With no Rifilato on the court, Rifilato on the bench audibles

Bayfield senior Jennifer Phelps, left, will be a four-year starter for the Wolverines’ volleyball team. She can play outside and in the middle, and she’ll step in for the departed Katherine Rifilato (right) this year to play surrogate daughter to the head coach, too. Enlarge photo

Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file photo

Bayfield senior Jennifer Phelps, left, will be a four-year starter for the Wolverines’ volleyball team. She can play outside and in the middle, and she’ll step in for the departed Katherine Rifilato (right) this year to play surrogate daughter to the head coach, too.

Volleyball is a family affair at Bayfield High School.

And it’ll remain a family affair this year even though the names have changed and the lineup has changed.

“I feel like I still have a child on the team with Jen (Phelps) there for four years,” Bayfield head coach Kelley Rifilato said of the BHS senior and four-year starter.

For the first time in six seasons, coach Rifilato will not have a Rifilato daughter on the volleyball court at Bayfield High School. Both Gabrielle and Katherine Rifilato now are playing at Adams State College.

But Phelps and seven returning players from last year’s state tournament team give the Wolverines’ family a mature outlook on the new season, Rifilato said.

“I have so much knowledgeable maturity on this team,” Rifilato said this week as the Wolverines prepped for the nonconference season opener at 2:30 p.m. today at home against San Juan High School of Blanding, Utah.

“That was evident last weekend,” Rifilato said when the Wolverines immediately had to adjust to a key injury in a preseason scrimmage.

Middle Kayla J. McCoy, a senior, suffered a sprained ankle and will miss the opening matches of the season.

Rifilato said the Wolverines changed positions without hesitation after the injury.

Phelps, for one, moved back into the middle after she had been slated for outside hitting duties this season.

“I’m thankful for Jen Phelps. She stepped right back in there,” Rifilato said.

She pointed to a situation two years ago when Katherine Rifilato suffered a season-ending knee injury, forcing the Wolverines to make dramatic lineup changes.

“The kids were forced to mature that year,” coach Kelley Rifilato said.

The Wolverines, who managed to qualify for the state tournament two years ago, have made four consecutive appearances at the CHSAA Class 3A Volleyball State Championships. They were 28-3 last year and fourth in the state championships.

“These girls have had a lot of quality matches, a lot of postseason matches,” Rifilato said.

“It’s kind of a quiet group ... but they had a good summer. They just do their job,” the BHS coach said.

She said the Wolverines also have three-year starter Layne Bulwan, a senior, back on the court this year along with 6-4 sophomore Kirstie Hillyer. Hillyer has been bothered by an abdominal strain in the preseason.

Jordyn Harrison, a senior, is back for her third year on the varsity at BHS.

Lindsey Reinmuth, another senior, will work at setter this year along with Suzie Rhodes, a sophomore.

“They (players) are used to changes. It’s not a panic. It’s a maturity,” Rifilato said.

She said the Wolverines will be an effective serving team again this year.

“That’s a skill some people don’t focus on,” said Rifilato, whose Wolverines long have emphasized the service game.

That’s all part of the fundamentals, she said, adding that passing and serving are the most important aspects of high school volleyball.

“I’m really looking forward to the season,” Rifilato said.

After today’s home opener against San Juan High School, the Wolverines will host Montezuma-Cortez in another nonconference match Sept. 4 at Bayfield.

dstrode@ durangoherald.com