Hotchkiss head volleyball coach Peter Nethington understands that his players attend a small school of 200 students (officially 197) in rural western Colorado. "The chance that one of these players will go on to be an elite athlete is pretty small," said Nethington. "And there's nothing wrong with that." But he expects his players to work hard and support each other. "If we can go out and be the best at who we are, I can't ask for anything else from them."
Now in his second year at Hotchkiss, Nethington took the Bulldogs the farthest they'd been since 2009, posting an 11-10 record and making their first district tournament showing. At the end of the season Nethington said the team met all of its goals.
"We have a really good core group," said Nethington. "We're right at a point where I think we can move on ... and be better next year than we were this year. We want to look beyond the goals that we set and go completely higher."
It's next year, and they're off to a good start. Hotchkiss opened the season at Ouray last Thursday with a 3-1 win, with the offense completing 25 kills in 46 attacks. On Friday, they dropped the first set, 25-21, before defeating Caprock Academy, 3-1 -- 25-19, 25-16, 25-15, and without two key players.
These early-season games are "a great way to start and figure out where the team is and what they need to work on," said Nethington. While he's happy with the opening wins, he believes the team still has some growing to do. "I think we have enough talent" to improve on last season, said Nethington.
Among this year's leaders are Carson Collins, a fourth-year varsity player and middle hitter/blocker; senior middle blocker and strong outside hitter Aubree Harward; and junior right setter Elsie Vasquez.
Collins has been a team leader since her freshman year, said Nethington. "As Carson goes, everybody goes."
There are 24 players out for the team, up from last year's 16 players. The high numbers will allow Hotchkiss to field a "C" team, which it couldn't do last year. With a big class of freshmen, "we have enough people and enough disparity in skill level" to warrant a "C" team, said Nethington.
Of last year's three freshmen, one moved away and the other, 5-foot-10 Amelia Hickham, made the varsity roster. After two games she has six kills and one solo block.
Senior Ruby Shiflet returns to the court, and seniors Katie Powers and Lexi Wrich, who played as freshmen, rejoin the team.
Rounding out the junior class are Tycee Taylor, Nadia Hill, Allyson Regelman, Sidney West and Shay Glaser. With 12 upper-classmen, "there should be very little stressing about injuries or players missing games," said Nethington. " We have enough upper classmen that we can hold the team together."
Joining the coaching staff is Amy (Miller) Johnson, a 2010 graduate of HHS and Hotchkiss K-8 teacher. She was also a player on the 2009 team.
Nethington grew up playing volleyball in southern California, played at the college level, coached high school boys teams, and has traveled the world playing volleyball. He's always thinking ahead. This summer he took two teams to skills camp at Western State Colorado University. The varsity team placed fourth despite being short several players. They also took an all-freshman team. "It was a really good eye-opening experience to see the level of intensity they will need as varsity players," he said.
A team of six also competed at the annual summer tournament at Grand Valley High School. Hickham tweaked her ankle on day one, so they played two days with a five-member team, said Nethington. "I think it was good for everybody."
Hotchkiss plays at Paonia on Sept. 28, and its next home game is a Sept. 29 encounter against Meeker.