Top-ranked Pueblo County volleyball out to show that it's for real

(Anthony Sandstrom)

It didn't take long for Pueblo County volleyball coach Cherl Sherwood to figure out that taking over the program mid-way through the 2018 season was a blessing in disguise.

It gave her time to get to know her players and find out what they were capable of. That half-season paid off big time as the Hornets came out on fire in 2019 and show no signs of slowing down as the regular season concludes this week.

"I got to learn the personalities of the girls," Sherwood said. "I've taught at County forever and seeing them on the court is just a little bit different. I saw the things that worked and I saw the things that needed to be changed so it was all beneficial."

It's turning out to be the right girls with the right coach at the right time. Despite opening the season with a loss to Coronado, the Hornets (21-1 overall, 10-0 South Central League) have played like the top team in all of Class 4A.

That even includes three-time defending state champion Lewis-Palmer.

The Rangers will always be a tough team to play, but as County has come together and beaten team after team since Aug. 29, it feels like this could be the year a Pueblo school unseats the powerhouse from Monument.

Not bad considering there was a healthy dose of uncertainty heading into the year.

"Our team was pretty new, I had never played with these girls before," junior hitter Kinley Gomez said. "The connection that we have now as friends and teammates, we do really well together."

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of this team is that it's not heavy with seniors and experience. Mari Benitez and Sammy Meehan are the only two seniors on the team, a team that has been ranked No. 1 in the 4A CHSAANow.com volleyball poll since Oct. 7.

Gomez and fellow junior Rylan Scott have been every bit as vital. Scott has dished out 560 assists to her hitters. Gomez is second on the team with 244 kills with only Meehan ahead of her with 309.

The entire team is playing at a high level and even if there are only two seniors, Sherwood is quick to credit them as a big reason for everyone playing well.

"They bring a ton of experience," Sherwood said. "They've both started since they were freshmen. And even though we're only losing two (after this year), but I tell them all the time that it's a huge loss for County's team."

At this rate it feels like they have the chance to go out with a banner season. After settling in with their non-league schedule, the Hornets have continued to play like an elite level team in 4A.

"My expectations at the start of the season were not as high as they are now," Gomez said. "We have never been this good at County."

With the regular season ending this week and County in line to host regionals, they know the weight that comes with making their way to Denver Coliseum and trying to unseat L-P as the state champion for the first time in four years.

"We know there is pressure on us," Gomez said. "But it's a good kind of pressure because it's going to force us to push ourselves."

(Anthony Sandstrom)