WILLCOX — “We’re tired of playing each other, we’re ready to start beating up on other people.”
Willcox volleyball coach Todd Debaun and his team have anxiously waited for their season to start and in order to put last year’s 5-13 record that included an 0-13 region record behind them.
“We weren’t great last year, but one of the things that has been great about this group is I’ve got 12 kids that are just absolutely playing together and cheering each other on,” Debaun said. “The pre-season work and camaraderie opportunity has been good for them.”
Debaun took his 2017 team to the playoffs, retired in 2018 and returned in 2019 to right a teetering program that had reached the playoffs four consecutive years before missing the last two.
“Because of our youth last year, we didn’t know how to win and how to play together,” he said. “We finished 7-2 in club (games) over the summer because they started playing together and never really backed down after that.”
His top returning starters are junior Alyssa Rodgers and sophomore Malia Rogers on the front row, where they were honorable mention all-conference last year, sophomore Jazlyn Felix (2nd team all-conference libero as a freshman) and junior setter Kamrielle Wyatt.
Young talents competing for a starting sport include junior middle hitter Daleigh Ebert, sophomore outside hitter Jesse Gonzalez and junior outside hitter Gabby Paz.
“Cohesion is a strength of a team, no jealousy, no cliques,” Debaun said. “They really like playing with one another.
“I think the uncertainty of it all during the preseason has been kind of tough. Then we found out this week that TUSD cancelled their programs and some others have cancelled behind them, so it’s hard to tell what the season is even going to look like. It makes you a little anxious.”
Pima, Morenci and Benson, who finished second, third and fourth in region last year, are on this year’s schedule along with Bisbee and Tombstone. Region champion Thatcher moved up and out of the 2A.
Debaun knows the challenge his region provides as all the teams have strong hitters returning to the club. He noted Emily Darwin from Benson and Gabby Lopez as familiar faces he and his team need to be prepared for.
Willcox opens with three Freedom games next week, starting with Valley Union on Tuesday, followed by St. David on Friday, Sept. 25 and San Miguel on Saturday, Sept. 26, all at home.
“Our group this season understands ‘team first.’ It’s not about me, it’s not about my individual accolades. If I do my job and the team does our job, it will all come,” Debaun said.