This year, partly out of necessity but mostly because of ability, the Steamboat Springs volleyball team has an interesting mix of experience and wide-eyed enthusiasm.
"For the first time, I have no idea who will play," senior Tara King said. "We have a lot of young people, so we have a lot of room for improvement, and I think we're good already."
King is the leader. The starting setter, she is arguably the best in the Western Slope League and one of the best setters in the state. She is comfortable in her role and excited about the possibilities of Steamboat's offense.
"We don't really have one big shot," King said. "This year, I will be able to look at the other side and look at the blockers."
Outside hitters Kristyn Bradbury and Katie Mills received a majority of King's sets last season. Both are gone. Insert talented sophomore Katy Gary and senior Hestia Chase, who is moving from middle blocker to the outside.
"I'm so excited," Chase said about the position switch. "You get more sets and more opportunities."
The departure of Tina Roberts opens the opposite side for senior Missy Chotvacs, a good defensive player and leaper.
In the middle, Steamboat was counting on the return of Erin Gleason, but the junior is out until at least October, Coach Wendy Hall said, after having shoulder surgery during the summer. Without Gleason and Chase, Hall likely will move junior Lisa Floyd and sophomore Heidi Lord into the rotation. Neither have played varsity.
Senior Elizabeth Johnson, a new student from Texas, is a candidate to fill a defensive specialist role vacated by Danielle Tredway.
"We have a lot of sophomores," Chase said. "We have a lot of talent, just not a lot of experience."
But everyone is used to winning. For as successful as Steamboat's varsity program has been, including a state finals appearance in 2002, its freshman and junior varsity teams have won at an equally impressive rate.
"We'll wait and see what happens," Hall said. "I hope that carries over a little bit. They are for sure good enough to be (on varsity)."
Despite its youth, the Sailors likely will contend for a league title. Palisade and Glenwood Springs figure to be their primary competition.
"Glenwood probably has the two best hitters in the league and has them both back," Hall said. "Palisade won the league last year, and you always have to look out for the defending champs. Battle Mountain and Eagle Valley were both salty last year, too."
With Sept-ember matches against Glen-wood and Pal-isade, the league title could come down to Steamboat's ear-ly-season results.
"I think it will be really hard because we won't be where we need to be," King said.
Veterans such as King, Chase and Chotvacs understand the importance of practice and the increased speed of play at the varsity level. Whether the underclassmen get that could be vital.
"They are working hard," Hall said. "The seem to have good chemistry and enjoy working together."
Steamboat opens play with a 10:15 a.m. match Saturday against Greeley Central at Steam--boat Springs High School.
-- To reach Melinda Mawdsley call 871-4208 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org