Alongside longtime Rams assistant coach Ken Carpenter, far left, and head coach Toby Manzanares, ‘Zoo Day’ attendees Ashlyn Ellwood, Cici Vance, Ella Lopez, Victoria Echerivel , Ashleigh Meyer, Alyssa Dominguez, Janelle Baca, Jenny Baker, Cecelia Gomez and Kya Wilson. Vance was a first-team All-State player last season, when Meyer was named to the second team. (Courtesy picture)
It’s been a long July for Rio Rancho High School volleyball coach Toby Manzanares and his forwards, with countless scrimmages, pool plays and games leading his 2022 team across three states.
Even with just one day left in July, Manzanares was home away from home, the Rams’ Athletic Center, overseeing two dozen visiting teams for its annual Jamboree, playing at three RAC fields and two in the auxiliary gymnasium. Junior varsity teams from visiting schools played at Cibola High.
Manzanares, one of three Rams head coaches still in school 25 years after opening, should look forward to August 31 as the team’s first report card of the season: that’s when the La Cueva Bears visit the RAC.
Last season, the top-seeded Bears swept Cleveland (25-20, 25-18 and 25-13), finishing the season with 20 straight wins and their third title in four years. The Rams finished 2021 with a 16-11 record, eliminated from the state tournament after losses to Cibola and Centennial – leaving them tied for fifth in Class 5A
The Rams have lost their last six meetings with the Bears — swept five of those times — and haven’t beaten La Cueva since a 3-0 win over RRHS on Sept. 16, 2014.
La Cueva was the team of the 1920s; the Rams were the Aughts’ team, when Manzanares took his sides to nine consecutive league appearances (2001-09), winning all the marbles six times.
“Oh, yeah, obviously it’s going to be a big challenge for us,” he said of Da Bears’ visit. “It will be early enough in the season to put our team at their best against each other. it will certainly be a barometer for us.
Manzanares got a taste of La Cueva at a camp in Denver, where the Bears placed first and won the championship bracket, and the Rams won the gold bracket and finished fifth overall.
The team – with the exception of recently injured Angelyse Cobos – departed on July 8, traveled to Denver and competed in the 24-team Sally Moos Invitational Summer Challenge at Grandview High School. The Rams won their group on day one, finished second in their group on day two, and were sent to the gold group.
The Rams went to a Colorado Rockies baseball game and had fun at a water park, then flew July 12 from Denver to Omaha.
On Wednesday, July 13, Manzanares reported that it was a rest day and the 14th was “laundry day”, plus a scrimmage with some local prep teams.
They spent time in Elkhorn, Neb., where the players and coaches enjoyed the hospitality of one of Manzanares’ former players from his training days at St. Pius X High School, Jennifer (Cheshire) Petersen: a barbecue, swimming and even – as if they couldn’t get enough – volleyball.
The Rams toured the Creighton University campus – Cici Vance was thoroughly examined by the head coach – and Manzanares posted this on his Facebook page: “Creighton’s Team Camp is the cherry on top of this dessert.
On Monday, July 18, the Rams began play in a 32-team event at Iowa West Fieldhouse in Council Bluffs, Neb.
What do the Rams take away from such a hectic month?
“It’s double,” Manzanares said. “Challenge this group with some good competition, which we’ve seen.”
The teams they saw were often bigger, more aggressive and better.
“Our skill set can improve – to match the best teams here (in New Mexico), we have to be more consistent in what we do and play at a high level; being really good at service-reception is something we need to improve.
“Sometimes it’s learning something new about your team and sometimes it’s validation about your team,” he said. “We served the ball very well – we have several attackers in several positions who can bring us points at any time; we can grind it, claw and scramble and scratch for points.
And, he added, “When we’re good at serving and receiving, we can score, (but) our passing needs to improve. … We need to attack open spaces and get clean shots.
After returning home, the Rams competed in the 24-team RAC Jamboree last weekend and finished second, losing 2-0 in the title game against Las Cruces.
With the 2022 season fast approaching – St. Pius X visits the RAC on August 25 – work begins in earnest on August 8 with testing – although as usual there is unlikely to be a point d questioning who is in college and who will be relegated to sub-college teams.