PREGAME MOTIVATION SPEEDS NORTH TO BLOWOUT OF WESLACO, TRI-TITLE IN 31-6A

Raul McCallum knew he had the ultimate motivation staring him in the face before Tuesday night’s must-win match against visiting Weslaco. And he employed it expertly.

“We told them look, Weslaco brought a big cake to the game, they’re already ready to celebrate beating us,” said the first-year mentor. “We told them that you can’t let a team come into your house and do that, so we sort of went from there.”

The appeal to Cougar Pride paid off well, as North summarily demolished the Pantherettes in three sharp sets, launching past Weslaco and Vela in the final District 31-5A standings, and earning a much easier bi-district opponent in the process. Vela, EHS, and North ended up tied at 9-3, with Weslaco dropping to 1-4, and by virtue by a compilation of round robin points – volley’s version of the positive points format from football – the Lady Coogs wound up second seed, with the lady Bobcats second and the Lady SaberCats slipping to third, ahead of the Pantherettes.

North had lost to the Mid-Valley six earlier in the league slate but this time came out on fire, dominating in each phase and amassing huge leads in all three sets. Once they started with a flourish, Weslaco cratered, serving miserably and seeming a step behind everything McCallum’s group wanted to do.

“Attack, attack, attack, that’s what we had on our minds tonight,” he said. “We told them if they did that, Weslaco couldn’t dig you, and we would be able to win it. Everyone played well tonight. From the start this season, we said that the district is going to be very even and it would be up to us to show that we wanted it more.”

As the coach suggested, the Lady Coogs made a superb and aggressive team effort Tuesday. McCallum praised them one by one, from established stars Nat Rodriguez and the sophomore pogo stick Evana Ramos (St. Joseph grad, by the way) to the doings of some lesser known commodities.

“She really makes herself big at the net,” he noted of middle blocker Cortney Ortiz. “She does all the little things for us, and she is definitely one of the best all-around athletes on the team.”

As for setter Kelsey Limas, who alternated with veteran Jess Dreyer on the feed, McCallum was pleased.

“She has made progress all year and she is learning to avoid getting called for double contact,” he stressed.

Dreyer, who has battled back issues for the duration, can usually be seen stretching her hamstrings when she is not on the court, and Tuesday she played flawlessly, serving some terrific winners as the club wrapped up a tri-championship.

As the Lady Coogs closed out the enemy, Drina Garza played a huge role with a number of solid kills, and though she doesn’t exactly murder the ball, she’s got good timing and placement.

“We say that when Nat goes out or back, girls like Drina need to step up and be ready,” McCallum said. “She has been there for us all year, doing that.”

The mastery from North was on display in a late second-set sequence. On consecutive plays, Rodriguez dove out of bounds to try and save one, sliding headlong past the scorer’s table, with about a half foot to spare between her head and the table. Then, Davida de Leon went to the floor to keep a play alive, and shortly thereafter the agile Ramos executed a perfect somersault after digging out a particularly monstrous shot from Weslaco’s front line.

All these hustle instances came with North safely ahead by double digits, and there is the answer. This squad works hard, every play. It has ample size, decent quickness, a ton of moxie, and the leadership of the amazing Rodriguez, who pounded the ball Tuesday like she wanted to win a title, which she, and they did.

As a parting note to the evening of success, McCallum took care to reiterate something he has been saying all season, at various junctures.

“We did this partly for Coach Cavazos, make sure and put that,” he commented, referencing former North coach Adrian Cavazos, who led the program to great and extended times with McCallum as his assistant before resigning after last season.

 

PLAYOFF INFO

Los Fresnos proved to be the dominant team in 32-6A and won the league, getting a first-round setup with Weslaco. Hanna, which came second, will contest with Vela Tuesday in Edinburg. The Lady Sabes did not see Hanna in non-district and played six times versus teams down south, losing five of six.

That leaves EHS at first seed and North second. The Lady Bobcats will take on Harlingen South, after compiling a 0-3 record non-district mark versus the Lower Valley league. Those results came as the club was finding its sea legs and probably has little bearing on the postseason. The game is Tuesday in Harlingen.

North, meanwhile, went 5-3 against 32-6A, including a 2-1 and will get a familiar foe, Rivera, down in Brownsville Monday; the Lady Coogs faced Rivera three times in non-district, winning twice.

South started poorly at 1-5 but won three straight to make the Dance for the first time since 2011, upsetting Hanna on Tuesday to get in. Rivera also got hot late to squeeze in ahead of San Benito and Harlingen. The Lady Greyhounds, a postseason regular as of late, dropped five of six to exit the race.