New Central Wyoming College volleyball coach Darshaya Gallard is putting her squad through a rigorous preseason.
Darshaya Gallard doesn't like volleyballs to hit the floor.
At least not on her team's side of the net.
So, when one sees players rolling around on the brand-new shiny hardwood surface in Rustler Gym these days as the Central Wyoming College volleyball squad trains for the upcoming season for seemingly no good reason, as if diving and tumbling after phantoms, there certainly is a good reason.
A ball hit the floor.
Or perhaps one was sent crashing into the net during a serving drill.
Bottom line is, Gallard doesn't like mistakes on a volleyball court.
The new Lady Rustlers bench boss has high standards after a playing career of her own which saw her ply her trade professionally across the entire continent of Europe, before the Southern California native returned to this side of the Atlantic and began her coaching career.
Mistakes will certainly happen, but that doesn't mean they're acceptable, she said.
"I want to make sure we have certain standards within this program," said Gallard, as she sat back in her new office before a recent practice on the campus of her new home. "If they don't go for the ball and dive, then they have to dive and hit the floor anyway -- this concept can help them to not be scared to go for the ball every time."
Gallard arrived with a preseason plan called "Hell Weeks," a four-week gauntlet which has her charges on a military-like regimen from dawn until dusk every day, preparing them for the upcoming season.
According to Gallard, there's definitely a method to the madness.
"Our players need to have a great energy, determination and a want to be here," said Gallard. "Right now, we're working through the cobwebs of the off-season, getting consistency back and getting into shape."
However, despite the disciplinary tone of her camp, Gallard allows certain freedoms within the parameters of her training program, she said.
"What I want to do is lay a foundation to have structure and provide team-building," said Gallard. "But, there is some fluidity within those boundaries."
So, how are they doing thus far?
"I feel they're adapting well," she said. "They're full of determination and want to get better, which is all I can ask for in a player."
Central begins its regular season on Aug. 23 at Chadron State College, then will play on Sept. 1-2 at a tournament at Sheridan College, where they will face the hosts, as well as Miles Community College and Dawson Community College.
But, first, the Lady Rustlers will play Laramie County Community College and Western Wyoming Community College during a preseason scrimmage on Aug. 18-19 in Cheyenne.
Central's first home match of the new campaign is scheduled for Sept. 22 against Northwest College.
New and old
Six players return from a season which saw Central go 7-17 overall, with a 1-11 mark in Region IX North conference play, but Gallard is convinced those who went through a 14-match losing streak to end last year have been mentally cleansed from that experience.
"Life is all about looking at what's in front of you," said Gallard. "My job is to get them ready for this season and make sure each one of them gets a little better every day."
Leading returners include 5-foot-11 middle blocker Kayla Coles and 5-foot-7 libero/defensive specialist and Riverton High school alum Brooklenn Thompson, who played integral roles last fall as freshman and who Gallard will look to for providing even more of an impact during their sophomore seasons.
Also coming back from last season's squad are sophomores Alyssa Barkhurst, a 5-foot-7 outside hitter from Encampment, 5-foot-6 defensive specialist Kassi Falslev of Logan, Utah, 5-foot-9 outside hitter Lauren Gamblin of Rawlins and 5-foot-10 middle blocker and former Wind River Lady Cougar Bailey Wilson.
Gallard has infused some size along the net in new recruits Rylee Burmester (5-foot-11, outside hitter, Star Valley), Kourtney Curtis (5-foot-10, middle blocker/outside hitter, Trementon, Utah), Jensen Paris (6-foot-1, middle blocker, Sparks, Nevada) and 5-10 New Zealander Noz Sahin.
Other additions include Afton's Riley Haderlie, Jaida Spendalow, Taylor Hodges, Tamara Lukic and Stacia Weathington.
However, regardless of each of her player's status or position, Gallard is looking for outstanding efforts up and down the entire roster, from starters to substitutes, she said.
"I'm expecting big things from everyone of them," said Gallard. "They all bring an important aspect to the team. It's very early to know exactly. I have many strong defensive players and powerful middles and outsides -- even my setters are great."
Attention to detail
But, good must come before great and to be good, one must first master the basics, which is why Gallard has set up her practices concentrating on only one aspect of the game at a time, be it serving, rotations, blocking -- take your pick.
"At this level, the players have to know the basics," she said. "Preseason gives me the opportunity to really break the game down and focus on the various aspects. Once the season begins, that's not the case."
One of the biggest challenges for her to overcome as a college coach is to bring high-school players into the fold, each of whom was one of the best -- or even the best -- on their respective prep squads and get them to search within to make themselves even better, she said.
"For some of them. they're playing a new position in a new place with a lot of unknowns," said Gallard. "In high school, they might have been really good at one part of the game, but at the college level, you need to be an excellent all-around player, which is why we focus on everything down to even the smallest of details."
Constant chatter also echoes throughout Rustler Gym during practices, as players call for balls hit their way and constantly offer encouragement to teammates as they busily go through the day's drills.
All by design, said Gallard.
"Communication is key and it also empowers you as a player -- many of the girls have already adjusted well to this concept," she said."I want the team to stay positive and focus on the things they've done right and build from there. I believe in focusing on the next ball."
Just don't let one hit the floor.