One intuits that a good night is ahead: Rivalry Game, a loud and large crowd, and double cheerleaders lining the court ends, although this last element can present a challenge for the average photographer.
Yes, Tuesday night was set up for success from an entertainment standpoint, with Vela hosting EHS, the senior-laden former seeking to maintain its unblemished district volleyball mark and the less experienced latter wanting to throw a wrench directly into the standings works, thus aiding a handful of other teams in the process.
So the Lady Bobcats went to work on the road, trying to extend some positive recent exploits such as a convincing victory against Weslaco over the prior weekend. Their mission was to find a way to find senior slammer Glenys Maldonado and also create some pathways to scoring shots from their own hitters, such that they are.
Meanwhile, the Lady SaberCats were intent on having Maldonado pile up more numbers, after she was honored in a pregame ceremony for having compiled more than 1,000 kills and 1,000 digs during a fantastic high school net journey.
Each team did a little of what it wanted Tuesday, with the Lady ‘Cats getting some swats from junior Zarina Rodriguez, a bushel of sure digs from libero Hannah Vega, and tantalizing glimpses of the future out of freshman hitter Natalie Hernandez.
But in the end, Vela was able to come through, losing the first set but then soaring to three straight wins to rise to 5-0 in 31-6A, a finishing chance ahead Saturday against an average Weslaco East group to close the first half of play. Maldonado got some help from her mates, as junior Izabella Rodriguez and freshman Fey Vazquez each had productive moments when it mattered. Though EHS led in all four sets, taking the first, 25-22, the home side proved ready, willing, and able to stand up to a decidedly stern test.
THE MATCH, EXPLAINED
EHS Coach Deanna Dominguez saw her youthful crew churn out to an early 9-4 lead, junior Kristen Salinas setting the tone with some hustling dives. The lead burgeoned to 13-5 as Rodriguez, back from an ankle injury, provided three scores in a hurry, one off a sweet lefty tip in traffic. She does not often hit with extreme power but the curly headed gal can be clever on approach.
At any rate, the Lady Sabes climbed back into the fray led by Maldonado, whose hits were consistent Tuesday but paled in comparison to her impressive series of dives and somersaults to keep loose balls alive. Having come out so strong, EHS went through a cold stretch and like that, it was just 20-18, Vela advancing with purpose. Hannah Larsen of Vela feathered a pair of tips down and EHS was hanging on, 21-20.
Luckily, Hernandez then launched a serious kill and Vega pasted a mid-row winner after Salinas had hit the deck to save one. Soccer goalie, bro. Hernandez iced it with another hammer and she continues to progress, with Dominguez saying beforehand that she was pleased with the cool demeanor the 9th-grader attempts to maintain.
With the Vela student section in rare voice, Vela rallied to regroup. But the Lady ‘Cats went up 5-3 early in the second set, Hernandez tallying twice. At this point, Maldonado toed the line for an ace and later killed one into space; she had to find her openings using slick lefty dinks and such, as EHS came ready to try and locate her, which it did to moderate success Tuesday.
The Lady Sabes assumed command at 10-6 after a nice two-handed push shot from senior Danna Cantu, another of the many Vela girls in their swan song season.
At this stage EHS stumbled into a spiral of errors and the Blue and Black capitalized for a 16-10 lead that would prove insurmountable.
Celeste del Villar did her best to help EHS, and her score at the net narrowed the gap to three at 16-13. But from there Maldonado did what she does, coming up with three daggers off fine sets from junior Gaby Avila, the unit eventually putting to bed a 25-16 verdict on a 9-4 finishing flourish.
The pattern held in set three as the Lady Bobcats went out in front. Their last lead was at 8-7, the opening series punctuated by a real bullet from Vega. Here, Cantu flew like a sparrow to the net for a nice tip, Maldonado scored through a block, and libero Rebecca Cavazos hit one that plinked the net and crawled over, crying all the way.
Still, EHS showed its mettle by making a last push, cutting a 6-point deficit to just two on a sweet serve from Salinas. The key play happened when the gutty Cavazos side-winded one over and it became 19-15, Lady Sabes.
Vazquez sprang above the twines to reject a Lady ‘Cat try for a 21-17 advantage and a dreadful series of mis-hits by EHS sealed a 25-17 decision.
Stop us if you’ve heard this one: the visitor played well enough to earn a lead in set four, only to wither on the vine. It was 8-6, EHS following a Rodriguez tip and a winner from Hernandez. But Larsen gave her unit a 9-8 lead by recording a tip winner, whereupon she joy-jumped halfway to the roof, showing the intensity that would be necessary to finish off a game and worthy opponent.
The Lady ‘Cats briefly regained the edge at 10-9 thanks to Rodriguez but Maldonado took control thereafter, scoring from Avila twice, once from Izzie Rodriguez. Rodriguez then entered the poundfest with a solid smack and the 6-0 run was capped by a kill from senior Dayana Cantu, who slapped deep to the corner.
When Vazquez pounced like a panther to make it 18-14, EHS summoned up one final statement, closing to within two after Hernandez’ rather rude rejection of a Vela offering at net.
Soon though, Cavazos had popped an ace, Maldonado had rushed the cords for a smart push winner, and Avila had produced a winning tag to the back line. Final score, 25-20, Vela still in the 31-6A driver’ seat but EHS knowing that with a little more consistency – which comes from lumps on the head, aka experience – it will have enough juice left to attack the measure of the slate, a quest that was to begin Saturday against Donna North.
The only other thing of note we learned Tuesday was that young people don’t really do the Chicken Dance with as much relish as prior generations displayed. A pity … or is it?