Yes, bummed out, and yes, a bit surprised. And one more yes: they are moving on.
With three games left in the volley regular season, EHS found itself holding onto third place in District 31-6A, needing to dispatch the visiting North crew Tuesday to rise to 9-3, close behind Vela and two back of P-SJ-A Memorial.
The Lady Bobcats managed to do this, sweeping North despite terrible service, and some fine hustling plays from the Lady Coogs. They’re in the playoffs for sure, probably against Los Fresnos to begin. But the girls were a bit down Tuesday, and the rivalry match with North just does not have the same buzz as before.
“Yes, we were surprised to lose to Vela like we did,” said senior flier Natalie Martinez, who had a tremendous night against North. “We felt like we could have beaten them, probably should have, but didn’t. Now we are putting it behind us, finishing strong, and getting ready for playoffs.”
That setback to Vela put the team in a bind and was disappointing, especially seeing that the Lady ‘Cats had rallied from two sets down, and led 15-14 in the clincher before falling. This team was expected to be the favorite to win the title but has probably fallen short of that.
Coach Deanna Dominguez recognizes that fact, but like her senior swatter, is trying to outdistance the blow.
“We just haven’t been able to get all phases working at the same time for an entire game,” she said. “We’ll have lapses in serve-and-return, or on defense. And then one area will improve but not the other. It’s frustrating but we still have something to play for. If it ends up being Los Fresnos, we’ve seen them before, in a tournament, and we like our chances to be able to win that game.”
The play of the teams early on reflected the fact that the rivalry intensity has cooled the past two seasons. Seven of the first 15 points were scored after failed serves, and the crowd was lukewarm, which was definitely not the case in days of yore.
Still, the clubs warmed to the task and the energy picked up. North, fighting for the final spot with P-SJ-A, led 11-7 at one point until EHS rallied to a 5-0 surge, Martinez punctuating the burst with a ringing slam which one-hopped off the face of a Lady Coog on the back row.
When Martinez is right – she has been bothered by injuries just about every year, from a foot to back and then a knee – she is a condor-like presence, steaming with a strong 1-2-3 step system into swooping, long-armed kills. Tuesday she seemed 100 percent, able to elevate above the defense for graceful slams in bunches.
She and Tianna Howard ruled the net all night, the latter coming off a mammoth 32-kill performance last weekend and both gearing up for a strong postseason run. The Lady Bobcats finished off a 25-18 win in the first set as Howard smashed a couple of winners.
The Lady Coogs got some inspired action from Brandi Garcia to start the second tilt and were scrambling well, trying to negate the EHS edge at the net. Amber Dreyer nailed a few shots off Amanda Cavazos sets and despite a killer run of five straight winners from Martinez, the visitor was in range midway through. But EHS ran from a 5-point lead onto Easy Street with T coming alive again. Late in the 25-12 win, Martinez was dug by the North back but later in the sequence got a second chance, rising high to reject at the twines.
North got off well in the third go, leading 6-2 as Garcia again keyed the surge with hustle and resourcefulness. Cortney Ortiz turned in an impressive spike and the Lady Coogs held the lead at 13-11 halfway home. At times, North showed signs of consistent skill, only to fall victim to lapses in concentration and confidence. Martinez registered another block score to tie it at 13 but Cavazos-to-Dryer regained the advantage. Then Martinez took over again, tipping for a 1-point lead, flipping a North shot back down for another point, and then scoring off a Renee Ponce feed for an 18-15 lead.
The teams rallied well now, and Brittany Keller rose to slap a strong kill to bring North to within 3 at 20-17. But the Lady ‘Cats were too good, as Howard was dug by libero Brenda Rios but soon after skied to put down an errant pass by the Lady Coogs. The final was 25-19 and though the victory allowed them to hold serve, one could tell that the Lady ‘Cats were competing against two foes Tuesday.
One was obviously a pesky North squad, but the other was the reality of missed opportunities against Memorial and Vela that had put the club in this spot in the first place.
NOTES: North is now 5-8 after a loss to P-SJ-A Memorial and must beat P-SJ-A (6-7) Tuesday to tie the Lady Bears and necessitate a playoff or flip for the fourth seed. Vela is second behind Memorial and finishes with Econ Tuesday, while the Lady Bobcats squeaked by Southwest Saturday and complete the regular season Tuesday against Pharr North.