Through the first few weeks of the 2021 season, Montrose High School volleyball has played four road games in what’s been a road-heavy schedule to start. If it’s hampered the team, they haven’t shown any signs of wear and tear.
They’ve won all four games, already doubling their road win total from last season (2-5).
And they haven’t just won. They’ve thrived.
The Indians have lost just one set on the road — against Delta in the season opener — and, as of Friday, are riding a nine-straight set win streak, barreling through Glenwood Springs, Battle Mountain and Grand Junction.
Head coach Shane Forrest said she’s noticed what’s led to the impressive start: senior experience.
“There’s a big jump from your junior to senior year,” Forrest said. “That experience and that confidence plays a big part in their composure and confidence on the court. They have higher expectations this year, too.”
Those expectations are at the forefront during practice, which Forrest said is “so competitive.” The team works on mixing up the sets and finding opportunities for players up the middle so they can run a balanced, efficient offense in-game.
Perfecting those reps helps when the experience is there — Jaedyn Key, Kelsey Rocco, Madisen Matoush, Hallie Fenton, Jada Ray, Bre Brasier and Taylor Foster are seniors, many of whom have played together before their time as Indians.
Rocco and Matoush said they expected chemistry to be part of team’s story this season.
The group plays loose, and has fun with the process, Forrest said. But the seniors know the clock is ticking.
“They have committed to themselves and each other to maintain focus and intensity during practices, and I think that, too, has played a big part,” Forrest said of the team’s start. “I think that comes with that senior pressure of wanting to get better and do better, and they know that’s what it’s going to take.”
That approach is apparent in the box score, where Rocco has registered five straight games with double-digit kills. She leads the team with 73, and also leads in digs (71).
Foster has 29 kills in 17 sets, and has done it with little error so far — she has the Indians’ highest hitting percentage, at .328.
Matoush is performing similarly to her pace from last season, when she was named a Southwestern League first-team All-Conference selection. And Ray, the team’s defensive specialist, has 63 digs, averaging 3.3 per set.
“It’s a really intense mindset,” Key said of practice. “We have big goals for the end of the season, and our mindset is to get us towards those goals as a team.”
So far, it’s translated to game action.
“We’re covering a lot more this season,” Key said. “We’re ready for the bigger blocks and we’re a lot more ready for the tips, too, behind the setter. We’re getting faster and we’re just ready.”
Montrose is averaging 1.9 blocks per set, a near-full block above last spring’s pace. The Indians have four solo blocks, one more than last season, and two are courtesy of freshman Brooke Williams. (William’s presence alone has helped Montrose improve its overall blocking, Forrest said.)
Taygan Rocco, just a sophomore, has been superb as the team’s setter. She’s blossomed into a role that’s allowed hitters like Kelsey and Matoush, or even Foster, Williams and Key at times, to play faster.
“She’s playing a huge role for the team and its success right now,” Forrest said. In 14 sets, Rocco has 140 assists, establishing herself in a starting lineup full of seniors.
“We’re trying to work as hard as we can in the practices because we do want to go as far as we can,” Foster said. “I think going into the games we’re trying to have fun, and that helps us play better, too.”
Before starting practice on Thursday, Key echoed Foster’s sentiment. She looked at the rest of the team, participating in a pre-practice drill, and commended the team’s energy and chemistry.
“We all realize that this is our last year, and if we want to do something, we’re going to have to do it now, and we’re going to have to do it together,” Key said. “That’s kind of the way we’ve been playing — as hard and together as we can.”
Josue Perez is a staff writer for the Montrose Daily Press