High school volleyball: Rangers' fire rekindled

2013-03-20T00:00:00Z High school volleyball: Rangers' fire rekindledJason Harris Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
March 20, 2013 12:00 am  • 

At 14-4, Rincon/University has proven to be one of the top boys volleyball teams in the state.

Strangely, no one is talking about it - probably because the Rangers went 16-16 last year and failed to make the state tournament, changed coaches for the third time in four years just two weeks before the start of this season and didn't even know themselves.

Enter Nic Thiltges.

The first-time high school coach has Rincon's all-senior starting lineup believing again, especially after a second-place finish at Catalina Foothills' Falcon Invitational last weekend.

Here's a look at four reasons the Rangers are back:

1. New but experienced: Thiltges, 27, is young, but the Salpointe Catholic grad knows volleyball.

"We were all worried we might get someone who was just here to watch and we we're going to have to coach ourselves," said 6-foot-8-inch senior outside hitter Mason Durckel.

In little over a month, Thiltges has re-established Rincon's competitive edge, last seen in 2009 when the Rangers were the state runners-up.

"He taught us how to finish games," senior setter Rueben Bautista said.

"We have the talent, the age and the maturity, and now we have a coach that is pushing us."

2. Nine seniors: After being away from the game and out of the country for the last two years, the rookie coach has been leaning on his nine seniors, such as year-round players Durckel, and Bautista and four-year varsity do-it-all player Michael Bernal.

"The boys have been really good about accepting me as their coach despite me coming in during their senior season and really just getting on board with what I want to do with the program," Thiltges said.

3. Improving with time: From the start of the season to their fifth-place finish at the TUSD Invitational earlier this month to finishing second at the Falcon Invitational on Saturday, everyone has noticed a difference.

"We were expecting to win at TUSD and we didn't do very well," Bernal said. "This past weekend at Foothills, within those two weeks we've improved so much, both in chemistry and skill."

4. Thinking state: Having made the playoffs just once in the last three years with a first-round exit in 2011, it's now or never for Rincon's seniors.

"We just all feel it," said Durckel.

"It's our last year. We have to go out with a bang."

The team is feeling even more confident after beating Chandler Hamilton and splitting two matches against Gilbert Perry at Foothills. The two are a combined 32-10.

"We have a lot of room to improve but as far as athleticism these boys are definitely a match for the teams we've seen so far," Thiltges said. "With a little more experience and training, we should be able to hang with anyone."

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