Brian Gurule wants to keep his volleyball team from the Santa Fe Indian School under the radar until the state tournament of class 3A, but even Angelina Geissinger sees her head coach’s wish as pointless.
Every match the Lady Braves play, especially in the highly competitive District 2-3A, makes it a little harder for SFIS to maintain anonymity. The Lady Braves are 10-8 after sweeping 2A enemy Monte del Sol in the Pueblo Pavilion on Saturday afternoon, but it’s their performance in the district game that stands out, especially since the program hasn’t touched a ball since the Class 3A state tournament in November 2019.
Geissinger, the Lady Braves’ well-known sophomore underdog, said SFIS has shown it can rival 3A’s best – district enemies Las Vegas Robertson and St. Michael’s.
In a September 30 match against the senior Lady Cardinals, SFIS would almost be the second 3A program Robertson won a game. But a 23-21 Game 3 lead faded as Robertson rallied to win at 27:25 to secure a county win. On Tuesday, the Lady Braves won the opening game against runner-up Lady Horsemen, 25-21, before losing the next three games.
These glimpses of what could be leads the Lady Braves to believe that they are not far from a breakthrough that would destroy the underdog status that Gurule, their 10-year-old head coach, is hoping to claim.
“We always have this element of surprise, but I have the feeling that it is no longer a big secret,” said Geissinger, who played in the vice team of class 5A at Santa Fe High in the spring, because SFIS is not on during the season Athletics took part in the 2019/20 school year because of the corona pandemic.
Gurule said the 2020 team could have battled for the 3A title had it not been for the pandemic. Seven graduates in 2021 either didn’t get a chance to play or went to other schools to finish their careers. Gurule found himself in a familiar situation – a team of young, inexperienced players who had to play at university level.
That was the narrative of the 2019 team that went 8-17 but made it to the 3A state tournament.
“That [2020-21 team] would be really good, “said Gurule. “Since we lost them, we had to fill key positions with girls who last played in seventh or eighth grade, and some C teams and [junior varsity] Players had to move up. It is the lack of experience and the speed of the game that they have to adjust to. Due to the speed of the game on the university level, there will be some bugs. “
Even so, the Lady Braves play a level one might not expect from a program that hasn’t been together in 20 months. Only two players – Geissinger and senior Cameron Conners, who played in Española Valley – played in the shortened spring season, and freshman setter Haley Aguilar took part in sand volleyball tournaments. The rest of the team? Not a breath since the Lady Braves lost in the consolation round of the 3A tournament to Albuquerque Sandia Prep in 2019 or played in middle school.
For Aguilar it was the latter as she was a member of the school’s seventh grade team. Now she’s the starting player, which makes a big difference.
“It was tough but now that I’m playing I got the hang of it,” said Aguilar. “It’s also fun because I’m so young and have four years left.”
Gurule said he was patient with this group, which Conners noticed. She said he worked hard to be positive with the team and to help the younger players relearn skills that were rusty after 20 months of inactivity.
“He’s been really patient compared to two years ago,” said Conners. “It’s good, but it kind of scares you off because you’re used to him screaming. But it really helped us. “
Patience and persistent emphasis on the basics have proven their worth. Gurule pointed out that the Lady Braves lost to Taos and Española Valley earlier in the season, but then defeated them in rematches weeks later. SFIS lost five games to Taos at the season opener, but defeated the Lady Tigers in five games on September 18. The Lady Sundevils defeated the Lady Braves on August 28, but the tables were turned in a rematch on October 9, which the SFIS won in four games.
“You are becoming more confident and starting to believe in yourself,” said Gurule. “Right now we have to learn how to beat teams. Part of that is winning. You have to remember where you were two years ago. “
As an example, he cited the recent meetings against St. Michael’s. In the first match on October 5th, the Lady Horsemen lightly swept her on her home seat. A week later, SFIS won Game 1 by 25-21 and was within 25-22 in Game 3 before losing four games. Gurule said it will help SFIS grow.
He added that the team’s work ethic helped speed the learning and, in some cases, relearning process.
“It’s a big process we’re trying to get started right now,” said Gurule. “We take baby steps and improve. The coaches keep telling me that we’re improving. [St. Michael’s head coach Valerie Sandoval] said: ‘Your girls showed up [Tuesday]. ‘ It’s nice that we’re competitive, but you also say, ‘Come on, let’s take this game.’ ”
Conners was a centerpiece of the Lady Braves attack, but she got help from Geissinger and Junior Shade Phea-Young over the past month. Geissinger has had an average of 13 kills per match since the beginning of the district season at the end of September, while Phea-Young scored just under nine per match during this period.
Phea-Young, who is on the majority of the team who only returned to the sport in July, said it took her a while to regain the skills she acquired as a freshman.
“It was about getting back to basics and working my way back to hit the ball hard again,” said Phea-Young. “I’m learning where to put the ball back and where it’s open at the other end of the court.”
It’s these little things that get big as the season progresses, Gurule said. He hopes it will be a successful run by the end of the season – and gives hope that the Lady Braves are on the verge of becoming a 3A contender. It was the move he and the Lady Braves missed in 2020-21, but he hopes he can retrace those steps with the team.
The girls have to believe in the process, ”said Gurule. “I keep telling them that they are special and that they will be special. You just have to learn to trust yourself on the pitch and just stay aggressive. “
At the same time, Gurule hopes that the other trainers in 3A will sleep on the potential he sees every day.
He’d rather the Lady Braves become the best kept secret in the state.