The Hotchkiss High School volleyball team has a new coach and a new outlook this season.
Taralee Williams is the new coach, coming to Hotchkiss to teach and coach volleyball after two years spent coaching in Pennsylvania.
"I applied for a teaching job, and the volleyball job was open too, and it ended up working out," Williams said after practice last Thursday. "This is where I'm meant to be. My volleyball girls are great. I feel so blessed to be out here."
A large group of girls formed varsity and junior varsity squads in the Bulldogs gym, going through vigorous hitting and passing drills then scrimmaging during a lively practice session.
"We had a good turnout of girls in the summer, working hard and weight lifting," Williams said. "A lot of our young girls are really working hard and are excited to be here. They want to get better, and as a coach I couldn't ask for anything better."
It's very early in the season, and the Bulldogs have a young squad on the floor, but they are starting to get in sync, and they love playing together. The camaraderie and positive attitude was obvious at practice.
"They're really coming together, and today we had our best practice," Williams said. "It's starting to click more. We're going to be a little young this year. We'll have at least one freshman starter. We're young but we're working hard."
Loud cheers of encouragement rang out in the gym, and the Bulldogs showed a lot of enthusiasm as they prepared for their season-opening matches in Rangely on Sept. 4-5.
"Despite their youth, it's like they've always been playing together," Williams said. "Teamwise, they're all friends on and off the court so it's really nice to see that. They are all really good to each other."
Williams said senior Gratia Fisher has been absolutely phenomenal for Hotchkiss.
"She came to work all summer long. She's an absolute leader on and off the court," Williams said. "As a coach I couldn't ask for a better senior. She knows the game and is a great player and is like the team mom, too."
With a young squad in her first year as head coach, Williams said the key will be to establish a tradition that can last beyond single seasons.
"We want to establish a winning culture and get that attitude set," Williams said. "I think we're building. We really do have a bright future here. I just want us to build and get fundamentally sound. We want to work as a team and hopefully get that volleyball sense that you can only establish by playing."
Williams said the Bulldogs have improved their passing a lot during the first days of practice and want to get their setters and hitters in sync a little better before the Rangely matches.
"I think that is going to be a big deal for us," Williams said. "Overall, I hope to see that we're playing aggressive, not playing safe. We're young, but we need to bring a more competitive edge.