At times, it’s not easy to shine in a crowded constellation of flashing comets. But the best units have their stars plus a host of other entities that can get the job done every night as a support group.
For the Lady Jags, everyone knows about Leigha Brown and Kayla Silva, who hog the headlines with their high-flying exploits, and deservedly so. But as Econ swept the 2010 series with rival North Tuesday to end the regular-season schedule, some of “the other gals” came to the party and gave a nice illustration of why this team is such a strong second-place finisher.
Foremost among the contributors was Britney Curiel, who served with excellence and made all the right hustle plays as the Lady Jags (12-2 in District 31-5A and 24-5 overall) capped the regular slate with a three-set sweep, for the two-game prize over North (10-4, 22-7). She has been a solid presence all year, with superb timing and real grit out there, and the best thing about Curiel is, she doesn’t care who gets the publicity.
“No, I haven’t thought that ever,” she said after the win, when asked if she felt that the big names get too much credit for the team’s fantastic performance so far. “We all do our jobs. Mine is to serve well and get the ball to Leigha, she’s our horse.
Against the Lady Coogs, who wanted to secure a tie for second, her service game was on and her passes true, leading to a relatively easy night. The Lady Jags raced out to an early 10-4 lead in Game One with another role player, Kenia Gonzalez, toeing the line for an ace right off the bat. Brown leapt high to deny North middle blocker Christy Brandt on consecutive plays to set the tone for the evening: strong net D, crisp passing, hot hits, and steady backline play. What else is there?
The Lady Coogs meanwhile had real problems landing serves in, and at times were disoriented in the return game. They also struggled to stop Silva, who scored six times in a 25-19 victory, though junior Jessica Martinez did well in the middle portion of the opener with a stretch of four winners in a row.
“Our passing was great tonight,” said Curiel, who would heat up in the final two games to close one of her better performances of 2010. “I think we may have messed up two serves all night and we got a lot out of the backline, too.”
In Game Two, springy Aleena Cubriel started to find the range and North emerged with a 9-7 advantage. But Brown denied Brandt once again to tie it at 9 and then libero Kayla Longoiria blooped in an effective ace to put Econ on top.
From a 1-point game at 12-11, the Orange took control with Brown and Curiel serving five points to make it 16-12, though one point was taken away with a rotation violation. Alejandra Escobedo made two nice plays at net to keep the visitor close but a huge dig from Longoria of a Brandt bomb kept the lead intact. It ended 25-20 with Silva overcoming a dig from North’s Cynthia Granado to score; the senior hitter was patient Tuesday, scoring at least five times on sequences when her first offering was parried by the Lady Coogs.
The sophomore Brown, who has bulked up this season and shows all the promise in the world, continued her amazing block work at the net, neutralizing Brandt and reaching the hitters with gazelle-like leaps and graceful recoveries. She can do it all on the court, like Silva; the tandem is at home anywhere on the court. LB had 12 kills, eight blocks, and 12 digs while Silva chipped in with 15 kills and eight digs.
North was frustrated in the face of such all-around steady play from its rival, but got it going in Game Three and appeared ready to extend the evening. Martinez pounded one off Brown and Brandt blocked Silva, tying the score at 6 and forcing an Econ timeout.
Out of the break, the Lady Coogs kept it rolling as Brandt was fabulous up front, but the home girls got a marvelous pass from Curiel to Brown for a kill and another hammer from LB.
Then Econ fell victim to a series of unforced errors, which is very uncharacteristic this season, and North assumed a 19-18 lead as Brown dug Brandt but CB came through with a dagger on the next over.
North kept the lead in back-and-forth fashion, but Econ caught up when Curiel ranged to her right for a great save and Brown converted with a rejection of Brandt. That made it 23-22, Orange and though the Lady Coogs later went up 24-23 on a Cubriel kill, Brown closed it out with a tricky tip after her spike was dug out well by Victoria Cardenas.
Now it’s playoff time, Econ headed for a match with San Benito in bi-district and North preparing for Brownsville Rivera. Both these units have enjoyed considerable success in 2010, having been ranked in the Valley’s top 10 all season, and earned home ganes. EHS had to travel to Los Fresnos for bi-district Tuesday.
But in the City Rivalry, Econ’s depth told the tale, as Brit and Co. came through in the clutch once again.
“I was a little worried when we got behind in the third game,” Curiel admitted. “We felt the pressure but we were able to get past that to win. We’ve already played Hanna once, and we beat them in a tournament, so we’re feeling pretty good about the playoffs.”