These days a volley team plays so many non-district games before league play begins that it can seem like the end of a long vacation: tired and worn out, having to regroup to get back to work.
Celi Ortega and Raul McCallum know the feeling, and as they prepared for the 31-6A opener Saturday, the veterans were regrouping.
“We have had some injuries off and on, so we have really tried to develop our bench,” said Vela coach Ortega, who has used the seemingly interminable preseason to fill numerous spots left open by graduation. “But this schedule has been super long, we’ve already played something like 30 games!”
McCallum, long-time assistant at North who’s now the head honcho, agreed about the marathon effect.
“All the tournaments, you get multiple games, it can wear you out,” he suggested. “But we have gotten a lot out of it, so far. We’ll see how consistent we can be today, because that will decide it.”
McCallum says that he’s been able to build his connection with the kids during the long stretch of warmups, and adds that while being a head coach has been very rewarding, it has had its rough patches.
“When you’re the head coach, everything falls on you, whereas as an assistant you can focus more on just coaching,” he explained. “It’s a little stressful, dealing with all the details, the little things.”
McCallum has also taken the opportunity to tell his 2018 Lady Coog edition about the program’s storied past, in an attempt to show the gals what’s possible.
“I have talked to them about 2011, when we went on a 16-game winning streak, ran off a bunch of wins in district, and went deep in the playoffs,” he related. ”I told them I am not comparing them to that team, just saying they can be just like them.”
THE LATEST BRAWL
The match at North Saturday was worthy of inclusion in the classic battles of old, as the host Lady Coogs showed why they have been one of the more solid clubs in the area so far. But Vela, a squad that some might have overlooked, was able to claim the four-set victory to start 31-6A in style.
Though they trailed in all four sets, the Lady Sabes got more consistent hitting throughout, yeoman’s work at libero from senior Julia Cordon, and took advantage of intermittently poor service from North to win.
Vela led 18-12 in the first set as Glenys Maldonado was steady with sharp kills and Miranda Negrete came up with some heady plays. But thanks to some aces from the line by lanky and promising freshman Jazmine Cuellar, North rallied and with hustling Natalie Rodriguez providing her usual spark, the home side closed out a 25-20 victory. Evana Ramos dived to save one and Jevanah Burrows scored at the net on a block. Then the agile Ramos located a difficult carom off the ceiling to keep another play alive and it was eventually 1-0, North.
Each set was close as the teams came in evenly matched in just about every phase. Negrete for Vela and Rodriguez of North stood out in the early stages of the second set and North scored four straight to lead, 15-14, Brandi Garcia of the Lady Coogs serving expertly. Davida de Leon’s deft tip made it 18-16 and North soon had a 3-point lead at 19-16. But with sophomore Izabella Rodriguez scoring off a block and Negrete rising to rule the net, it was Vela up, 22-20. A poor serve hurt the Lady Coogs and the Lady Sabes prevailed, 25-23.
Ortega has been looking for contributions off the bench this year and she got plenty of them in set three as Rodriguez, Gabriella Avila, and Sarah Olivarez provided some key moments. North got off at 7-3 thanks to a powerful mid-row strike from Garcia and a terrific dig by Cuellar, but Vela rebounded with Negrete scoring thrice and Maldonado continuing to produce.
Not more than four points separated these rivals most of the way with Negrete blasting one through the back row for a 15-15 knot. Sophomore lefty Avila, younger sister of former Lady Sabe Katherine Avila, served a winner and when Rodriguez’s block led to a point from Alexis Hanson, Ortega’s band was up, 18-15. Maldonado pounded through block after a tip from Rodriguez, and North errors also aided a 25-18 Vela triumph, Olivarez chipping in with a service ace.
Again, North launched out to a healthy start for set four, a Rodriguez steamer highlighting the rush. But again Vela came back to lead, 8-7 after a booming Maldonado serve and a series of errors by the Lady Coogs. Ramos surged for North to help regain the lead, and it was 13-10, North after the tiny terror zinged a vicious back row kill.
The Lady Coogs held the lead at 20-16 before Vela proved its worth. Maldonado beat a block up front to tie it at 20 and then soared like a condor on a beauty of a kill. North’s last ad was at 21-20 but Maldonado scored four of the final six markers to punctuate an emphatic 25-23 clincher.
“You’re 1-0 in district … enjoy it!” roared Ortega to her girls after the finish.
She noted that the teams were so commensurate in talent that she knew it would be a hard-fought afternoon.
“Every game was going to be close, and we like that,” she grinned. “It just makes everything more exciting! I think our depth was good today, when someone was not on, we put another girl in and they all came through for us. We were also able to take advantage when North had trouble on the serve, that was a big thing today.”