For the Hodgeman County High School Longhorns volleyball team, graduation 2018 was brutal.

“I think it was six or seven I graduated,” Longhorns head coach Shelby Veeder said. “Basically my varsity squad, I’ve only got maybe two returners who have even somewhat played any varsity time. So it’s definitely pry gonna be a rebuilding year for us as a young squad because I only have three seniors out altogether, and then I think another two or three juniors and the rest are sophomore(s) (or) freshmen.”

With so much youth, the team’s focus this year will be fundamentals, Veeder said.

“I had a strong senior class last year, so these girls have some big shoes to fill for me,” Veeder said.

First up among fundamentals: Passing.

“This first two practices, all we’ve done is pass the ball, pass the ball, because that’s where it’s gotta start,” Veeder said.

That’ll be important in the ultra-competitive Southern Plains - Iroquois Activities Association league the Longhorns play in, where three teams went to stat last season, one of which finished as state runner-up in 1A DI (South Central).

“I just keep telling ‘em ‘if we can pass than we can get a set, a hit out of it,’ we’d just ” Veeder said. “We’d rather have that pass first. Now that’s just really what we’re drilling, is trying to be a passing team. There’s a lot of good hitters in our league, and if they can’t pass then they can’t hit.”

Which is why Veeder is having the team focus so much on passing.

“We may not be the strongest hitters this year, but if we can get a pass then we can compete with the league,” Veeder said.

The team is also going to work on learning to play together. The girls got some summer work in together, but outside of summer work this combination of players have not played together much, Veeder said.

Throwing six new players on the court and getting them to play together will be a challenge, Veeder said.

It isn’t all bad news for the Longhorns this season though.

“I have a sophomore who played varsity, she stepped up when I had (an) injury last year as a freshmen year,” Veeder said.

She also has one senior who dealt with an injury during her junior year.

“I think I’m gonna see good things from her this year if she can stay healthy,” Veeder said.

The Longhorns have a junior varsity tournament at 9 a.m. Aug. 25 in Ness City, then open at home with a match against Kiowa County on Aug. 28 at 5 p.m