For the first time in awhile, the preseason means a ton for the Lady SaberCats. The cycles go like that, with returners and returners and then all of a sudden, wow, not so many returners.

So as Vela began its latest volleyball season last week, the auditions were open with coaches and players alike embracing the sense of urgency.

“We had to learn to do without ‘J’ last year, and now it’s life without ‘B,’” said Coach Celi Ortega, speaking of former program greats Jaida Muhammad and Bianca Cortez. “So, yeah it is a transition period for us, Bianca was a big part of our success the past few years. But we feel good about the group we have, it’s just a matter of getting them some experience.”

The first 2018 experience was a loss to Donna, followed by the annual Poundfest in McAllen, where the Lady Sabes won four of five to get into the money round Saturday. Friday they were up against the ridiculous McAllen High bunch and succumbed in two sets, netting 13 points in each. But this was the type of action the girls needed.

“You’ve got to play against the best to see where you’re at,” said Ortega, whose clubs at Vela have gotten better every season. “Mac High is the best and we just wanted to get in there and fight, see what we could do. It’s hard because that team is always hitting hard, coming at you, and it gets you off balance.”

Without the shot-blocking Cortez in the middle, and minus some other graduation losses, Vela is looking at a number of kids in the early going; plainly, they are gunning for spots.

Right now, the team depends on a series of multi-sport kids, with softballer Amber Guerra and Julia Cordon (softball, basketball) expected to play prominent roles. Cordon has moved into the libero role where her toughness and agility will come in handy. Guerra is a frontline option along with agile Olivia Vega and a couple of other lengthy newcomers. Miranda Negrete has experience and versatility.

The constant in the changing mix is Glenys Maldonado, an honor winner last year who should be one of the better hitters in the Valley once again. But the lineup as of now is subject to change, and that’s why the preseason is huge.

“We’ve got a lot of learning to do as a team and individually,” Ortega said. “A tournament like this is a good opportunity for us to look at all our girls and evaluate what they have to work on. We’re working on finding starters and then filling in our depth.”



Vela beat a sound Brownsville Vets team on day one, also eclipsing Pharr North, Sharyland, and P-SJ-A en route to Saturday when there was a loss to Los Fresnos but also wins over P-SJ-A and Edinburg North. The 25-20, 25-17 result over the Lady Coogs gave the Lady Sabes the consolation title in the gold bracket.

North came out hard at the Poundfest, going 4-1 the first two days including a victory over new district foe Weslaco East and another against a contender down south, Brownsville Rivera. The Lady Coogs, with new coach Raul McCallum, were bested by Rowe and had begun the season Tuesday with a loss against McAllen. They went into Saturday and finished 1-2, including the debit against a city rival. The success on the last day was a taut one, over Rivera as North finished it, 16-14 in the last set.

Also at the McAllen tourney, Econ lost to Rivera for the second time – the two faced off in the opener Tuesday, before the Poundfest – but on day two registered a triumph versus Pharr North.

Seeking to replace many graduated stalwarts, EHS was at Donna last weekend where it started slowly, with losses against Mercedes and Palmview but a win over Rio Hondo. The Lady Bobcats, without departed regulars Tianna Howard, Natalie Martinez, and Maria Reyes, hope to execute the rebuild on the fly and get ready for 31-6A play, which begins Sept. 11. They rebounded Saturday for wins over Brownsville Lopez, Palmview, and Roma to clinch the championship of the silver bracket.