Every good college coach sets up a pipeline somewhere to bring in quality talent year after year.
For Otero Junior College head volleyball coach Jordan Willis, Pueblo is that pipeline, and the riches are flowing from Pueblo West in particular.
Three Pueblo West standouts and 2018 grads, Brilane Manchego, Kelsey Garcia and Mariah Autobee, have all committed to play collegiately for the Rattlers this fall.
Manchego, a first-team All-State setter in 2017, alongside All-South-Central League selections Garcia and Autobee, will make five Pueblo products on the Otero squad in the fall. Pueblo South's Ashley Alfonso and Dolores Huerta's Ariana Potoker are also on the team.
"There's a lot if familiarity there," Autobee said. "We trust (Willis) as a coach and we trust our teammates. It'll be great to continue playing with them."
The trio go back a long way with Willis.
Willis, formally the assistant coach for five seasons at CSU-Pueblo, coached them as members of the Southern Colorado Precision club team in Pueblo.
"I've had them (in SC Precision) for the past three seasons," Willis said. "And it's great to grow with them over the years and see the players they've become."
Garcia, a two-year starter with the Cyclones at libero, is excited for the opportunity, as well as the ability to stay close to home.
"It's been my dream to play volleyball at the next level," Garcia said. "I can't wait to get in there and hopefully break a bunch of record and play for a national championship."
Then in the case of Manchego, there's the family connection.
Manchego is Willis's stepdaughter, as well, in addition to being her club coach with Precision. She's had looks from numerous NCAA Division I and Division II schools, considering she carried the mantle as perhaps the top senior setter in Colorado last season.
That connection is deepened even further, as Manchego nearly lost her life three years ago when she suffers a sudden cardiac arrest while swimming, Willis helping on site to administer CPR and help save her life.
All of that, combined with her background as a native of Fowler, perfectly in between La Junta and Pueblo, Otero became the best fit for her.
"I thought about going out of state and I got some offers from four-year schools, Manchego said. "But I just want to play, honestly. And I've already had Jordan as a coach and he's family, so why take your chances."
Because of the two-year nature of junior college, all three have a chance to play right away, an opportunity they may not have been afforded at a four-year school.
He sees bright futures for each of them.
"Kelsey has had some accolades and she's just ready," Willis said. "I can trust her on the floor, she can move and she just gets after it. Then you have Mariah, who's probably grown more over the past three or four years than anybody (on the Precision team), and she'll develop into a strong player."
The trio is all brought together by Manchego, who certainly projects into a Division I setter after her two years with Otero.
"Brilane is a great setter, and that's well-documented," Willis said. "Her leadership, as well, is almost transcendent. I've never seen her not get along with a player on and off the court."
Her history, he said, is also something that can positively affect the personality of a team.
"If they know her story, they know she's an inspiration," Willis said. "She's been through more than many of us, and I don't think even she understands the gravity of her own importance. She doesn't have excuses, just results, and a lot of people see that."
Willis said his experience in Pueblo makes the community a natural pipeline for the Rattlers, the three Pueblo West imports serving as a foundation for that goal.
"There is a ton of talent in Southern Colorado, and the best kids (in the area) have to have that offer to play (at Otero)," Willis said. "You have to try to keep local talent local, creating that pipeline out of Pueblo, not just Pueblo West."
The trio is looking forward to it, thankful to not have the awkwardness of a new college coach get in the way of their transition.
"That player/coach relationship is huge," Garcia said. "We've already seen the best and worst of each other."
Autobee added that it will be a gift for the three of them to play together another two years.
"It's truly in our best interests (to go to Otero), both for us individually and as a team," Autobee said. "For all of us, that foundation is already there."