Tough early season awaits Mingus spikers

Mingus Union’s varsity volleyball squad will launch into the new season without the benefit of having scrimmaged any other opponents.

Tuba City, the Marauders’ lone preseason foe, backed out of a planned meeting at the last minute.

But Mingus should learn pretty quickly where it stands in the 4A ranks. The early season schedule for coach Jim Short’s troops is pretty brutal, with three of the state’s top teams appearing in the first four matches.

The Grand Canyon Region slate, which begins in mid-September, should prove tough as well, with powerful opponents like Coconino, Flagstaff and Page looming.

“We’re going in cold,” Short said. “We’re young and we’re inexperienced. We only have three girls who have any varsity experience. All the rest are just JV players. We’re going to spend the first four or five matches learning.”

The Marauders have just two seniors, Kara Clark and Sara Riley. The two players are the only ones with at least a full season of varsity experience. Short has named Clark and Riley captains for 2000.

“They are really good kids,” he said. “They work hard and I hope they can withstand the early frustrations.”

Mingus is stocked with juniors, which makes the future look promising.

Junior Jill Ferreira split time between the varsity and JV squads last year and should contribute as a setter and hitter. “We’re going to rely on her a lot,” Short said.

Fellow 11th-graders Stacia Osborne and Amber Gillies will anchor the backlines.

“They’re defensive specialists, and they play really tough in the back row,” the coach said. “They’re smart, and they like to get on the floor.”

Junior Tasha Gillies and sophomore Christie Hoover will share the setter’s duties, as will junior Angela Mier when she returns from an injury in a few weeks.

Short will turn to a sophomore to beef up the offensive attack. Krista Kessel has emerged as a top hitter in the preseason.

“She has a great vertical (leap),” Short said. “She’s going to have to learn in battle.”

Junior Nicole Kleinman will provide an intense disposition at middle hitter and blocker. Junior Julie Knight will also patrol the middle as a hitter and defensive specialist. Tiffany Peterson, another junior, has the potential to be a strong side hitter.

Though most players are new to the varsity, most are familiar with Short. The long-time Mingus Union coach has directed the freshman squad the past few years and takes over the varsity post this season from Dianna Good, who stepped down after three seasons.

Short enters his third stint as coach of the varsity Marauders. He directed the team from 1976-80 and again from 1993-96. He didn’t initially jump at the varsity opening this time, but the idea of returning to the top of the program eventually grew on him.

“I thought, ‘I have a couple more good years of coaching to go,’” he said. “So, I’m back.”

Short’s first match may be a rude awakening. Cactus, a potential state title contender, will visit Mingus Union on Tuesday afternoon. The Cobras are among the top-ranked 4A teams in the state thus far. The freshman game starts at 4 p.m., followed by the junior varsity at 5 and the varsity duel around 6.

The Marauders will visit Saguaro in Tucson on Thursday and will host Washington and Prescott next week.

“We’re trying to be as good as we can be when our region opens,” Short said. “If we can stay healthy, I think we can be competitive with anybody.”

The top three teams from the Grand Canyon Region will advance to the state playoffs. Short has tabbed Coconino, Page and Flagstaff as the teams to beat right now.

“Those are the three who are perennially in your face,” he said.

Audrey Islas returns as coach of the JV Marauders this season. Jeff Knight is the new coach of the freshman team.

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