're all doing the specifics their good at."