Green Valley girls volleyball coach Erin Hill has never been a believer in moral victories.
Hill begins each season with the expectation that her team will win a state title, and anything less is viewed as a disappointment.
So when the Gators fell to Silverado in the state championship match last fall, the coach had a hard time seeing anything positive in the setback.
Hill said she has never seen a team bounce back from a loss with such conviction, and she is beginning to believe that her young squad might get another chance this season.
"That runner-up finish last year clearly wasn’t our goal," said Hill, whose team finished 30-7. "We were very humbled. We were disappointed. We weren’t satisfied."
Motivated by the loss, Hill’s players decided hard work would be the key to a 2010 title.
"They couldn’t wait for this season to come," said Hill, who has led Green Valley to four state titles and three runner-up finishes in her 20 years as head coach. "They trained all summer. You can tell a little bit about the character of an athlete who’s willing to get up at 5:30 in the morning to practice at 6 all summer long."
The extra effort already appears to be producing results.
The Gators (7-1) looked strong last weekend in the Las Vegas Invitational at Las Vegas High School, going 6-1 against an elite field to make the tournament’s semifinals. Hill said her squad’s rally from a 12-4 third-game deficit in a quarterfinal match against California’s Marina Del Rey showed just how far her players have come.
"They’re not going to lie down and die," she said. "I learned that they have a lot of guts. It was unbelievable. They dug balls they had no business digging."
If the Gators have a weakness, it’s a general lack of veteran leadership. Hill said she expects to have several underclassmen on the floor at all times.
She pointed out, however, that her younger players are performing like veterans. She noted that freshman outside hitter Nikki Drost was named to the all-tournament team last weekend after leading the Gators with big stats.
A number of more experienced players will also be involved in the Gators’ success. Senior outside hitter Emma Johnson had 211 kills and 58 aces last year, and senior libero Taylor Seidler added 221 digs. Junior Alexa Drost joined her sister on the all-tournament team last weekend.
But Green Valley will not be without competition. Though Silverado graduated several key players in the spring, the Skyhawks are a perennial power and can never be counted out. Hill said she holds Coronado in equally high regard.
The Sunset will probably be dominated by perennial powers Centennial, Palo Verde and Bishop Gorman.
But Hill remains focused on her own team’s ultimate goal.
"We want to hang a white (state championship) banner in the gym," she said, "instead of a green (runner-up) banner."In-depth high school sports coverage
Players to Watch
• Bishop Gorman: Kylee Chun (Jr.), Liz Manthei (Sr.), Kylie Shaw (Sr.)
• Bonanza: Bree Hammel (Jr.)
• Coronado: Katie Gamsky (Sr.), Kristen Herlosky (Sr.), Kuulei Piena (Jr.)
• Faith Lutheran: Kelsey McCourt (Jr.)
• Foothill: Rhianna Gelhart (Sr.), Pamela Sakuma (Jr.)
• Green Valley: Emma Johnson (Sr.), Taylor Seidler (Sr.)
• Lake Mead: Ashley Newton (Sr.)
• Las Vegas: Natresha Bernard (Sr.), Breanna Melton (Sr.)
• Palo Verde: Kady Lay (Sr.), Morgan Megown (Sr.)
• Shadow Ridge: Destinee Beavers (Jr.)
• Silverado: Marilyn Agae (Sr.)
• The Meadows: Vanessa Hall (Sr.)