Longtime Pueblo West High School volleyball coach Casey King has a weird, if not warped, sense of humor.
The West volleyball team’s 2014 motto certainly attests to that.
“Our motto is ‘suck less, be awesome,’” King said with a chuckle. “Some are offended by it, but it makes us laugh and relax. We know what it means and it gives the girls something to grasp onto.”
Relaxation, humor, and hard work are certainly hallmarks of the 2014 Cyclone volleyball squad and the team will certainly have to draw on that if it is to win its fourth straight South Central League championship this season. The team certainly isn’t shying away from the target painted squarely on its backs.
“To get to where we want to go, which is to play for a state championship,” King said, “we need to take that challenge head on.”
As West shoots for its lofty goals, it must first get past a gauntlet to start the season.
Starting with the best, the Cyclones challenge defending state champ Lewis-Palmer in Monument right out of the gate on Aug. 28.
It follows up with 2012 state champ Cheyenne Mountain, then returns to Lewis-Palmer for a tournament Sept. 6 where it could feasibly find itself playing the defending state champions yet again.
Those barometer matches will tell a great deal about this West team, which is opening the season with a state ranking of 8th and looking to advance to pool play (the state’s final eight) for the first time in school history.
“We haven’t been tested like we are going to be tested this year,” King said of the schedule. “It’s incredibly difficult, but we are excited for the challenge. This group has played more volleyball than most girls their age and they are a hard-nosed, experienced group with a strong core.”
The strong core is most certainly centered on its back row, which is the motor that makes the whole machine run. Despite the loss of libero Taylor Gaide, who was arguably the top libero in all of 4A last season, King said his back row defense as well as his setters are highly talented.
“This is the strongest core of passers I’ve ever had,” said King, who has coached the Cyclones since 1997, only taking a 5-year break from 2008-12.
Coming in at libero is senior Jayde Vujcich, who boasted the most digs of any returner and, like Gaide, is an athletic presence in the back row with a nose for the ball.
“We call her ‘The Ninja,’” King said. “She is so athletic back there. I think she’ll be fine holding down the position.”
After losing setter Alee Quint to graduation, West will be sending a rotation of three capable setters. Junior Brittany Quint and sophomore Brittney Schlup will lead the trio, trailed by freshman MaLeigha Menegatti. The three-headed monster at setter is not because of weakness at the position, but more that all three are capable of starting and leading the squad, King said.
On the front row, West can be solid at worst and great at best. All-state selection Matti Dabovich returns for her senior campaign, taking up the outside hitter role and looking to duplicate a season that saw her hit .375 with 390 total kills, averaging a team-best 4.3 kills per set.
She will be joined by middle blocker Allegra Shippy, who is also a senior and brings height, experience and accuracy to the middle. Her .409 hit percentage a year ago was the team’s best.
The Cyclone attack is rounded out by juniors Ariana Alberici and Autumn West.
King said that this cast will help keep West competitive with any team, which is vital when taking on state championship-caliber teams.
“Because of our defense and passing, we could stay with any team,” King said. “We are mentally strong and it’s a tribute to the hard-nosed players we have on this team.”
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