LONGMONT — Before the start of Mead’s second varsity volleyball season this fall, the team set a lofty goal to qualify for the state tournament.
After stumbling a bit early in the season, losing seven of the first nine matches, the Mavericks decided to adjust their long-term plans to focus on immediate needs such as communication and teamwork.
Since mid-September, Mead turned hot and has won 11 of 13 matches for a second-place finish at districts and the school’s first-ever berth into the Class 3A state regional tournament, to be played Saturday in Bayfield.
Seeded No. 10, Mead will travel to the southwest corner of the state to take on the host Wolverines along with Gunnison and University for the right to move on to the big show Nov. 11-12 at Denver Coliseum.
No matter what happens this Saturday, the Mavericks already have exceeded the expectations set by many and are not planning to stop now.
But they would not have made it this far without the mid-season adjustments.
“We said that we wanted to make it to the state tournament, but we fell into a rut early on,” junior Molly Neiley said. “We had to regroup, and when we did we found that we wanted to play better as a team and put together a higher quality of play rather than just making it to state.”
This season might be remembered for Mead finding its identity.
After the inaugural varsity season in 2010 featured just four victories, it looked like the Mavericks’ progress might not come as quickly as coach Rachael Ayers and her staff would have liked.
But the coach and her players kept the pressure high, continued to work hard and soon they started to see the results they wanted.
“We started off with a pretty tough schedule playing 4A teams and 5A teams at the beginning of the season, which is a good measuring stick for us,” said Ayers, who was in charge of the successful program at Skyline for seven years prior to taking on the start-up project at Mead. “I’ve always stressed that losses can be a really good thing for us because it shows us our weaknesses and gives us a reason to dig down deep and work on some other things.”
Whether it was a back-to-basics approach or somehow finding the key to successful communication, Mead’s reboot worked.
The three-year-old school has just a single senior on the roster — Kelsie Majerus — and only a few Mavericks play club volleyball outside of the prep fall season, which is a must for any program with sights set on a state championship.
That relative youth and lack of year-round play showed once the season opened, but Mead has founds its rhythm now.
“We sat down as a team after the rough start and talked about everything,” libero Paige Feaster said. “And then we started connecting better as a team and then we started winning games after that.”
Aside from the competition on the court this weekend, the Mavericks must contend with a 300-mile trip through the Rocky Mountains and an overnight hotel stay before the tournament begins.
Staying focused on the task at hand can be as challenging as the matches themselves, but the Mavericks don’t seem concerned.
“Well, the ride down will be a nice, long nap for us,” Neiley said.
Brady Delander can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.