A solid third-place finish in the season-ending summer league tournament has made the Lady Jags all the buzz in volleyball circles.

With the latest season set to begin in August, Econ fired the first shot across the bows of the other city teams, knocking off North in straight sets Monday night at South Middle School. Led by senior-to-be Kayla Silva and very consistent back-row play, the Orange had little trouble claiming bronze against a North group that struggled in serve-and-return and never established much of a fight.

Graduated Econ veterans Val Perez and Lory Martinez, who were a big part of the program’s steady success the past four years, watched the game, and were impressed.

“Wow, I think they have what it takes to make it to the next level,” said Martinez, and Perez agreed. “They have a really good team right now.”

Also wide-eyed about the success of the Econ contingent in the summer was EHS’s Anissa Gonzalez, whose own team had bowed out earlier in the tournament.

“Yeah, they’re coming back, for sure,” she noted about the Lady Jags’ chances of contending for the playoffs once again. “They’re smart and they’re scrappy, you know what I mean? When it gets tough, they just man up and do what they have to do.”

In dominating the Lady Coogs, Econ got the usual airtight play from libero Kayla Longoria, who has emerged as a real team leader. She says the Lady Jags have some super hitters, like Silva, but they are also adept at playing control ball.

“I was always coached to hit the ball where the other team isn’t,” said the transfer from North. “And that’s what we did today. We have been focused this summer, some of the younger girls have been sort of trying out for the varsity, doing well, and we play as a team, definitely.”

Longoria knows that the program has been a playoff unit for five of the past six years, and she hopes 2010 is going to offer more of the same.

“I believe we can win it all, but we haven’t done anything yet,” she commented. “Coming over from North has been awesome for me, I like the family we have here and the tradition of winning is nice.”

Silva was sharp early for the third-place game, rising well and striking the ball with authority. She will team up front with soph Leigha Brown, who did not compete in the league, giving Coach Celi Rios-Ortega a sweet hitter/blocker combination at the net.

“We really wanted this game today,” Silva said in the postgame trophy celebration. “I think we have the team to do it this year.”

Econ defeated Quest and Pharr North to reach the third-place game, with role players Yvette Garza and Kayla Banda contributing well. Youngsters Deisy Sauceda and Kenia Gonzalez also did a good job in the tournament, as the Lady Jags head into August with depth at all positions and a fire burning to achieve great things.