Veteran Fruita Monument volleyball team raising the bar of what it expects to be

(Courtesy of Fruita Monument HS)

Fruita Monument volleyball has trusted the process. They're ready to see results.

The Wildcats have a lineup that's as seasoned as they come. The Wildcats have eight seniors and seven juniors on the 15-person roster, and it's been just about the same group for the past three years.

"We went to state in 2013. That team was comprised of nine seniors," Fruita Monument coach Bob Richardson said. "So, the next year, we were basically rebuilding. Our senior class now has only known four other seniors. When they were freshmen, we had three seniors, when they were sophomores, we had one senior, when they were juniors, we had no seniors.

"We've been essentially the same team for the last three years."

Here's the difference: This season, the Wildcats have started 9-1, and are currently ranked No. 9 in Class 5A.

This experienced group has known since freshman year what they had to live up to.

"Our seniors that graduated before we came in were a very talented group, so looking up to that, we saw what we had to live up to," libero Kenzie Wells said. "They went to state, and they were a great team. They had all the pieces. They had a Riley Snyder, they had a very good setter and a libero who is playing in college. They were a very talented group, so we knew going in that we had a lot to live up to.

"We were kind of initially the base of the varsity team, and it's pretty much just progressed from there."

In its early years, the unit struggled. The Wildcats endured two losing seasons, but turned it around junior year with a 19-8 season. Fruita Monument lost to Pine Creek in a regional tiebreaker game.

"At first, we were young and just freshman figuring it out," Wells said. "We got to our junior year, and that wasn't an excuse to use anymore. We really have to make this happen now. Having that four years of experience under your belt, and to be in the moment is kind of awesome."

This season, the Wildcats have beaten four teams that were state qualifiers in 2016.

"The teams that used to beat up on us two years ago are teams that we're able to compete with now," Richardson said.

Fruita Monument is in the moment and primed for a run. And they're shifting the perception and raising the bar of what they expect to be.

"One of the things we've had to learn through the years is that just because we can beat teams on the Western Slope doesn't necessarily mean a whole lot," Richardson said. "We've had to raise the bar of what we expect to be. Instead of just trying to compete in the SWL, we're trying to make a name for ourselves in the state and trying to be competitive with top ten teams in the state. That's been the message over the last four years."

Among those that have been there as Richardson built this veteran team are Wells, setter Truth Hafey and outside hitter Riley Snyder.

"It's been awesome to see the development of everyone and just to grow together," Wells said. "To be able to look back at how we started as freshman leading this team and being the base and the foundation. Now, we're doing great things, and we've really progressed and gotten better."

Wells has 1,865 career digs. That's a state record for career digs, and she has played less than half the games of her senior season.

Hafey has 2,553 career assists. Snyder has 1,001 career kills. All are school records.

(Courtesy of Fruita Monument HS)

"I don't think we've really thought about it that much," Wells said on the legacy the three will leave behind. "We're just really in the moment and trying to make the best out of this season and working toward our team goals that we set. Really being that top-dog team.

"I think everyone on the team is understanding of what's going on, but we're more focused on the bigger goal of winning state than what the individuals have done."

That shows exactly what this team is about: the team. They've been playing together for so long that they're incredibly tight-knit.

"I think this is the best team that I've ever had," Richardson said, emphasizing team. "I don't just mean competitively. The kids get along, trips with them are fun and enjoyable. They're knit together pretty well."

Wells said the majority of the team has had a solid three to four years playing together at the high school level. Multiple girls have even played together for the last seven or eight years, counting club volleyball.

"That's definitely helped with our growth," Wells said. "All of us are super close. You can tell there's that bond on the court. You know, that special relationship that we all have together. Just coming from the amount of time that we've spent together and the bonds that we've been able to built. Trusting each other off the court, then that leads to trusting each other on the court to be in the right spots and talk more."

Also, Wells, Hafey and Snyder all play multiple sports. Snyder has racked up 1,213 career points in basketball, while Wells and Hafey are three-sport athletes.

"I like for kids to play multiple sports. I think it's good for them, I think it's good for sports. It's good for the school," Richardson said. "You definitely see improvement. Particularly Riley can not have played volleyball since last year in early November when we were done, and all of a sudden in August, she shows up and she's actually improved as a volleyball player. It's hard to figure out how, but it's because she's improved as an athlete.

"I think they're tougher as athletes. They don't get nervous on the court, they don't get skittish, it just toughens them up."

Wells added that playing multiple sports together has helped the trio work well together. They've figured out how to help each other on and off the court.

"We're really able to continue that bond and help each other out there," Wells said. "Hold each other accountable and be leaders for everyone else."

One addition that's elevated the team is the recent play of Dana Thomson. Thomson's uptick in production has given a compliment to Snyder on the outside.

"Thomson has really come on. She's grown a lot as a player since she was a freshman," Richardson said. "Two years ago, we didn't have enough hitters. We didn't have enough scoring. Now, between Dana and Riley, we're not lopsided anymore. We're pretty good in every rotation, offensively. That's helped us. That, and the experience, just having been there before."

Fruita Monument's denouement has finally come. It's been a journey, but a journey they've undergone together.

"You can tell that there's a flip of the switch because this is our last run, this is our last time to go do this together," Wells said. "This is all we've got, so you can tell that there's that extra little bit of energy and motivation to work as hard as you can and do all the little things."