MISSION - It is going to be one of those dogfight years again, or in this case, catfight, of course. Volleyball is strong as steel in town once again with the distinct possibility that all three units will find themselves in the playoffs this fall.
Those North-Econ games are going to be nasty down the road, and the two shared the court here Saturday in the money rounds of the Mission Tournament, North against Brownsville Rivera for fourth place and the Lady Jags versus Brownsville Hanna for fifth.
Econ has got a nice mix of youth and experience, and frankly is one of the favorites to vie for the 31-5A crown, now that Harlingen South may have come back down to earth a bit with the graduation of the super comet, Josslyn Benavidez. But don’t count out EHS, which has had a solid showing early on. It is a crazy league with talent galore (Harlingen and South went at it for third place later in the day), but the Lady Jags feel good about their chances.
“We have the talent, now it’s a matter of finding the blend out there,” said Coach Celi Rios-Ortega after her club dispatched a hard-hitting Hanna group in two games. “We played well against Los Fresnos earlier, and that showed us what we have to achieve if we want to reach that next level.”
Econ starts with hitter Kayla Silva, who can pound or dink with equal pizzazz. The veteran is also a top-rate service option with her hard, curving offerings, and no one in the Valley has more varsity experience under their belt.
Then there’s sophomore Leigha Brown, who has made All-Tournament twice, including at Mission. She seems more comfortable on the court this year, and her awesome ability is starting to come to the fore, as a blocker and hitter but also as a hustler who gets to the ball super fast and can turn a maybe into a point with alacrity.
Any team with those two would be in fine shape, but it’s only the beginning of the equation. Senior cheerleader/libero Kayla Longoria is a steady hand in back, following in the footsteps of the departed Val Perez, while setter Lexi Barreiro can get the ball where it needs to be without a hitch.
Throw in a number of role players who are frequent contributors, and it looks like a banner campaign for the Orange.
“We want to have a great season because we know we’re capable,” said Rios-Ortega, whose bunch rallied from behind in each game to clinch fifth at a very competitive tournament. “Once we get a better flow on the court, we can repeat what we have done in the past. And maybe do more. You never know.”
Hanna started well Saturday and led 15-13, with strong hitting, but from there the Lady Jags asserted themselves with a 10-0 run that won the day, with Silva giving two resounding kills, an ace, and a tip on four successive plays. When she’s on, there is no brighter star in the local stratosphere.
Game Two was another give-and-take affair with Brown coming on hard and Brittney Curiel playing well. After an 18-all tie Silva again provided the spark with a torrent of excellent plays for a 21-18 lead. Hanna tied it but Barreiro’s ace and Brown’s block soon ended it, 25-22.
“Now it’s back to practice for us, to figure some new girls into our rotation,” said the coach. Econ was to take on Brownsville Pace Tuesday before the Pharr North Tournament Thursday-Saturday. “In this district you take no team for granted because they’re all good. We just need to keep working hard and get ready, because it’s going to be tough all the way.”
NOTES: North ended up beating Rivera after falling behind, to enjoy a fruitful tournament overall, while EHS held its own up at the Sinton Tourney, winning the consolation title.