Most people knew what they were looking at just now. North had taken the first set, Vela the second, and the hay was not even close to being in the barn, as they used to drawl in more rural times.

One team was going to come out swinging harder than the other for set three and take control of an all-important volleyball match Tuesday. Either the Lady SaberCats were going to tighten their hold on the top spot in District 31-6A, or the Lady Cougars were going to spring the mild upset and draw dead even as the second half of league play kicked off.

It was the latter.

Storming to a 3-1 victory over their rivals, the Lady Coogs pulled even at 6-1 in district, handing Vela its first loss behind the strong play of junior Hannah Duffey and some timely contributions from many other kids. One of the prominent keys to the win was gutty senior Jess Dreyer, who explained what had just transpired.

“We were not going to let go, not this time,” said the seasoned setter amid much joy afterward. “We lost to them the first time and for me, as a senior this is it. We have really come together lately, we’ve worked our butts off … I think bottom line, we wanted it more tonight.”

Fair enough, because North was the steadier ship by a nose in its biggest match of the season. Despite severe service woes, the club managed to hit when the opportunity arose – with Duffey coming on big in sets three and four – and minimized the damage done by Vela’s Glenys Maldonado. In the telltale third set, the Lady Sabes led much of the way until a late North rally turned the tide. The last set was more of the same, two well-matched teams with very little room for error. In the end, North played like a team that truly did, as Dreyer suggested, want it more.

And they got it.

“Vela has been playing so well, they are not used to being behind,” said North Coach Raul McCallum. “Once we got on top in the third set we told the girls, you just have to finish. We told them to keep swinging.”

The coach also added that the district-opening sweep at the hands of the Lady Sabes was a catalyst Tuesday.

“Sometimes there is such a thing as a good loss,” he mused. “It makes you re-focus a lot. We have changed our offensive system since the first game, we’ve had some different types of practices, and we have come together, as a nucleus, this team is together right now and it showed. When we got the chance, we turned it on and were able to come out with the win.”

A REAL RIVALRY BRAWL COMMENCES

A fast start gave the Lady Coogs a 9-4 lead in the first set with Melo Cantu serving aces and Duffey pounding one for the 5-point advantage. Vela caught up with Maldonado crushing kills and setter Gaby Avila tricking the Lady Coogs on quick second-ball flips over net. It was tied at 16 and 17 and then Shayla Gaytan got hot at the line to serve several winners. Vela errors gave the home side the go-ahead and when sophomore Kaylee O’Bryan blocked one and Duffey soon scored, it was over, 25-18.

Coach Celi Ortega’s crew, however, has not been in first place for weeks on a whim or by luck. The Lady Sabes rebounded in set two, getting five ringing points by Maldonado in jetting to a 13-9 lead. This time it was North mistakes that keyed the result as Vela zoomed onward with a 12-5 finish clinching the tie, at 25-15.

As the teams switched sides for the vital set to come, the Lady Sabes had pep in their step while the North girls looked weary. This pattern held as Ortega’s band rushed out ahead, 6-3 with Maldonado scoring, Avila feeding, and North struggling to find the mark. But after kills from Duffey and Jasmine Barajas, plus a lefty putdown by the promising O’Bryan, North was ahead, 11-10.

At this stage Vela showed champion style, breaking out to a 17-13 margin with Avila quicking over and then diving to save a ball on the subsequent possession.

Duffey dig a mammoth shot from Maldonado – McCallum had adjusted his rotation to give the athletic junior a shot at doing just that Tuesday – and then Evana Ramos blasted a laser beam from midrow for an 18-all tie. Barajas, working with renewed confidence these days, scored off a block and then came the important sequence. Up 2, North withstood a great dig of Ramos by Vela libero Rebecca Cavazos to win a point when Duffey smashed past a defending Maldonado.

“When she was in the back, our goal was to come out swinging,” said McCallum of that situation. “We had to take advantage when Glenys was back there.”

Still, Vela achieved a 23-all knot after another poor serve from the underdog. But then it was the Lady Sabes who misfired on the serve, and when Duffey launched a winning spike, North was that much closer to the W.

Once again, Vela performed like a champ to start the fourth set, leading 8-5 with Avila continuing to fool the net D with her plinks and North again sputtering at the service stripe.

But Duffey killed and then dived to her left to keep a play alive, and Ramos absolutely powdered a ringing bomb from the left to the right corner for a 1-point lead.

Maldonado helped her six regain the lead soon after at 16-14 but a knuckleball ace from O’Bryan followed by a Barajas tap got the Lady Coogs roaring once again.

Duffey raced way out of bounds to save another one and the Lady Coogs were feeling their oats, going up 21-17 after a few Vela miscues.

After a timeout Fey Vazquez slayed one for the Blue and Black and Maldonado hit past Duffey – that was a serious battle there, senior against junior. It was Dreyer who came up with the play of the day: her own quick-flip over on what had appeared to be a set opportunity made it 23-21. Alyssa Coronado of North had started the sequence with a block.

This was it, and Ramos was equal to the task, scoring another patented hammer, and moments later, bedlam after a 25-23 North victory had changed the league standings around.