Tuesday was all about prevention, precaution, and protection for the Lady Cougars. And, oh, yeah…Lyford was in town to play some volleyball.
The fact is, the North girls were not terribly concerned with what amounted to a practice session against the Class 3A Lady Bulldogs. Their 3-game sweep of Lyford ran the season record to 12-3, the program’s best non-district start in the long tenure of Coach Adrian Cavazos. It was a good prep match for the 31-5A opener, Saturday at P-SJ-A.
But all eyes and minds were on the health of star middle blocker Christy Brandt.
Injured against McAllen Rowe the previous weekend, the senior swatter warmed up Tuesday but in the end, the decision was made to hold her out. Nagging soreness in her Achilles tendon was enough to put her on the bench, shoeless in black socks, while her teammates smashed the foe with ease.
“This is all about prevention,” said Cavazos after the win. “We are being cautious because this is a non-district game; we had other kids get some playing time, and that’s good. We just want to make sure Christy is ready to go for the Bears.”
Brandt, among the Valley’s best at block and kill, said she hurt herself early on in the Rowe game, the team’s second loss to the No. 1 Lady Warriors this year; the other defeat came at the hands of a middling San Benito team in an early tournament.
“I was going to try and play tonight, if I was needed,” said the soft-spoken slammer. “I have been icing it, taping it, trying to work through it. But this really alters my approach, I can’t push off very well right now.”
One does not blame the Lady Coogs for playing it safe right now, because they have nothing left to prove in non-district. After a first-place effort at the Alice Tournament recently, North has shown that it has the talent and depth to compete for a league crown. With defending champ Harlingen South looking almost human after heavy graduation losses, the loop is wide open to be sure. And having Brandt’s devastating presence in the middle is a must.
“We play like we always play, power volleyball,” Cavazos commented. “We hit hard and keep hitting taking our chances. We’re like the old Yankees lineup, we just get out there and swing for the fences. And Christy is a big part of what we do, so we have to be careful with her right now.”
Luckily, there are a number of other frontliners ready to take up some of the interim slack, like Abby Garza, who made the All-Tournament team up in Alice and hit well against Lyford. Cavazos says she is coming along well.
“She is very athletic, you can see that,” he said. “She’s getting better and better, starting to put it all together out there. She just needs to continue to improve her footwork and she’ll be there.”
Junior “Jumpin’ Jessica” Martinez can also be counted on to pound away, along with hard-hitting Aleena Cubriel, who smacks so hard from so high up that the ball seems to flatten out when she really strikes it.
Along with the bangers, North has a promising libero in soph Vanessa Salaxar and a fine setter in Juliannah Lopez, whose jump serves found the mark in the win. In Game Two, the Lady Coogs led 16-9 when the lanky Lopez toed the mark for nine straight winners, including three of the high-flying variety.
The coach is hesitant to let his girls attempt the trendy maneuver, but with Lyford safely in the team’s rearview mirror relatively quickly, he let them try some.
“We practice it, so if we have a safe lead, they can do some of them,” he said. “We have a problem defending it, I know that, so why not let the other teams try to defend it every now and then?”
As the game ended, Brandt padded around with her teammates, ending up near Cavazos. They discussed some of the powerhouse teams to come, and Brandt was asked about her team’s chances in 2010.
“This is our year,” she smiled. “Hopefully!”
At that, Cavazos pointed to the floor, saying, “knock on wood,” which the superb slapper did. The precaution extends beyond the injury, as the Lady Coogs are not taking anything for granted as they begin the march to what they hope will be one of the finest years in program annals.
With a healthy Brandt anchoring the middle, a district title is a distinct possibility, indeed.
NOTES: The Lady Coogs blanked P-SJ-A Saturday to start league play well, with Brandt returning to kill eight and block 4. Martinez contributed a dozen kills. EHS won at Harlingen in four games as Beckah Rodriguez (15 kills, 17 digs) and Myanda Hinojosa (20 assists, 27 digs) leading the fight. Econ dropped a match to Harlingen South in three.