Nov. 3, 2020
By Greg Selber
Has anyone noticed that this a really weird volleyball season? No, not just the obvious; it’s beyond the COVID. For some reason, almost every match has been a sweep, as a scan of district teams reveals that three-set matches are up by about 100 percent over last season.
Before North and Vela got together Tuesday, the coaches took a moment to ponder what is behind the Fast Night Syndrome. Raul McCallum of the Lady Coogs thinks it might have something to do with momentum; when a team gets it, it tends to keep it, rolling downhill from there. And truly, volleyball is a game of runs. He also noted that when his team lost its last outing, on the back end of the dreaded Friday-Saturday gauntlet, the girls were flat fatigued, no legs.
Celi Ortega, boss of the Lady SaberCats, surmised that a reason could be the lack of a real crowd and therefore, less homecourt advantage. She said that sometimes a loud section of rooters can help a sextet pick up the pace, stop the bleeding, and get back into the fray with renewed vigor. And though parents have been watching their kids play the game for the past six weeks, the lack of a rowdy, if at times obnoxious, student section is definitely a factor.
At certain stages Tuesday, particularly during timeouts, fans in the stands at North could hear everything that was going on in the team huddles. The slightest cough or sigh, the crush-squelch of a water bottle, whatever, these were audible and made for some odd moments.
And the match ended up being somewhat of a downer, admittedly, as the city rivals – usually good for at least four sets, often five, in what has been a compelling series between closely matched foes through the years – played to yet another sweep. After a little more than an hour, North had dispatched Vela easily, never being challenged on the way to its eighth win in 10 31-6A outings, good for a tie atop the loop with Mission.
It has thus been a season of surprises, but one thing city fans can count on, COVID or no, is Evana Ramos, the North Star. She was at it again against Vela, moving and gliding, smacking and saving, digging like a champ, and for four years now she has been one of the most appealing players to watch in the entire Valley. No surprise there. Put her on a short list of all-time town luminaries, alongside Leigha Brown, Dezi Marmolejo, and a few others. Just Do It. Done.
But there is an addendum in 2020, and it was plain to see during the team’s run of roughshod proportions over a Lady Sabe unit that has struggled lately. The new rub is, it isn’t just the Evana Show anymore. Sure, she is the best of the best, and frankly has been since she was a tiny half-pint knocking them around for St. Joseph. But now there is a cast of characters around here that may be making the difference as the Lady Coogs vie for a league trophy in this oddest of campaigns. Sometimes in the past, she had to carry the burden almost by herself, but not anymore.
“And you know, I didn’t know a lot of the new girls when the season started,” admitted Ramos after keying a 25-12, 25-11, 25-13 triumph Tuesday. “But I could tell after the first workout that the chemistry was going to be there. All the girls were ready to learn, they were open to new things, and I thought, ‘Alright, we can do this.’”
Yes, it has been a mix of the youth on this team along with veterans such as Ramos, Kaylee O’Bryan, Victoria Faz, and Melo Cantu. Tuesday North got credible work from Madalynn Abrego up front; she hit several winners; no scorchers but some clever slaps nonetheless. One by one, the supporting cast came up with plays around the indefatigable Ramos, as North hit better, returned with superior skill, handled the tipping game, and in every phase of the game, played like a contimgent destined for some neat things.
“Coach Mac pretty much knows what I bring to the table, and same with a few other girls such as Kaylee,” Ramos said. “But we have had a lot of people step up and play well, and now, when we move the ball around, teams cannot just key on trying to stop me. I think that is one of the important things, everyone is contributing.”
When opponents do find the range with Ramos, as Vela did at times Tuesday, they find that that’s not all there is in the Blue and Gold repertoire. New setter Stephany Kotzur, another St. Joseph product by the way, has a cool demeanor out there in her initial campaign, and is one of a number of Lady Coogs who serve with authority. Cantu in particular was an active point-maker at the start line in the rout of Vela. North did not give very many points away, while Vela (5-5 in league now) continued to run hot and cold in service.
The Lady Sabes are also missing lanky blocker Fey Vazquez, who trundled around Tuesday with her foot in a boot, nursing a high ankle sprain. They had some moments of quality, especially from Sam Villalobos and Melanie Garcia, who hustled throughout and provided some solid digs and kills. Emily Gonzalez, too, had some star turns.
But this one was a no-brainer from the start, it must be said. Ramos turned in the normal variety of one-handed saves and rising mid-row wallops, and beyond the talent, there was the attitude. The hustle. The joy she takes in playing the game.
“I think we have a chance to do well in the playoffs, I would love for us to make it to the third round,” she said. “I mean, this is it for the seniors and we didn’t know if we were even going to get to play at all. So, whatever we get, we need to work for and enjoy.”
Ramos will certainly be enjoying volleyball at the next level, as she will graduate early, in January, and enroll at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. Not only does this offer local fans the delicious opportunity to watch a true city legend on multiple nights in the future. It also affords another chance for the amazing Ramos to continue to prove people wrong.
Back in middle school she was so small that she was hard to spot right off the bat; even the ball seemed bigger than her. But quickly she proved that her skills were already sublime, her desire unrivaled, and her love of the hunt unmatched.
When asked if she was worried about the fact that when the time comes to start her odyssey at the next level, she will undoubtedly be the shortest and lightest Vaquero out there, Ramos did Ramos. Pulling her mask down a tad, she just smiled. As if to say, politely but resolutely … yeah, right. I got this.
And so she does. She always does.