August 16, 2021

By Greg Selber

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It always catches one off guard somewhat. You gradually shake off the pleasant cobwebs of the endless summer, start to lament the passing of lazy, leisurely days, and lightly dread the coming of obligatory fall tasks … and then you re-remember the annual truth: for student-athletes, the summer was way gone many weeks ago.

So it is that even before ECISD multitudes return (we imagine) to the halls, the volleyball teams have been busy as bees, buzzing around the hive of preseason tournaments and seeking to build a foundation for the 31-6A wars to come. A preview of any upcoming season is a tricky muster because while each combatant has some returning talent, none may know the twists and turns that lie ahead, and such is the beauty of any athletic competition over the long haul.

In beginning action, EHS has looked salty enough with a good-size contingent paced by the formidable Jazmin Cuellar. Having already generated ample hype in the local papers, the rangy spiker is the centerpiece of the effort, though veteran coach Deanna Dominguez has plenty of other contributors in 2021. One of them is the latest Vega, Hailey, and the sturdy setter will ease the graduation loss of older sister Hannah, off to play college ball now. The new Vega is creative and quick, showing in a win last week against Weslaco East that she will backset the ball on target, along with making the more conventional deliveries with alacrity.

If it’s not the elegant senior Cuellar slamming them home, it may be junior Natalie Hernandez, who has gobs of varsity experience under her belt. And at times, it’s promising sophomore Mia Dominguez, who has great spring and appears to be hitting at the apex more frequently than she did last year.

Basketball hand Emily Carranco brings a long body and good coordination to the middle, giving Dominguez one of her tallest frontline groups in recent memory. As EHS got off to a 5-1 start for 2021, all these girls were productive, with long-time libero Arianna Guerra hustling and striving in the back. 

Meanwhile, North launched into the post-Evana Ramos Era with a series of wins, including an impressive home victory Saturday over Vela in which the Lady Cougars were on the front foot throughout, thoroughly dominating the Lady SaberCat sextet. Coach Raul McCallum goes to the battles this year with a known and excellent quantity in the middle, senior Kaylee O’Bryan. The softball star came into her own during the playoff run of 2020 and shows no signs of letting up this time around. 

The Lady Coogs have a new outside option in sophomore Etsel Ramirez, a tall and agile player who was tremendous against Vela, as sets from junior Stephanie Kotzur gave her plenty of chances to kill in the sweep, most of which Ramirez took with aplomb, and force. Somewhat like EHS, North has some height in 2021, with looming Jade Guerra at the net and the pair of Alexis Espinoza and Maya Espinoza, the former as a returnee and the latter as a newcomer with some upside. McCallum can count on Shayla Gaytan and Ariana Gonzalez as seasoned kids who have toed the line in big matches in the past, making North a good bet to compete for the league crown along with EHS.

It is way too early to count out the other two city contingents, as both Vela and Econ have a chance to bounce into the race, as always. Celi Ortega’s Lady Sabes were slow off the mark at North but there is talent on hand, especially with effervescent libero Maria Sanchez leading the charge. Vela is looking for Sam Villalobos to step into the spotlight after a solid campaign a year ago while athletic girls Fey Vazquez and Dayanne Ramos will certainly be part of the unfolding Vela puzzle this season.

At Econ, the Lady Jags only lost two seniors to graduation, and are bent on making 2021 a comeback situation. In early tourney action Econ worked against Brownsville Lopez and Edcouch-Elsa, also gaining a victory over Rio Hondo.

As for the rest of the district pack, it remains to be seen whether Mission, so strong last season, will repeat that performance, while P-SJ-A piled on some early wins last week with city rival Pharr North off to a sluggish beginning. Neither La Joya nor Juarez-Lincoln are pegged as contenders in the nascent stages, but as stated, there’s no way to truly know who will be doing what to whom until the 31-6A slate kicks off in earnest in a few weeks.

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