MISSION – They took turns blasting away at the Lady Eagles Tuesday, did the bigs, until a four-game win in the season opener was in the books. North’s high-rising heroes up front are going to be hard to contain this season, as long as the backrow contingent follows through with its promise and potential. Against Mission, all the aforementioned showed flashes of brilliant for a program that tasted playoff nectar in 2009.
Though the local experts did not deem the Lady Coogs worthy of a preseason top 10 ranking, they could be really, really wrong before the latest season is done. And the hitters/blockers want to make that so. First it was junior “Jumpin’ Jessica” Martinez, who dominated the action early on. Then classmate Aleena Cubriel vaulted onto center stage and carried the team. Finally, senior middle blocker Christy Brandt, who missed the first game after an illness curtailed her practice routine in the run-up to kickoff, was stellar down the stretch as the Lady Coogs came from a 1-1 tie to take their first win.
This year’s volley crop is long on size and spiking ability, as the trio of Lady Coogs can flat pound the ball. Again, however, there will have to be steady progress from the new faces behind them for this to be the kind of banner year Coach Adrian Cavazos is planning.
“I think if we improve every game, we should be pretty good,” said Cavazos, after his unit took out the scrappy Lady Eagles. “Any time you have a new libero, it’s going to be interesting.”
Replacing long-time star Laura Torres is softball star Vanessa Salazar, and the sophomore is a born play-starter.
“She has to work on recognition early on, but she has the right temperament for the position,” said Cavazos, whose team returned to the postseason in 2009 after an uncharacteristic two-year absence. “She really gets after it, and she is so athletic, she will end up being very good.”
The gutty newcomer did well in her varsity debut, finding the groove midway through despite some sketchy moments.
“She was out of position a few times, but that happens to anyone,” said the coach. “It’s not that easy to step into the varsity level as a sophomore.”
Helping the effort Tuesday was a pair of setters who should be able to continue the fine North tradition of excellent passers. Juliannah Lopez and Cynthia Granado played solid volley all night, especially Granado; she teamed particularly well with the live-legged Cubriel, who is in dynamite shape and elevated to slap a handful of dirty daggers as the season began.
Depth will not be a problem for the Lady Coogs this season, as dependable Chelsea Luna, improving Abby Garza, and potentially effective Abby Kotzur all saw quality minutes in the opener. Fiery Dacia Salinas is also on hand for a unit that can basically go two-deep at all slots. Rangy Alejandra Escobedo will figure in the mix as well.
North played nip and tuck with Mission to start, with Martinez showing well up top. With the count 17-all, Garza scored a takedown on a wayward Lady Eagle bump and Kotzur placed one to the open spot for breathing room. Martinez finished it at 25-20 off a nice feed from Granado.
Game Two was equally close with the score eventually becoming 23-23. From there, Mission benefitted from errors by Salazar and Brandt to tie things up at one apiece.
Then it was Cubriel coming up large, as she figured in seven scoring plays including a couple of nasty serves in Game Three. Her left-handed leaner between two defenders gave the Lady Coogs a 19-15 bulge, and then Salazar came up for a nifty backline smash. The final in the pivotal game was 25-16.
The Lady Coogs put it away with a fast 6-1 start in the finale, with Brandt blocking well at the net and serving two line-drive aces. Mission never challenged after that, as Granado’s location was superb down the stretch.
NOTES: In the crowd Tuesday was Alyssa Granado, former all-sport star for the school now concentrating on academics at Southwestern. She watched her sister Cynthia, while another former Lady Coog, Essence Brown, took in the game as she prepares to head to Seguin to play basketball at the next level for Texas Lutheran.
At the Donna Tournament over the weekend, North and EHS finished at the top of their Day One pools with Econ second. Friday North was second in its draw with Econ and EHS third, with the Lady Coogs and Lady ‘Cats making Saturday’s gold group action but the Lady Jags dropping to the silver bracket.
Econ rebounded to win the title in its bracket Saturday with three straight victories, while in the gold bracket, EHS lost in the quarterfinals to eventual champ Los Fresnos. North went out against San Benito early in the final round.