PHARR – It’s all about progression for the Lady SaberCats these days, as they make their way up the District 31-6A volleyball food chain, learning lessons with every victory.

Now 5-2 to complete the first half of play, Vela showed last week that despite the loss of a fine player to transfer, the rest of the gang is picking up the slack quite nicely. In defeating P-SJ-A on the road Tuesday and following that up with a home triumph over Econ, the Lady Sabes are making Coach Celi Ortega happy as they file away more and more points on the learning curve.

“The P-SJ-A Memorial game was a good example of what I’m talking about,” said Ortega before her squad battled with a testy lady Bears unit Tuesday. “We had wild swings of play, we’d be up by a bunch and barely win a set, or give away some points at exactly the wrong time. But the thing is, we were able to win, and I think it shows that we are coming together at the right time.”

With the loss of standout libero Dylann Guerra from a lineup that had already been riddled by the graduation of four starters, Vela came into the league season struggling and somewhat green around the edges. But little by little the other girls besides super frontliner Bianca Cortez and rising star Glenys Maldonado are proving that they belong on this level, and as winners, not also-rans.

Against the Lady Bears, whose mammoth jump-service game and height in the middle gave the Lady Sabes intermittent fits, the progress was on display. From seniors Jackie Calvillo and setter Emily Espinosa to lesser grebes (for now) such as Analisa Campos, Katryna Borrego, and Anyssa Garza, the rest of the cast helped the team subdue P-SJ-A in four.

It was Maldonado who sparked the early surge that led to a 25-19 first set success, with her leaping kills and growing confidence in the left-handed swat. She tallied four kills early while Cortez came on late to own the net, Espinosa serving sinking liners to aid the cause.

A ringing shot from Calvillo established the visitor early in the second stanza and after a Campos dig, Garza rifled a mid-row kill to the deep backline for a 9-7 Vela advantage. Besides being a resourceful player, Campos seems to have assumed a role as a vocal presence on and off the court, something that every team needs in order to keep the fire brewing.

P-SJ-A rallied by pinning the Vela backline with some heavy artillery from the startline, and its spindly 6-foot-1 middle blocker began to find the range against the jumping jacks Cortez and Maldonado. The Lady Bears rose to a 16-13 lead until Vela illustrated some of that patience and resolve Ortega was talking about.

“At one point after we had gone flat against Memorial, and we were headed to the fifth set after leading 2-0, the girls were determined,” the coach recalled. “They said that they didn’t want to do what they had done against Bobcats.”

That loss still sticks in the collective craw, as Vela led EHS until being passed at the wire. One of the elements that a winning unit has to exemplify consistently is the ability to learn from mistakes and not commit the same ones down the season road.

Maldonado saved the bacon with a nice rescue of a bad pass, flipping a lefty score, and then followed with a vicious tomahawk slam to bring her club to within one. The service of Espinosa and late highwire work from Cortez enabled the Lady Sabes to take it, 25-22. Then it got crazy.

Vela jumped out early, 5-2 in set three only to see the Lady Bears roll to a 10-7 bulge. Nice salvage effort from Campos steadied the charge a bit but the girls still trailed 17-12 at one point. From 18-18, after a Vela rally, there were no fewer than 10 ties in a marathon set that ended with the home side up, 32-30. Maldonado really cranked one late in the set and Cortez stepped up from the back row to hammer a mid-range kill, but every time it looked like Vela, the glory was short-lived. The Lady Sabes made key errors down the stretch, and this one would go to a fourth set.

The match was competitive throughout as the Lady Bears (2-5 now) played over the heads a bit to give the visitor a real challenge. Vela found itself down 14-10 after a rash of silly unforced mistakes, and Pharr was up and threatening to force a fifth try. But Calvillo nailed a smoking pea to the ground and Cortez scored through a block. Kills from Miranda Negrete and Calvillo again got the side going and after a 5-0 run it was 20-18, Vela. Negrete smashed again, Garza and Campos turned in super digs and the upshot of set five was this: the Blue and Black kept its composure and kept on coming, and the opponent finally broke under the strain, a handful of ill-timed boo-boos sealing their tomb of doom.

Heading into the volleyball Rivalry Week (North on the road Tuesday and EHS at home Saturday for the Instant Classic rematch), this team is starting to click, and is in range to vie for the league title after all.