Coach, teach, observe, critique … repeat. That’s the way it works with an inexperienced team, and Deanna Dominguez knew coming into the 2018 volleyball season that she had a promising group of newcomers. But it was a nascent group that would need time to figure things out and coalesce with returning starter Renee Ponce.

Though EHS began the campaign with a sub-.500 record halfway through non-district, and despite the fact that many observers had thus written them out of the 31-6A race super early, Saturday was when the chickens came home to roost.

Because Saturday was the day that the Lady Bobcats, having dispatched Weslaco earlier in the week, came over to Vela and swept the first-place Lady SaberCats with a strong, consistent performance, the kind of work that an experienced team will produce when it’s all on the line. It appears that the Lady ‘Cats, now 8-3 with one game remaining, have arrived. They are now in a 4-way tie for first with North, Vela, and Weslaco.

“I said at the beginning when we started that it would be evolving, an ever-evolving thing,” said Dominguez after the huge win that dropped Vela to its third loss. “Today we kind of came full circle, we’re excited about beating them over here. We have done a lot of learning this season, faced our share of adversity, had some small mental lapses at times, but overall, we are showing what we have worked on all year long. This is satisfying.”

The Lady Bobcats were particularly adept in the key moments Saturday as all three sets were tense, hard fought, and fun to watch. Down 23-22 in the opener, EHS benefited from a pair of Tori Fuentes bombs to score three straight and go up, 1-0. In the second set, the visitor was down early, rallied into the lead behind the excellence of the veteran Ponce, and then bounced from a late 1-point deficit to win 25-23 behind a kill from Baily Buckner and clinching bump winner from Ponce.

Playing with confidence now, Dominguez’ girls led from start to finish in the third set, capping their fourth triumph in a row and sixth in seven starts.

“We try and simulate the close games in practice,” the coach explained. “We’ll make it 20-20 and go from there, or we’ll put us behind and make the girls claw their way back in. It’s all about maintaining focus and making the plays.”

Saturday was all about long rallies and marathon points, with EHS generally getting the better of the deal.

“Sometimes, when you have long rallies, kids can lose their way a bit, and that matters,” Dominguez said. “The angle of the ball, where it’s going, that will change our roles and positions, and we have to be able to stay mentally alert and adjust with the play. I thought we did a good job of that today.”

For Vela, which finishes up at Weslaco East Tuesday, a chance to solidify the title was lost at home. The Lady Sabes came in having won four of five – the lone loss was against North – but ended up dropping the season series to their rival school.

The last time these two met, it was a 5-set classic, the Lady Bobcats coming out on top, 15-11 at home. This time, the Red and Blue competed like a seasoned unit, with Fuentes and Ponce connecting well and subs such as Zarina Rodriguez providing big-time support. Rodriguez contributed sharp net play in the second set and scored four times in the third to aid the charge.

Just goes to show that when a relatively new crew listens, learns, and makes progress without getting down about poor starts, the results will come.

Play, learn, improve, win … repeat.

NOTES: North climbed to 8-3 with a win against Econ Saturday and Weslaco defeated East, meaning a 4-way knot at the top of the 31-6A standings. The Weslaco at North match Tuesday is now the fulcrum of the situation, with EHS hoping to pound winless Donna North at home and Vela looking to rebound against 5-6 East.

All three city schools have clinched playoff spots but third and fourth place would get matches against Hanna or Los Fresnos, very sound clubs down in 32-6A. Finishing first/second in 31-6A will bring an infinitely more doable bi-district task, versus the likes of San Benito, Rivera, or Harlingen South, all tied at 3-6 in league. South is likely the odd team out as it plays Hanna, while San Benny has Los Fresnos but has beaten South twice in district. Rivera plays Harlingen Tuesday and should win that one.