As the Lady Coogs begin the latest volleyball journey, they have a few certainties, and a few unknowns. After a topsy-turvy win over Mission Tuesday to start the regular season, they also have a feeling that the streaky runs that sent them into the playoffs in 2008 might recur this time around.
North fell behind the Lady Eagles on the road Tuesday, despite having scrimmaged them and done very well over the weekend. But just when Coach Adrian Cavazos started to scratch his head, his girls rallied behind some new faces and some old, winning the next three games to take the match.
The familiar faces were returning starters Brandy Garcia, Destiny Rodriguez, and Laura Torres, and they each came up with big stretches as North got up off the mat to take control. Garcia dominated the fifth and final game, won by the Lady Coogs 15-7, while Torres played a gutty match throughout and Rodriguez tossed in a handful of her patented hustle plays at the right junctures.
And it was the impact of Garcia down the stretch that heartened Cavazos the most as his team looked to the Donna Tournament over the weekend.
“I told you that the setters will make or break us this year,” he said, after Juliannah Lopez and Libby Sanchez, seeking to replace the irreplaceable Anyssa Avila, found the mark after a spotty first two games. “Our passing was OK and once we started to get the ball up to our hitters, we were able to do what we needed to do.”
Some observers might note that with the graduation of top hitters Julissa Ramirez and Viri Santibanez, North was going to hurt up front. But newcomers Christy Brandt and Jessica Martinez, though they began slowly like the new setters, got into the groove midway through, and the Lady Coogs should be just fine on the hits. Garcia was a beast at times, while Brandt was instrumental in the 25-20 Game Three win that sent the gals on the comeback trail.
It is truly the absence of Avila, one of the most consistent table-setters in the league the past two years, that will test the squad as it seeks to duplicate last year’s playoff trip. Lopez is an athletic kid who has good quickness, while Sanchez is perhaps the smoother setter at this point. Those two will be important cogs in 2009.
“A lot of those kids haven’t seen that much varsity time, some none at all,” commented Cavazos, whose team suffered through wild swings a year ago but got rolling in the lateseason to forge a playoff trip from District 31-5A. “These early games are good for us, to see who can do what and do integrate the new people into the rotation.”
In the early going Tuesday, the Lady Coogs hit long with distressing regularity and Mission, a postseason combatant from the 4A ranks in 2008, took advantage, posting 25-16 and 25-20 wins to climb into the driver’s seat on opening night for both teams.
But as the setters started to find the mark, Garcia entered the action, after being relatively quiet thus far. Brandt, who hit some of the hardest shots the team has seen in some time, even harder than the hammers Ramirez used to send down, scored six times in the third game, and made four blocks as she took over at net.
North won the third try, 25-20, and then outhustled Mission for the win in Game Four. Down 10-7, North got a monumental, no-doubt killer from the 6-footer Brandt and then Garcia caught a short mid-range hit above the net and flipped it down for a neat slam. Abby Kotzur, younger sister of former netter Jen Kotzur, gave her mates the lead at 14-13 with a tip, and Brandt finished off a solid game with a score off a Lopez feed and another winner after Vivi Esparza dove to dig out a save.
At this stage, North as coming and Mission was on its hind legs; Garcia executed a slick tip and then Lopez and Jessica Luna each hit the floor to keep a ball alive, leading to another point. Brandt tallied thrice toward the end as North dominated the last game, after it had seemed destined to fall in its opening action of the campaign.
NOTES: The Lady Coogs won five of seven matches at the Donna Tourney, dropping out on Day Three against Los Fresnos, while EHS also posted a 5-2 mark, losing Saturday to Los Fresnos as well. Econ (5-4) made it to the semi-finals before expiring against Edcouch-Elsa, the eventual champ.