During Manitou Springs' semifinal state tournament match against Valley on Nov. 9, coach Carol Benedict saw a small, but gaping hole on the middle of the right side of the Vikings' half of the court.
It was a small observation, but it provided major dividends for the Mustangs, as sophomores Katie McKiel and Nicole Mack went to work, firing away at that small section of the Valley defense, and the Tri-Peaks West champions reeled off three straight victories to win the match 3-2 and advance to the state title game.
"She just told us to 'never give up and to keep fighting no matter what. It doesn't matter what the score is,'" Mack said.
Benedict, The Gazette 3A and Below Volleyball Coach of the Year, has more than 20 years of coaching experience, and the former Hanover and Fountain-Fort Carson volleyball coach returned last year to the high school coaching ranks after taking a few years off to raise her kids.
"Even as a young coach I wouldn't have seen some of the things I see now," Benedict said. "Just like we want kids to play to get better, I think coaches just watching and learning the game more are going to tell kids how to get better."
In just her second year at the helm, Benedict led Manitou Springs (28-1) to the 2013 state title game - a tough 3-0 loss to Eaton - despite relying on a young and inexperienced team.
Benedict has Manitou's varsity, junior varsity, and C-squad teams practice together, and said it wasn't too hard getting back into the thick of the sport because she continuously is reading, studying and learning important things about the evolution of the game.
"Volleyball has changed over 20 years and there is so much out there to learn," she said. "You just have to keep up with the game to be successful."
Justin Felisko, The Gazette