Nikki Kinzer, a familiar face, returns to Rampart volleyball

(Courtesy of Kathy Gorab-Ohl)

Rampart volleyball is ranked No. 1 in Class 5A's preseason poll. (Courtesy of Kathy Gorab-Ohl)

COLORADO SPRINGS — When former Rampart standout Nikki Kinzer walked off the court for the final time in the fall of 2008, she had no idea which direction her life was headed. She was about to attend the University of Colorado at Boulder to play volleyball, but that was the extent of her plan. When she started school, she realized she had a passion for English and decided that teaching would be in her future.

After one season with the Buffs, she transferred to CU's Colorado Springs campus, continued her volleyball career and worked toward her goal of educating teenagers. After graduation, Kinzer entered in District 11's student teaching program and joined the Doherty volleyball staff. In the winter of 2013, a conversation with her dad cemented her path and led to her toward her "dream job."

Kinzer was attending a Rampart hockey game, cheering on her younger brother Mitch when her dad passed on news he had heard while sitting in the stands. The Rams were without a volleyball coach.

(Courtesy of Kathy Gorab-Ohl)

Nikki Kinzer, right, first got a look at her squad at the University of Northern Colorado Classic. (Courtesy of Kathy Gorab-Ohl)

"My dad found out about it and thought it would be a good in for teaching if anything," Kinzer said. "When I applied, that's what I was going for. It would be sweet to go back and teach at my old high school."

Kinzer was hired as the coach before the school formally hired her as a teacher. Her focus remained on teaching and working with high school students, but with the coaching job in hand, she would have gladly worked as a middle school teacher in the district until another position opened up at the high school.

But it turned out, it was an unnecessary concern. Two months later, she was hired as an English teacher at Rampart, allowing her to fully dive into the volleyball season.

Over the summer, through open camps and the University of Northern Colorado Classic, she was able to get a feel for her team and the potential they have going into this season. The Rams only lost three players to graduation last year. This year they have six returning seniors in August Raskie (setter), Amanda Cushen (outside hitter), Janice Jin (middle), Holly Brennan (outside hitter), Ashlyn Hare (outside hitter) and Christina Mandico (defensive specialist).

"Getting on the court with them, I could tell they would do whatever it took to win," Kinzer said. "I knew they would take whatever extra time they needed to, obviously we have some big hitters returning."

Kinzer took her team to the UNC Classic where they were pooled with 82 other teams from around the state. Her Rams played 16 games in the "steal the seed" formatted tournament, going 15-1 to win the tournament. It was this first true glimpse of her team that indicated how special this first year can be for her and her squad.

(Courtesy of Kathy Gorab-Ohl)

(Courtesy of Kathy Gorab-Ohl)

"The offensive threat that we posed was pretty impressive," Kinzer said. "We have so many all-around players there too. Amanda Cushen plays all the way around and does an excellent job on defense. It's going to make it tough on me to try and figure out positions, but it's nice to have that many options."

The rest of the state thinks so, too: Rampart opened at No. 1 in 5A's preseason ranking.

The regular season scheduled to start Aug. 22.

Class 5A volleyball

Defending champion: Grandview

Runner-up: Arapahoe

Returning All-State Players: Haley McLaren, Sr., Grandview (1st); Jordyn Poulter, Sr., Eaglecrest (1st); Ally Clancy, Sr., Douglas County (2nd), Shannon Lanza, Sr., Fossil Ridge (2nd); Madison Laufenberg, Sr., Castle View (2nd); Bridgette Lococo, Sr., Fossil Ridge (2nd); Kaitlyn Schwatrz, Sr., Fossil Ridge (2nd); Santaisha Sturges, Sr., Regis Jesuit (2nd); Chelsie Thompson, Sr., Rangeview (2nd)

Regular season begins: Aug. 21

Playoffs begin: Oct. 25

State championship: Nov. 7-8 (Denver Coliseum)