Everywhere one looks, experience stares back. The Lady Jags can count on returning veterans at almost every spot on the court, and in the places with new faces, well…we’ll get to that. Good news.
For now, suffice to say that after two single-game wins and a fine tournament showing in Donna, Econ has to be feeling pretty solid about its chances to make some waves again this year. While long-time coach Celi Rios-Ortega is always cautious about talking up her team, she has to admit that so far, not so shabby.
“We’ve done well, though we are by no means through looking for the groove,” said Rios after her bunch dominated Weslaco East in three straight games Tuesday night at home. “But I have to say we’ve done better than I though we might.”
The Lady Jags made it to the semi-finals of the Donna Tournament where they finally were decked by Edcouch-Elsa, Rios-Ortega’s alma mater. And against East, they were in control from the beginning.
As stated, the veterans are numerous for this year’s edition, including smooth-hitting Lory Martinez and gutty Val Perez, both three-year starters. Looking exceptionally good so far is Kayla Silva, who has been plagued with injuries during her tenure at the school. She passed well, hit at the apex of her jump nicely, and despite a sore ankle, turned in a super performance in the home win.
Setter Lexi Barreira is running the team and she looks sharp early, while middle blocker Daniella Gaytan was active as always versus the Lady Panthers.
Now for the good news, and we mean G-O-O-D.
There are two newcomers to the mix in 2009; one is a transfer from Edinburg North. Rios-Ortega calls little Kayla Longoria the “sparkplug” of the team, and she was everywhere Tuesday, making saves and firing hard serves into the teeth of the Lady Wildcat backline.
“That girl is a firecracker, and we can use her for that,” Rios-Ortega said. “We have a lot of quiet people on this team, they let their actions speak. But Kayla fires people up and she is going to really help us this year.”
The other newbie goes by a last name that will be familiar to league volley fans, Brown. As in, Leigha Brown, and yes, she’s the long-awaited younger sister of the program’s all-time folk hero, Morgan Brown. Much is expected of the freshman, and she appears to be every bit as promising as her big sis was at this stage of the game. She’s already standing six feet even, and though very thin, Brown The Second has been the talk of the town thus far. She can sky to the moon, as an anecdote from the Donna Tourney will explain.
“We got called for a net violation, and I asked the ref what happened,” related Rios-Ortega, eyes widening. “He told me that Leigha’s elbow had touched the net. I was like, wow…her elbow. That’s how high she was.”
It is a long road to travel for the 9th-grader, obviously, but she can smack it with mustard, and like her sister seems to be at home on the court, moving well on spindly but strong legs, and already showing tap and dink skills to boot. With all that experienced talent on hand, having a potential superstar in the making certainly establishes the Lady Jags as one of the teams to beat in this year’s 31-5A race, along with the eternal dynasty over at Harlingen South.
Against East, Econ sailed from a 5-5 tie to eight straight points, with Longoria holding serve with some real humpbacked sizzlers. Brown scaled the net to slap down a weak over-bump, and then scored off a Barreira feed. Both Barreira and Silva got the ball where it needed to be as the offense looked well in sync.
Gaytan rose up to block one for a 19-10 lead, and Brown finished East with four of the team’s last five points, the last another touch-down of a wayward Lady Wildcat hit over.
Silva’s emphatic slammer made it 5-1 early in Game Two, with Martinez, who always seems to hit harder than a 5-foot-3 kid should, adding to the burning embers. The fabulous freshman Brown got three points running with another tap-down, and she looks to be adept at anticipating the opposing volley.
East began to unravel with several unforced errors and then it was a trio of points from that gal, Brown again, one on a nice mid-line popper. Later she cracked one crosscourt for a winner and the Lady Jags cruised, 25-20, ending it on a Longoria winner, via a Barreira pass.
Longoria starred early in Game Four with four service points and a crafty left-handed save on the sidelines, as Econ opened a 10-2 bulge with Silva throwing in a stuff and Brown contributing yet another quick slapdown above the twines.
The home side opened up a 19-6 lead and ended the night with a 25-10 edge in the last game, as Longoria pounded another ace and Gaytan stuffed on net.
As the team headed to Mission for a weekend tourney, it was feeling positive about the start to 2009. The Lady Jags, with their mix of young and old, could be hard to handle this fall.
NOTES: The Lady Jags were two up and two down over the weekend, losing to Harlingen South and Sharyland while beating Lopez and Harlingen at Mission, North beat Hanna and Mercedes but dropped a match to tough Los Fresnos. The Lady Coogs ended the weekend with a loss to McAllen Rowe in the 5th place game.
EHS started well at the Valley View Spikefest with four wins, but lost twice Saturday, to La Feria and Lyford.