Player accountability fueling improved play for No. 7 Ignacio volleyball

(Photo courtesy of Thaddeus Cano)

Ignacio volleyball coach Thaddeus Cano has a lot of time to think about his team. Cano faces a 50-minute commute to the school where he is in his seventh year as the coach of the Bobcats.

He has a lot of time to think and a lot of time to evaluate how well his team is playing each season. Although it's still early in 2019, his time in the car has led him to a big conclusion about this year's squad.

It's good. Really good, in his mind.

Part of the reason for that is he decided early on that he was going to let this team invest in itself. He's the coach and he'll always final say, but he was more than happy to give his girls ownership of how this program was going to work.

"I really empowered the players in the decision-making process of the team from the team rules right there to how we're going to handle stuff that may come up," Cano said. "They're just really excelling and grabbing the bull by the horn."

Ignacio is off to a fast start this season taking the current spot as the No. 7 team in the Class 2A state volleyball rankings. The Bobcats are 3-0 and have dropped just a single set in that span. In a way, that one set was a vital loss because it help him and his team realize that in some ways, their success this season is only limited by themselves.

"That one set, the girls got kind of quiet," he said. "I asked them what happened and they told me they had stopped communicating. How easy is it for volleyball when you're all commuting? It's really easy to coach right there."

A lot of times when a team is starting to mesh and play well, a lot of seniors can be seen on a roster. But not for the Bobcats. Makayla Howell is the only senior on the team and she's playing like it on the offensive end. She leads the team with 25 kills and provides the steady hand of a veteran.

That can be needed when a couple of freshmen are making themselves essential to the team. Laci Brunson and Grace Gonzales have provided a spark that hasn't just improved the Bobcats' play this season, but provides a lot of hope for what they can do in future years.

It also helps that one of the outside hitters on the team in Alexis Pontine is also an underclassman.

"I have two really talented freshmen," Cano said. "And of my two outside hitters, one of them is a sophomore. I haven't seen (this kind of talent and chemistry) in my entire time here at Ignacio."

Brunson has been vital to the team as a defensive specialist, giving Cano the sense that his squad is very well-rounded. And that's before even addressing the Bobcats' primary strength.

Ignacio is best on the serve and it's something Cano wants each and every one of his opponents knowing about. While lots of coaches would rather downplay their strengths to the media, he has no problem bragging about them. And daring teams to stop it.

"We've always been known as a strong serving team and we're definitely upholding that tradition with a little bit extra," he said. "One of our players, Grace Gonzales, I'm actually working on a hybrid serve with her and that's coming along nicely. We may or may not open that up in our next match."

Cano will have plenty of time to think about that decision on his 50-minute commute to the school. But either way, each minute he gets to spend coaching this team has made the drive well worth it.