Even before the start of the season, Moffat County High School volleyball coach Becky Howlett was complimenting senior Stephanie Kloos.
"She has the potential to play at the next level," Howlett said before a match had been played. "She hasn't had the chance the last three years to realize exactly what she's got, but she is very talented."
Quite a bold statement about a player who occasionally started the previous year for a team that only won seven matches. But as the season developed, so did Kloos into the player Howlett knew she could be.
Once the regular season was over, the coaches of the Western Slope Conference recognized the senior middle hitter as Moffat County's all-conference player.
Kloos' most impressive stats were her solo blocks, numbers that Howlett set up her senior to earn by putting her on the line with the setter.
"I mentioned at the coaches' meeting that with Stephanie on the line with our setter she had a lot of solo blocking responsibilities," Howlett said. "The coaches chuckled because they had tried to take advantage of that line all year."
Kloos' teammate and close friend, Brittany Hutton, noticed a difference in her court companion this year.
"She played well from the beginning of the year and started to gain confidence," Hutton said. "We really pumped each other up through the season."
Kloos said she found out about the honor after the team's final match in the regional.
"I was a little shocked and it was an emotional moment for me," she said. "It was such a good year, to get the award just made me appreciate the season more."
Hutton received honorable mention honors as the Bulldogs' leader in kills.
"I've always sort of been a big hitter," she said. "But this year, I think the difference was that I went into every game with the focus and confidence to pound the ball."
Howlett said there were so many big hitters in the conference that it was hard to get Hutton recognition.
"Her position is the deepest in the conference," she said. "Brittany may have been overlooked, but the coaches did recognize what she brought to us."
Hutton credited her improvement to encouragement from the coaching staff and the opportunities to work in the off-season.
"I lifted and took kick boxing because JP (assistant coach Jennifer Preece) said it would help," she said. "Then, with open gym all summer, it gave us all a chance to get better."
Junior Brandie Telfer earned her second consecutive honorable mention award but she believed this year's award was different.
"We earned the awards this year," she said referring to the fact that every team gets at least one all-conference honor and last year her honor was more because the team had to have one.
Telfer was the team's top digger and, according to Howlett, the digs weren't just keeping the ball alive.
"She had a lot of digs that set us up for a good series," she said. "They weren't just digs to keep it alive, they were playable digs."
Digging was something that Telfer took pride in.
"There are a lot of big hitters in the league," she said. "It is a lot of fun to dig them."
The final vote between the conference coaches was for coach of the year and, according to Howlett, the first round of votes ended in a three-way tie between her, Steamboat Springs' Wendy Hall and Palisade's Steve Hellman.
After the second vote, Howlett earned the honor as the league's top coach.
Her all-conference players agreed in the coaches' decision.
"She has so much passion for the game that it rubs off on us," Telfer said. "She knows when to be serious and when to have fun, which had a lot to do with our season."
While the voting for conference awards came before the post season, Howlett and the Bulldogs earned her honor in the post season with a trip to the regional tournament. Glenwood Springs was the only other WSC team to get out of district competition.
"She made it possible for us to accomplish what we did by giving us chances to improve and getting us on the court all summer," Hutton said. "There was so much improvement by us as a whole and Becky is mostly responsible."
Kloos pointed to the team's ability to reach its goals as a sign of good coaching.
"Usually a team sets big goals it can't reach," she said. "But we reached all of our goals by getting to regionals and finishing over .500. Without Becky, I don't think we could have done it."
Howlett is quick to point out that next year may be the one that proves whether or not she deserved the award.
"There are only three girls back that I've worked with next year," she said. "So then we'll see what I can do."