Nov. 10, 2020

By Greg Selber

It shouldn’t have been, but admittedly it was, a bit spooky returning to Vela, given the recent developments involving football, the virus, and the general and pervasive sense of paranoia that has gripped us all at times during the last nine months. Happy to report that the school is clean, following all protocols, meaning the gridsters will be back in action Friday, finally!

One wonders how the school namesake would have handled business during this mess. The thought is, Robert Vela would have definitely – as was his way – found some smiles, some light moments amid all the negative hoopla, and most of all, kept on cranking, as he always did in the face of adversity.

Anyway, after a brief stint of adversity as road warriors, the Lady SaberCats came into Tuesday’s penultimate game of the league schedule with a slim chance of making the playoffs. They would have to win twice to rise to 8-6, and hope for some help, because of a recent loss to Mission, the latter destined to win the title. It’s been an up and down campaign for Celi Ortega’s Blue and Black, for many reasons, but with an underclass group of future stars, Vela is not worried. They’re coming, man, believe it.

Their opponents were the Lady Jags, a group that came over to Canton having claimed four league wins, their best showing in a couple of runs, and Coach Christina Soto too will welcome back almost all her girls for 2021, with only two seniors leaving the nest. 

And the match they played was indicative of the promise that both squads, though they may miss the 2020 playoffs, hold for the coming moons. Vela rolled to a 25-15 decision in the opener, after seniors were honored – and what a joy that they were able to be recognized, because for a while there, no one was sure – and one of the 12th-graders was front and center for accolades.

Ortega calls her a “quiet storm,” a kid who goes about her business like the three-year veteran she is. Gabby Avila, the lefty setter, started off at the service line Tuesday with effect, scoring four points, and in the mid-section of the set she popped six more tricky winners consecutively.

“I learned the floater in club, first with Sting and then Venom,” said the likeable leader, who certainly snakebit the Lady Jags with her swerving, diving offerings. “And really, I came late to the team this year, I wasn’t sure I was going to play because of COVID.”

The Lady Sabes were glad when Avila decided to take a shot; mainly she says, because she didn’t want to have any regrets after missing her swan song. Her serves set the tone for Set One along with powerful kills from Sam Villalobos and Izabella Rodriguez. The former will return in 2021, and Ortega notes that she is getting smarter, learning to recognize blocks, and certainly will be one of the program pillars for the future.

Meanwhile, Econ girded up for Set Two and put on a very impressive display of potential, holding the lead throughout and getting some standout play from all hands to post a 25-15 triumph. Ashley Cantu started it off with a tip score and rejection at net and Marixa Zamora – one of the lone seniors in Orange – slammed a kill off a pass from sleek soph Dana Serna for an 8-4 lead. Sophomore Sidni Alvarez turned in a pair of slaps and the Lady Jags took command. Talented junior Arlysa Sierra produced some action against Rodriguez in a battle at the net, each girl winning once, and Econ was up, 17-12. As the bench roared with approval, led by energetic soph Britzia Mancilla among others, the visitor tucked away a 25-15 win, Zamora scoring with a kill and then stuffing a Vela attempt way up high.

Ortega rallied her troops in the huddle before the all-important third set. Before the match she had stated that the Lady Sabes were starting to come around, but that she wished the speedy, condensed schedule had given her charges more time to learn and grow.

But in the third go-round, the youthful group began to show just that sort of dividend, riding a Rodriguez tap-down and a blistering shot from Villalobos to lead at one point, 8-4. Zamora and then Alvarez helped Econ stay close ay 9-7, Vela. But a diving save from senior Eliana Guerra aided the Lady Sabes, who ran off a strong streak to go up, 16-8; another senior, Bianca Ollervidez, contributed a pass to Rodriguez for a point and the Lady Jags began to wilt, all the fire and momentum from the second set now dissipating rapidly. The scoreboard at Vela listed the opponent as “Hounds,” probably a basketball hangover from recent days. And the Lady Jags had indeed hounded Vela in Set Two, only to lose the beat thereafter.

It was Avila who put the finishing touches on a 25-12 victory, granting match edge at 2-to-1, with a masterful series of serves that evaded the grasp of the Orange backline time and again.

In the clincher it was more Avila, as the elusive lefty again ran off a burst of serves that the visitor just couldn’t figure out. She also gave a perfect feed to Rodriguez, and both those long-timers made their last home match something to remember. It ended 25-6, did the final set, making the Lady Sabes 7-6 heading into the season finale, at EHS Friday.

As noted, both these units have high hopes for the future, and with good reason. The Lady Bobcats will certainly be a force to be reckoned with and even with the loss of otherworldly Evana Ramos, the Lady Cougars of North, probable second-place finishers heading into this final week, will have a nucleus good enough to compete in 2021.

Here’s hoping that when the next season arrives, it will begin at the accustomed time of late summer and proceed without all the disappointment and madness that has marked the current situation. Let it be said that the girls have performed admirably, the coaches too, in trying to make the campaign as exciting and rewarding as possible for all parties involved. They weathered the storm, never lost faith, and have shown character throughout the ordeal.

In this, the girls have been fine exemplars illustrating the class and integrity of their school namesakes, Robert Vela on one hand and the legendary fire chief Johnny G. Economedes on the other. Who says sports doesn’t teach lessons, to kids and to the fans who watch them?

NOTES: With P-SJ-A’s win over EHS Tuesday, the Lady Bears clinched a playoff spot, eliminating Vela from postseason contention for only the second time in Lady Sabe school history.

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