SHARYLAND – Volleyball teams will shout various things in unison as they break the huddle following a timeout, such as “Defense!” or “Hustle!” and sometimes these mantras can be chanted halfheartedly, by rote.
But here Tuesday, as the Lady Bobcats attempted to show focused improvement on a particular aspect of their game, their post-timeout cheer was hugely germane.
“1-2-3, Finish!” was the cry from the EHS girls, and they then went out and did that, convincingly, sweeping the Lady Rattlers to reverse a recent penchant for not being able to close opponents out once they get them on the ropes.
Shary had defeated a strong Hanna team twice in 2017, and also beaten the likes of Laredo Alexander, Edinburg North, and Brownsville Vets. But although the Lady Snakes gave EHS a tussle, every time the visitor appeared ready to falter, someone came up big with a play in Red and Blue.
Having blown a series of leads in a loss to Edcouch-Elsa recently, Deanna Dominguez’s club was determined to 1-2-3 Finish.
“Some our struggles were unnecessary, but OK, we’re working out the kinks still,” said the coach, who noted that her girls have a few more losses early on than they normally do. “We have got some youngsters this year and they are learning how to play. Last year we were basically set by this time, but this year we are still working on focus and improvement. Every team is different, finding its way at its own speed, getting that recipe for success.”
The recipe for EHS surely includes hitter Tianna Howard and middle blocker/hitter Natalie Martinez, mainstays of the program for years. Veterans Maria Reyes and Renee Ponce are also established contributors, and all four are clutch kids, says their coach. At times, either Martinez or Howard heated up, and at others Ponce wowed the crowd with her sets and hustling plays.
The rest of the churn for the Lady Bobcats, as Dominguez mentioned, is a work in progress, but a potentially outstanding piece of work. The team has three freshmen in the rotation right now, all exes of a Barrientes program they helped to considerable success in the recent past. In Julissah Santa Maria, Dayshan Tijerina, and Kristen Salinas, Dominguez is seeing the future warm up: each of the newbies made some positive plays against Sharyland.
“You can see the youth show itself sometimes, and you just have to be patient,” Dominguez smiled. “They are athletic kids, played multiple sports, and their junior high coach did a great job with them in volleyball. They’re learning every match, the jump from eighth grade to varsity is tough to make, but they are doing pretty well so far.”
EHS fell behind to start Tuesday but rallied into a 12-11 lead, and after five ties, asserted itself for the 25-22 win. Ponce, who is one of the best serving options in the Valley, toed the line to send it home and a series of sloppy errors from the home six sealed the deal.
Martinez started the second set with a vengeance, having a hand in five straight points with her leaping ability and timing. Then she blocked and scored, following that with a ricochet kill off two defenders for a 17-14 advantage, the team erasing a 4-point Shary lead with a 6-0 run. Young Salinas turned in a diving save during the stretch and also served a few points to the good. However, EHS was shaky down the stretch, falling into 22-all tie before Howard saved the day with a kill from Ponce and a smashing block for the W, 25-23.
Ready for the sweep, EHS assumed a quick 4-0 set three lead with a hustling save from Reyes punctuating the surge, followed by a darting Ponce ace. Howard dominated the midsection with four ringing scores and it was 16-12, EHS. Salinas made another save and Santa Maria, the third of her family to don sporting togs for the school, also pitched in with some deft moments. Up 19-14, the Lady ‘Cats seemed home free but the 1-2-3 Finish drill deserted them for a bit. Shary roared back with a 7-0 run to lead, 22-21, presaging a madcap finish.
Santa Maria made a simply ridiculous diving save and Howard killed for a 24-all knot, and the Lady Rattlers missed chances to win the set twice after that. Ponce made what has to be the dig of the year of an absolute bomb from a Shary hitter, and next Martinez sailed gracefully up for a tip point and a 28-27 lead; this after another last-second save from Salinas. The last set ended with Martinez scoring off a block after a perfect Ponce set, and the Lady ‘Cats had finished, 1-2-3, as per the plan.