WILLCOX — A loss of five starters and a coaching sabbatical haven’t deterred Willcox High head volleyball coach Todd Debaun’s enthusiasm for his team’s prospects this upcoming season.

The varsity will entertain a youth movement the likes of which Debaun hasn’t seen before.

“The freshmen and sophomores coming in are head and shoulders over what we’ve seen in the past, and part of that is attributable to assistant coach DeAngela Franco and the time she has put in during the offseason,” Debaun said.

The team will look to the leadership of senior hitters Tapanga Alexander and Daniella Pando, the only returners with starting experience.

“Our weakness may be the lack of reps and maybe their youth,” Debaun said, “but youth is on their side, too, because they don’t know what they don’t know. We have nine games in two weeks to start the season, so we’ll find out quickly what we’re made of.”

Young players who could be fighting for starting time are returning junior varsity sophomore players such as Camrielle Wyatt at setter, Jazlyn Felix on defense and Alyssa Rogers on the front row.

But Debaun said they’ll face stiff competition from youngsters such as outside hitters JJ Riggs, Malia Rogers and Cara Hall, and setters Kennedy Peterson, Braxton Hammons and Gabby Paz.

“I feel like all 17 kids could legitimately step up and play varsity,” Debaun said.

Debaun took four consecutive teams to the playoffs from 2013-17 but stepped down last year because “I was worn out and needed a break. I spent my time being a dad after spending a lot of time coaching everybody else’s kids.”

But he’s back because “I was bored. It was one of those things where it was time to get off the sidelines and get back into it.”

The team went 6-9 without him and just 3-9 in section, finishing fifth out of seven teams.

“My whole goal has always been to maintain a program that is one of the tops in the state, at least tops in the region, one that this community can always be proud of,” Debaun said. “Athletics has always been big for the school, so for me it was important that we maintain what we had already built.”

The Cowgirls open the season Tuesday, Sept. 3, at Desert Christian and host the home opener Thursday, Sept. 5, versus San Miguel.

The Cowgirls will then play four matches in one day at the Wolfpack Invitational, Friday, Sept. 6, at St Augustine School in Tucson.

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