DE BEQUE — From the deli at De Beque Gas & Grocery to the offices at Town Hall, the community conversation centers on volleyball these days.
"Sports are … huge in De Beque; they always have been," said Diane Rickstrew, deputy town clerk. "It's usually basketball. Basketball is really it … we breathe basketball."
But now, volleyball is taking De Beque's breath away as Rickstrew and scores of alumnae and alumni turn out with family and friends to cheer on the undefeated and Class 1A No. 7-ranked De Beque High School volleyball team.
"The girls are really doing well, aren't they," Rickstrew said after watching the Dragons post a methodical 25-10, 25-22, 25-16 victory over visiting Caprock Academy last week. "In volleyball, these girls started with almost nothing and they've really built it into something."
Like 13 consecutive match victories to open the season.
The De Beque volleyball team advanced to the Class 1A regional championship game last year for the first time in recent memory. The Dragons and their fans are hoping for even more this season.
"Yes, my granddaughter plays. She's No. 12 … Jadyn Graham," said Rickstrew, a 1977 De Beque High School graduate, who played basketball and volleyball for the Dragons as part of the first generation of girls interscholastic sports in Colorado.
Two generations later, Jadyn Graham is playing for the Dragons. She was one of eight different Dragons to record kills in the win over Caprock Academy.
"That teamwork … that's the reason they are so good," Rickstrew said. "They are really, truly a team."
Faith Novess led the attack with 17 kills in the three-set match, with many coming off assists from Madi Scott and Cecilia Landeros.
Jentry Largent, back in action after missing last season with a foot injury, led both teams in digs and scored on a big swing from the back row, drawing whoops and hollers from the De Beque faithful.
"A small town means everyone is connected, whether you like it or not," Largent said. "For us, it's awesome to be connected not only as a school but as a community."
The senior said the Dragons are embracing their roles.
"People talk to us when we go to the deli at the store," she said. "They tell us they saw us play last weekend. They talk about our next (match). At the post office, too. Even the Kum and Go (convenience store)."
The connection is basic small town, she said: "When we win, they win, too."
Largent, the 1A state track and field champion at 100 and 200 meters as a sophomore, said the Dragons have been with head coach Julie Graham and assistant Becky Graham all through high school.
"As seniors, we know what they expect from us. And the leaders on this team, our seniors and juniors, we know what we want," said Largent, also an all-state basketball player prior to her injury. "And we want our young girls to … help us get there and be a part of it."
Her emphasis on integrating everyone into the team, almost word for word, echoes the orientation of Julie Graham.
"Our practice atmosphere is very similar to the game atmosphere," Graham said. "We prepare at game speed … and the younger girls get mixed in a lot, and that helps us."
She said the Dragons practice and learn every position on the court.
"That way, they know how to react," said Graham, herself a De Beque High School graduate and standout basketball and volleyball player.
The De Beque rotations produced kills from Largent, Novess, Landeros, Jadyn Graham, Linda Pittman, Kailey Davis, Abby Scott and Madi Scott in just one match.
The Dragons add contributions from Kate Ramthum on a varsity roster than includes freshmen Railey Largent and Aubrey Meeney.
The full roster of 11 players represents one-fourth of the entire student body at De Beque High School.
"We are a family; we really are," Julie Graham said. "In the hallways at school, they're a family. In the community, they're a family. The younger ones fit right in … They all enjoy each other's company, and that makes it so much easier to coach."
No argument from Largent.
"I think the special thing for us is that we're all on the same page. We're like family … the culture of our team is … all or none," said Largent, who moved from a front-row attacking role to libero this season as she rebounds from injury. "I really like that we're all sisters rather than just teammates."
Novess, a three-event state track champion last spring (200, 100 hurdles, 300 hurdles), is currently one of the leading hitters in Class 1A.
"We look for improvement … every single day," said Novess, who was also on the podium in the state high jump. "We're all super close."
She said the Dragons collectively respond to timeouts by their coaches during their matches.
"We trust the coaches … then we work on adjusting," said Novess, who added that track helps her volleyball and vice versa.
"Blocking and jumping helps my vertical improve (for track). And track helps me a lot here (in volleyball)," she said.
Novess said the volleyball team shares a special hometown relationship with their coach.
"She went to state … her name's on the banners up there," Novess said, gesturing to the blue and white championship banners on the walls of the De Beque gym. "I think she just want us to experience (going to state) like she did."
Julie Graham, who has been with the volleyball program for five years, is in her third season as the head coach.
"It is nice being from a small town," Graham said. "We all know each other … it's nice to have the community support us."
She remembers that support from her days as a player, just like Diane Rickstrew remembers the De Beque hometown support from 1977.
"I don't think things have changed that much," Rickstrew said. "We haven't grown here that much. De Beque still has that community feel."