DOMINANT PERFORMANCE BY PONCE, FUENTES LEADS EHS OVER VELA IN 5-SET CLASSIC

Now we know the deal, after the Lady Bobcats made a comeback for the ages ... this race is ON!

Tuesday, down 0-2 and looking for any shred of hope, EHS somehow managed to resurrect the charge, riding a phenomenal wave called Victoria all the way to the shores of Victory, getting vital contributions at key junctures from everyone in Red and Blue.

It was a stunning home win on a memorable night of excellence that was reminiscent of the classic North-EHS scuffles of old. And like last year’s 5-set win EHS claimed over the Lady Sabes on the road. This time the Lady ‘Cats dropped the first set and then gave away the second with a flurry of bad mistakes at the worst possible time. But rather then give up and give in, the underdog got serious. With junior transfer Victoria Fuentes levitating to the ceiling and hitting bombs and tips from all angles, EHS climbed back up the slope, chipping away with solid play until it managed the fifth-set winner against a shaken and suddenly gaffe-prone Vela crew, which had come in with a perfect 4-0 mark in District 31-6A.

Now, with EHS improving to 3-2 and North hovering smartly with one loss, the clash of city squads has begun in earnest.

A huge and boisterous crowd gathered on Tuesday to see the fireworks, and Vela did not disappoint, rushing out to a 13-7 lead in the opener as Miranda Negrete hit well and the Lady Sabes were rotating in sync. Even the thunderous chants of “You Know!” from the EHS loyals in the stands could not turn the tide as Julia Cordon showed her experience in service and Olivia Vega did impressive work at the net against the dangerous Fuentes. The latter heated up a bit late but with hits from Glenys Maldonado sealed the deal, 25-20.

Both teams had recently completed 5-set marathons against Weslaco, Vela winning and EHS not. Now the rivals were ensnared in a similar endurance test, made all the more exciting and necessary by the history between them.

Fuentes, scoring from all angles off perfect feeds from senior Renee Ponce, led her unit forward with the superb junior Maldonado driving the Lady Sabes at a breakneck pace. Vela carved out a 15-11 edge but Fuentes won a battle at net versus the nimble Vega. When she killed off another Ponce set-up it was just 16-15, Vela. But Maldonado leapt to pull one down on the other side and then sophomore Izabella Rodriguez scored a vital point thanks to a sweet set by Analisa Campos. EHS climbed ahead 22-21 but then self-destructed, a block score by Nathalie Gonzalez spelling the difference for a 25-22 triumph.

With elimination looming, the Lady ‘Cats had to put their troubles behind, and managed to hang tough in the third set. Early on, Fuentes was dig-solved twice on one sequence by Maldonado, but on the third try she pounded for point. There were five ties early until Fuentes blocked, followed by a Ponce push to the open spot and an 11-9 EHS lead. Vela go to within 1 at 17-16 before a lengthy EHS point, highlighted by sharp digs from Kristen Salinas, Hannah Vega and Adrianna Guerra. Despite some awesome moments from Maldonado, EHS found the range for a 25-20 win as Zarina Rodriguez turned in a nice kill late in the set via a Ponce pass.

Vela went out at 7-4 in set four until Fuentes, playing above the rest, rallied her team, recording five of her eventual 35 kills to make it 14-12, home six. Vela got back in front, 16-15 but from there it was all Lady Bobcats as Salinas served with flair and Fuentes finished matters on a pair of absolute missiles, making it 25-18 and setting up the final showdown.

It turns out that Ponce and Fuentes go way back, into club volleyball seasons together, a routine they are now perfecting on the big stage. EHS had found the formula while Vela was struggling to stay up. Fuentes three times spelled a 5-4 lead in the 15-point finale but tough little Alyssa Muniz came on for Vela, making a pair of quick-slick saves to ignite her side.

But just as soon as they had started to glide, the Lady Sabes faltered with four straight miscues, and EHS swarmed in for the kill, a hit from Baily Buckner and again, excellent service from Salinas marking the scenario. After it became 11-7, Lady ‘Cats, Vela fought back to 13-11 down with Negrete slamming past a two-girl block. But Guerra again was there for a dig, followed by a Fuentes hammer and the verdict went to the Lady ‘Cats, 15-11.

“We were able to connect pretty well,” said Ponce after the match concluded. “Victoria and I are really good friends and we know each other well. Sometimes we don’t even say it; we just know what we are going to do. This is such a great win for us!!”

For her part, Fuentes noted that even when the team got down 0-2, she didn’t panic.

“Get knocked down seven times, get up eight,” smiled the curly headed newcomer. “Fight to the finish, we always say that and tonight that’s what we did.”

Thus ended a night to remember, when the fans were nuts, the players determined, and the rivalry percolating at a pleasing pitch. Now, as mentioned, we have a bona fide slugfest on our hands for the next six weeks.

NOTES: speaking of that race: Vela was still tied for first after Saturday, at 5-1 with a win over Weslaco East. Surprising Weslaco (5-1) knocked off North (4-2), sending the Lady Coogs into a tie with EHS (4-2), which defeated Donna North Saturday.