Watching muscular Maria Reyes do flips at the EHS football games can make one flat dizzy, as she vaults time and time again, whipping the length of the field during pregame, usually ending up in the Red Zone, at least. Yes, she and fellow cheerleader Natalie Martinez are noted for their conditioning as multi-sport athletes, and Tuesday at Vela they and their volleyball teammates needed every extra ounce of juice in the tank. And more.
Outlasting the ferocious Lady SaberCats in a mammoth five-set Instant Classic, the Lady Bobcats proved that they still hold the upper hand in the City Rivalry, surviving losses in sets three and four to capture the clincher, 15-14, in one of the finest matches of competitive nets seen since the heyday of the EHS-North bloodbaths of say, four or five years back.
Reyes was indefatigable with her hustle and determination, hitting the deck to save balls and consistently turning digs into settable offerings at the net. Martinez, playing through a knee injury that has bothered her as of late, picked her spots to come on strong. Together, they and veterans Rene Ponce and Tianna Howard (25 kills) were able to beat back a terrific challenge from Vela, a team without many seasoned hands, especially after the recent transfer of standout libero Dylann Guerra.
The truth is, Tuesday had something to offer for both programs as EHS found the toughness to rally from a 11-4 deficit in the fifth set to silence the huge Vela crowd. And the Lady Sabes received wonderful minutes from a series of relatively new faces to go with the accustomed bouncing bashes from Bianca Cortez. This illustrated that as Coach Celi Ortega had noted before the showdown, this team has been galvanized by adversity, and has exhibited some real character through teamwork and dedication against the odds.
Martinez said that her meniscus may be torn, jury still out. It is more weakness that hinders her jumping ability than out and out pain. She also noted that, as Reyes would agree, the Lady Bobcats struggle with consistency sometimes.
“It’s a rollercoaster sometimes, we go up and we go down,” said the senior smacker. “But when we seem to be giving up, then we fight back.”
Reyes, who was bruised here and there and there again from a night of heavy duty dives and gutty rolls, concurred with the assessment.
“When the energy goes, we go down, and the other team tends to then go up,” she explained post-game, sweat still rocking liberally. “We stop talking and we, well, it’s not really fatigue as much as it is mental. I’m telling you, when we went down big in the last set, half of me was thinking we were done. But the other half of me was like, play every point like it’s game point.”
NIGHT TO RECALL
At the start Tuesday, the summer league rematch – Vela walked through EHS gotcho bad in the tourney – the Lady Sabes were sharp. Leading 5-0 and then 10-5, they looked solid until the Lady ‘Cats settled in. There were ties at 11, 12, 13, and 15 until EHS pulled away with Martinez floating like a condor to feather back-to-back winners; then she scored through a block and soon it was 1-0, the visitor having pocketed a 25-23 decision.
Again, Vela raced ahead to start the second run, 5-2 and 9-7 with Glenys Maldonado out front and Cortez blasting a strong kill up high in the backrow grill. But Howard then elevated to reject Cortez (threw rounds at each other all night!) and by the time Howard absolutely deflated one off a Ponce pass, it was 15-11, EHS, an 8-2 surge having done the deed.
With clever work from Maldonado and Jackie Calvillo, Vela rallied to tie it at 20 and 21, until Howard took total control with four ringing scores in a row. EHS was up 2-0, the 25-23 second set win sealed by a Reyes swat off nice execution.
The Vela comeback started with a seriously hilarious dance-off between fellows from the respective student sections, before set three. And as the match continued, the Lady Sabes had the moves, the Lady ‘Cats suddenly looking a tad clumsy out there on the floor.
Calvillo sparked a 6-3 bulge before EHS churned to a 9-8 lead. That was the high-water mark however, as Vela played excellent team ball, pressured the opponent into a torrent of mistakes, and assumed a commanding 16-11 edge. Cortez was superb in leading the way to a 25-20 victory.
What more can be said about set four other than that Vela cruised out to a 13-2 lead and was not challenged in a 23-16 win. Star of the fourth stanza was middle blocker Victoria Cavazos, who had defensive gems and a few big-time kills.
It looked like trouble for EHS.
“At that stage there is nothing you can do, the girls just have to get past it and play,” said EHS coach Deanna Dominguez. “The momentum fades, they get down, you can see it in their posture. When that happens, it’s up to the girls, they have to get it together, or not.”
At first it did not happen for the Lady ‘Cats as Maldonado was tremendous with a hand in five of the first seven home points. Quickly it was 11-4 with a raucous Blue and Black contingent raising the rafters of the ol’ EHS gym. But then, after seven in a row against them, the seniors gutted it up, and the rollercoaster started on its final ascent.
Martinez ended a drought with a score, Vela made a few unforced mistakes, and Martinez again came with it, ripping one off a block and then outleaping the Vela block crew at net to make it 12-11, Vela. Still, having performed so admirably, the home girls weren’t going to let the rope go without a brawl. They got another big shot from Cavazos to lead, 13-11, but after EHS fish Daysha Tijerina saved the day with a diving stab to keep a play alive, it was 13s.
The final moment came when libero Lorissa Gonzalez made a super dig leading to a blast from Howard that caromed off a Vela defender and to the court. Game, set, match to the Lady ‘Cats, finishing a simply phenomenal night of athletic competition. Two heart attacks and a stroke, that’s what this one was all about. Breathless.