Despite a team with a load of eighth graders and only three players on the bench, the Carrizozo Lady Grizzly volleyball team reached the Class 1A State semifinals this season.
They lost that semifinal in three games against Melrose, but that doesn’t change how coach Whitney Whittaker feels about her team.
“I only had nine girls at the end, and I call them the magnificent nine, because they made it to the State semifinals,” Whittaker said. “If you looked at any other team there, they had 12 girls on the bench, and we only had three.”
Carrizozo (14-10) won its pool by the narrowest of margins after splitting with both Cimarron and Santa Fe Waldorf.
That meant the Lady Grizzlies had a bye in the first round once bracket play started, but also mean they had to play their quarterfinal matchup against Springer bright and early on Friday morning.
“My girls were a little tired,” Whittaker said. “They ended up pulling through. I was a little nervous with the one game they (Springer) won, but we took them in four.
“My middles worked hard at blocking and worked really well together,” she added. “They finished it strong and I’m very proud of them.”
Melrose proved to be too much that evening – the Lady Buffs eventually lost to district rival Elida in the title match – but there was so much more the Lady Grizzlies were contending with.
Given there were several young players – including a few eighth graders – on the team, many of them hadn’t ever experienced the sometimes confusing atmosphere at the Santa Ana Star Center, where four matches are played simultaneously until the championship match.
“Games are being played right next to you, whistles are blowing, balls are coming onto your court, it’s just a lot to take in,” Whittaker said. “But they have a feel of it now, so they’re more used to it.”
Seniors Hannah Ventura, Janae Willingham and Kristie Gallacher are graduating in the spring, meaning things will have to be handed off to a much younger group.
“I’m going to miss those girls, they’re great leaders,” Whittaker said. “They taught the younger girls a lot, and they’ll be missed. They were a nice little family. Hopefully we can keep that tradition going.