In her first year coaching Becky Howlett, a former high school and college All-American volleyball player, would join the team drills occasionally for fun. This year injuries have made it necessary for the coach to be a part of practice.
"Having two starters go down before the season started has been tough," Howlett said. "We've been constantly adjusting."
This summer the team had to adjust to the loss of returning starter April Sanchez. The junior-to-be injured her right knee in a basketball game. The team changed things around for its summer camps and went into two-a-days with the understanding they would be without one of two returning starters.
Then junior Cassidy Young injured her right foot in practice. She's out indefinitely.
"We had prepared for not having April," Howlett said. "Then when Cassidy went down we had to adjust all over again."
With the unexpected absences team members are learning new positions.
"We have to be a lot more flexible," said senior setter MaRanda Camilletti. "Having less players in a way is good for us because we never get a break in practice."
Without Sanchez senior Brandie Telfer is the only returning starter from last year. Camilletti started off and on for the netters and junior Mari Katherine Raftopoulos received varsity-playing time toward the end of the year. That means three players in the starting lineup have little or no varsity experience.
Senior Kaylee Perry is one of the JV to varsity converts.
"Varsity is a lot more work in practice and matches than a JV player is used to," she said. "A lot more."
Howlett said she has noticed a lack of confidence in some of the less-experienced players.
"It's a lot mental right now," she said. "In our scrimmage last weekend, they didn't come mentally ready."
Last Saturday, the Bulldogs traveled to Meeker for a preseason triangular against the host Cowgirls and Steamboat Springs.
Howlett struggled to find something positive to say about the weekend.
"It was educational," she said.
The three seniors agreed that it wasn't what they expected.
"We learned we need a lot of work," Telfer said.
"I don't think we played like we thought we could," Camilletti said.
Howlett said that she has been working on mental drills such as preparation and individual goal setting. The team's first match against Meeker left her wondering whether the team had remembered anything about the mental approach.
"They weren't ready at all," she said. "The second match against Steamboat we played better."
The girls said they learned that mental toughness starts in practice.
"We weren't practicing sharp and it showed in the games," Telfer said. "In practice we were hitting standing up and being lazy."
The early going hasn't been the ideal situation for the Bulldogs but neither was last year.
The 2003 season was the best in more than a decade for a Moffat County volleyball team. The 'Dogs finished the regular season of the Western Slope League in fourth place.
They then turned the season around by making it out of the district tournament. When all was said and done, the Blue and White finished as the 12th best team in the state, better than all but one team in the league.
But last year won't be talked about.
"That is one of my non-negotiables," Howlett said. "We don't talk about last year because each team is different."
While this year's team does have a different look than last year Camilletti thought that it could have similar results.
"It's possible for us to get even farther in the playoffs," she said. "We have a lot of work to get to that point."
The work starts Thursday with the opening match against Meeker on the road.