Karli Salazar said that while she got to be a head coach of a high school volleyball team a lot sooner than planned, she was ready for the opportunity.
Part of the reason is that she’d had ample experience learning the trade from two excellent mentors — her father Damon and the late Mary Bustos.
Damon runs a successful program at Española Valley, Karli’s alma mater. She started coaching at the tender age of 14, guiding young children in her father’s club volleyball program even as she herself played in her own division.
From her dad, Karli absorbed knowledge of the sport and how each player functions as part of a team.
More recently, while she’s been working on her bachelor’s degree at New Mexico Highlands, she’s helped coach at West Las Vegas. A couple years back she coached the middle school spikers for Bustos, then the freshman team.
From Bustos, she learned other aspects of the profession beyond mere X’s and O’s.
“I’m influenced by Mary’s passion,” she said, “the way she had of putting the girls and the program before herself.”
“They still play for her.”
Bustos lost an extended battle with illness on the eve of the 2013 state tournament, and the Lady Dons battled on in her honor, earning respect from across the state.
In March, Salazar was tabbed as Bustos’ successor.
“I’ve always wanted to be a coach,” she said. “I got into coaching from teaching. I didn’t think I’d be (a head coach) this soon. I’m mainly doing this for the girls. It wasn’t in my plan, but I just wanted to see the program through this time. It has a lot of potential.”
Finishing her college degree while leading one of the Meadow City’s highest profile sports teams has been an admitted challenge.
“It’s been hard,” she said. “I’ve had a lot of support, though, from my family. My dad sends me all his templates for things like practice and fundraising. And the girls’ parents have been really supportive. They can see the potential in their girls.”
Having lost only two seniors — Caelin Bustos, Mary’s daughter, and Karlee Rogers — in the offseason, West is well stocked with experienced and talented players.
Jaylen Gutierrez is stepping into a new role in the middle and is expected to be a top hitter again.
Sarah Gold and Franny Gonzales are both playing setter and improving daily, the coach said.
Reyna Trujillo rejoins Gutierrez in the middle. Attackers include Celeste Trujillo, Jenika Padilla, Kyanna Spaulding, and Jenna Bustos.
Deanna Bustos will play libero, and Cameron Flores and Lucia Lopez are defensive specialists.
“We ran a slow system last year with a lot of high sets,” Salazar said. “We’re trying to get the girls to speed up the offense, hitting a lot harder with lower sets.”
“Our defense and serve receive is good, but we’re trying to be a little more aggressive on serving. It’s not enough to just get the ball over the net.”
But the biggest adjustment the new coach sees is in the psychological part of the game. Instead of downplaying the lofty preseason rankings the team has gotten, she’s trying to get her charges to think big.
“The girls need to start believing in that. Teams like Pojoaque have that mentality, playing at a higher level. The girls need to buy into that.”