CARBONDALE, Colorado - Carrie Shultz knows a thing or two about volleyball.
She won two state titles in Ohio as a high school player and competed collegiately at the University of Pittsburgh. She then spent three years as an assistant coach at Duquesne University.
So when Shultz decided to offer up her services as a volunteer coach with Roaring Fork's volleyball team back in 2007, no one turned her away. And, before she knew it, she was entertaining overtures to become the team's head coach.
With all the young, raw talent on board, she couldn't say no. She knew amazing things awaited the young Rams.
"My first thought was, 'There's so much potential in that gym,' and I was, I guess, excited by the end of the season when they asked me to help," Shultz said. "I looked at that potential and just wanted to help them."
After more or less grabbing the head coaching reins in the final stages of 2007, after the head coach at the time stepped away, Shultz has been firmly entrenched in the post.
And that potential she recognized early on is no longer merely potential. Under Shultz's watch, the Rams are 18-1 and entering Saturday's four-team 3A District 6 Tournament as the host and top seed.
"It's neat to see it all come together," Shultz said. "You know, it's a combination of maturing and a little direction. They have the attitudes and they have the enthusiasm for the sport. They needed to have someone funnel it in the right direction."
Led by a junior quintet that's been dubbed "The Dream Team" ever since stepping on the court together as middle-schoolers in the tiny mountain town of Carbondale, Roaring Fork is rolling.
"There's a point in your volleyball career where you kind of turn the corner and your game just steps up intensely," said big-hitting junior Landon Garvik, a dream-teamer alongside Niki Burns, Ixchel Muniz, Joey Clingan and Savanna Phibbs. "I think that's where our players are at right now. We're getting to the point where we're just competitive and intense in comparison to last year."
The Rams have parlayed that intensity into a monster regular season, one that fell only a late-season, five-game defeat at Coal Ridge shy of perfection.
"We all came in knowing we could go really far with our season," said the team's lone senior, Alli Zeigel. "At the beginning of the season, in two-a-days, we just pushed ourselves with everything. We definitely had ups and downs, but our coach was always teaching us discipline."
That discipline yielded a 3A Western Slope League title and the right to host districts, accolades the Rams hope are only the tip of the iceberg.
"I think that we are all hoping to get as far as possible," Garvik said. "As much as we're going to miss our one senior, this year we're only graduating one. We have really high hopes for next year, so our goal is just to make it as far as we possibly can this year and hope that next year we'll be that much better."
And, with a loaded freshman class that joined the program this fall, that success could extend many years into the future.
"We're going to be really, really, really good for a lot of years coming," Garvik said with a smile.
Those three reallys are a sure sign of Garvik's confidence in the health of the program.
A couple freshmen - Taylor Adams and Megan Gianinetti - have already seen significant court time.
"These freshmen really have a lot of talent and I'm excited to see where they'll go," lauded Clingan, the team's setter.
With a pedigree-rich coach in place to mesh all that talent together, the future of Roaring Fork volleyball is blindingly bright.
"I don't think any of this would be possible without her," Garvik said of Shultz. "She's just such a competitive coach. That's something we tend to lack sometimes - competitiveness. She just really pushes us and tries to push our limits.
"She has really high expectations for us and we, as players, want to make her happy and try and somehow just get a little taste of what our limits are."