Throughout the last several years, the city has come to expect dominance from its volleyball teams, as all three have become consistent playoff participants. In 2009, however, the Pharrs have kept right on the heels of the Edinburgs, meaning that heading into Tuesday night’s action from District 31-5A, one game separated North and EHS from closing rivals P-SJ-A Memorial and P-SJ-A.
As North traveled east to take on Econ, it was time to put to rest all the talk about inconsistency; at 5-4 and coming off a 5-set loss to the Lady Bears over the weekend, this team needed this game. Now.
Coach Adrian Cavazos said that after the tough loss to P-SJ-A, he’d just dismissed the girls, let them go home.
“I told them I was through talking, that there wasn’t anything I hadn’t said to them,” he noted before Tuesday’s must-win occasion. “They had to take it from there.”
The good news for Lady Coog fans is that the girls came up to scratch with a big 4-set triumph on the road, handing the Lady Jags their second straight loss and avenging an excruciating 5-set loss to Econ in the first half of the league slate.
Senior Brandy Garcia was one of the stars of the show, and in the postgame celebration she explained how North, so good at times but prone to the letdown at the wrong juncture, got it together when the chips were down.
“We talked about all that before the game tonight,” said the two-sport standout. “And we decided that we had to come together. We gel off the court, but on it, we tend to bicker and get mad. This time we all made a promise to cut that out.”
The newfound commitment to the team concept paid immediate dividends in a clutch situation, as North rose to 6-4 while Econ dropped to 7-3. With a very winnable game against cellar dwellar Pharr North set for Saturday, the Lady Coogs proved they can make adjustments when they have to.
“We ran the offense to the middle, like always, and that is where our strength is,” said Garcia, who had a consistently fine outing along with Kristy Brandt. “Kristy is just huge in there, and she can really put the ball down; she’s just a beast!”
Garcia’s lauding of her teammate exemplifies the magnanimous attitude the unit is striving for as it seeks to wrap up a second straight playoff trip. The Lady Coogs had the answer for every Econ move, coming up large and in charge.
It was a well-played night of volleyball between a pair of talented teams that know each other’s personnel and moves down to the last kneepad. That meant that execution was going to be key, and it was North that showed more precision in the nuts-and-bolts department.
They took Game One 25-23, rushing out to an 8-4 lead with Brandt contributing a big kill and Jumping Jessica Martinez adding another; the mesh was nearly flawless from return to attack.
The Lady Jags rallied behind the leaping pair of Leigha Brown and Kayla Silva, on a night where the action at net was fast and furious.
Econ was the first crew to falter, making five errors midway through allowing a 13-9 North lead. But Brown made a super block and then she and Kayla Banda stuffed another Lady Coog try to keep close. When Brown clocked one to the open space it was 17-16, North but the Lady Coogs surged after that. Garcia slammed one and then Martinez hit high and deep into Lory Martinez of Econ
Econ hasn’t built a strong case for second place this year with smoke and mirrors, and it came out hot for Game Two. The Lady Jags led most of the way, going out in front 8-3 with Silva on fire. North rebounded with Brandt in the lead, and closed the gap, but again Econ punched the gas into a 14-9 advantage as Silva scored thrice.
North battled back to a tie at 17 with two hammers from Martinez and a sidewinder score from Brandt after a wonderful backline save.
Then the Orange won it with five in a row, spunky Kayla Longoria serving, later ending things at 25-23 with an ace from Lory Martinez.
The third game in such hard-fought and contested affairs is usually the fulcrum leading to the decision, and such was the case Tuesday. It was nip and tuck all the way as neither group led by more than two points until Econ grabbed a 21-18 bulge.
Brown and Brandt locked horns way above the twines for several memorable duels and North libero Laura Torres tossed in a number of sharp digs. Cavazos commented afterward that the veteran defender looked faster than she has in weeks, and was one of the keys to the victory.
In building the three-point lead late, Econ enjoyed some fantastic moments from Brown, who cleverly clipped one to the sideline, fooling the North defense; though just a freshman, Brown is beginning to resemble her older sister Morgan, the program legend, in her ability to shut the crowd and circumstances out and produce money plays in traffic.
Banda hit into a crowd for a winner and a 22-19 score, but Martinez answered for North. Econ inched toward a win when Silva powered one through a Brandt block, but the Lady Coogs pulsed to a 24-24 tie when Brandt brutalized Daniella Gaytan with a resounding stuff.
Garcia made the play of the night with a simply murderous slam into the teeth of the home side, and the Lady Cougars soon won Game Three, 28-26.
It was another touch-and-go crowd pleaser in Game Four with back-and-forth action; each team played playoff-caliber volleyball and there were few mistakes. North carved out a 15-12 piece of the rock when Martinez carried the unit with a series of sharp hits. North appeared to have it made with a 20-15 lead, but Silva heated up to bring her girls to within two at 20-18.
Actually, the Orange motored from there into a 23-21 lead, thanks to two Silva spikes and a big block from Gaytan on Garcia’s kill attempt.
But Econ blinked, with an unforced error on Martinez and a kill off Brown’s block try. The Lady Jags tied it at 24-all but Silva’s serve careened out of bounds and Aleyna Cubriel finished the night with a score between a diving Brown and Silva.
The Lady Coogs have gone to five games five times in district, and they now know they can finish early against a playoff-bound team.
“This is the way we can play when we get it together,” Cavazos said. “I want them to do this all the time, the girls played very well tonight, I give them a lot of credit for their performance.”
NOTES: It got even better for the Lady Coogs as they wasted Pharr North Saturday while EHS upset Econ, bringing North into a tie for second at 7-4 with the Lady Jags. EHS is now a game back at 6-5, tied with P-SJ-A for the fourth playoff spot.
Alyssa Perez had 39 kills for the Lady Bobcats, the same day she ran fourth in the Harlingen High cross country invitational meet. Stephanie Vazquez (10th) also did well for the team, while Edinburg North’s Desiree Dominguez was ninth.
On the boys’ ledger, EHS had a strong showing at Harlingen, with Omar Trujillo (seventh) the high placer, with Lucas Lozano (16th) and Jeremy Castaneda (19th) in the top 20. North’s Joe Acevedo and Joe Rodriguez were the fastest runners for North.