Camp Verde High School’s volleyball team is emphasizing something more than just wins or losses for the 2017 season.
After a summer and preseason with a greater turnout than recent years, the Cowboys look for an improved attitude and desire on the court to change their culture.
“I think we really want to be known as that team that never, ever, ever gives up,” senior Jade Oium said. “We’re always on the ground every play, if there’s a ball inside this gym we’re going to get there. It’s not going to hit the ground unless one of us is on the ground after it.”
The foundation of this season’s team will be that never-say-die mentality, one that second-year head coach Britney Armstrong said began to take hold a year ago.
Last season was described as a rocky one in which individualism and conflict reigned over playing as a team and picking one another up. With a new season comes a fresh mindset, and the girls said they already get along really well.
“It’s only our second season [as coaches], and last year we really zoned in on attitudes and stuff,” Armstrong said. “Already we see a difference with attitudes and girls being more uplifting and encouraging.”
Four seniors lead the charge: Jade Oium, Sara Jewell, Hannah Collins and Alyssa Matthias. They spoke of that heart that they want everyone who watches a game this fall to see.
“We were not a resilient team last year, it was like, ‘We’re here and we’re playing volleyball,’” Oium said. “This year it’s ‘We’re here to kick butt. We’re here to have fun but we’re also here to be that team that never ever gives up, no matter the situation.’”
But the Cowboys have worked on more than just their attitude during the offseason. Armstrong said that a good number of girls attended open gym sessions throughout the summer, and 12 attended a two-day camp in Blue Ridge in June.
Then in July, 30 girls, from fifth to 12th grade, participated in a three-day camp put on by Northern Arizona University’s coaches and players.
As a result there have been drastic improvements to the girls’ serving and passing control on all levels.
According to Armstrong, Camp Verde has never been synonymous with a strong volleyball presence.
“Another thing that I wanted last year was just for girls to want to come out and play volleyball because here in Camp Verde it’s never been a strong sport,” Armstrong said. “So I wanted to try to change the culture for volleyball and make girls come out and want to play volleyball.”
The lack of players from years past came from the lack of a reliable feeder program.
The increase in girls trying out has to do in part with Camp Verde Middle School coach Katie Wilson.
Armstrong said that this season there is a strong presence of freshmen girls, with eight total including Maya Hedges, who made the varsity team.
“I feel good and I’m glad I get to play with all of them, because they’ve already taught me a lot,” Hedges said.
By the time preseason came around, Armstrong and her staff had to make the always-tough decision of cutting some players. With only three coaches who are also mothers, it was not possible to have three teams.
In terms of tactics, Armstrong and her staff do not have to spend time teaching their offense and defense. The large summer presence expedited that process, which was simplified even more by switching to just one offense rather than two.
Now the more hungry, more excited Cowboys can focus on honing their reaction, anticipation and adjust to overall game speed.
“I’m really excited for this season, the girls have worked hard, their attitudes are great and it’ll be exciting to see how they rise up against the challenges this year,” Armstrong said. “I think people who came and watched last year, they’re going to see a difference.”
The team opens the season at 6 p.m., Thursday, Aug. 31 at Anthem Preparatory Academy. The home opener is not until 6 p.m., Tuesday, Sept. 12, against Payson High School.