October 2, 2021
By Greg SelberClick here for select game photos
It is a consistent line of reasoning in the game of volleyball, and you hear it all the time from coaches and players: communication, talk out there, etc. It may seem a cliché but the truth is, these factors can be key to a winning effort.
And it’s not just peppy chatter and pick-me-ups, according to EHS senior Jazmin Cuellar, whom one would trust to be in the net know.
“When we say communicate and talk, we also mean helping each other, making sure we’re in the right spot,” said the dazzling Lady Bobcat star after her squad swept through Econ at home Saturday to rise to 8-2 in District 31-6A. “When a team is talking it is about accountability, responsibility, everyone doing their job, and sometimes we remind each other what’s happening and what they need to do.”
Many of the uninitiated might have thought that communication and talk meant being supportive, or even might refer to when a player is calling for a ball, as in “I got it.” But as the springy Cuellar – who was celebrated on Senior Day along with five teammates Saturday – notes, it’s a teaching tool as well. And she had a great example Saturday as sophomore Mia Dominguez, enjoying one of her best matches all year, was leaping and pounding … and paying attention.
“Yes, she is really starting to get on top of the ball and hit over,” said Cuellar, who is one of the best in the state at doing just that. “She was really listening to all of us today and that’s how you learn, by doing but also by listening.”
The Lady Bobcats, 20-9 overall, needed to tuck this one away against the underdog Lady Jags because they have huge challenges on the horizon. Locked in a struggle with a series of opponents, including P-SJ-A, Vela, and North, they are intent on winning a district title in Cuellar’s final season. Coach Deanna Dominguez has been concentrating on important details the past few weeks, and if the Lady ‘Cats can get the handle on what she’s selling, the veteran mentor thinks the chances of a trophy are there.
“I can maybe see it sometimes, but we have to do better,” she said before Saturday’s sweep. “I have seen glimmers of the type of team that can win it, but we definitely need to be more consistent in some areas, such as first ball, serve and receive, some more consistent production from outside. But I think we’re coming around right now.”
The Econ match started off with a home flourish amid visitor miscues as after a Cuellar kill from junior setter Hailey Vega, the Lady Jags stumbled to errors on four straight points. Cuellar, who’s committed to LeTourneau University in Longview for next season, skied high to execute a lefty block for a score and Sam Saenz, another of the honored seniors, piled an ace into the Orange backline for a 10-4 lead.
Cuellar and junior Natalie Hernandez each swatted and then so did Dominguez, a sophomore with considerable ups who as Cuellar suggested is starting to really come on. She is probably, style-wise, somewhere in between the leaping Cuellar and sophomore Emily Carranco, who would end up being perhaps the Girl of the Match Saturday with a fine performance. Cuellar gets up to the clouds and sprays speedy yet powerful shots all over the court, while Carranco is a pounder who hits a heavy ball but is also a deft tipper. Hernandez is probably more like Carranco in her way of smacking with force, and in all, Dominguez the coach can count on several kids at the net making life tough for opposing squads. And as she knows, three of the four will be back in 2022.
So too will Vega return to the fold in ’22 as a senior, and right now, she may be slightly ahead of her older sister, Hannah, if one compares their relative abilities and production at a similar stage. Of course, the younger Vega will have to continue to work and improve if she wants to truly be like Hannah, the gritty gal who has fought for and won a starting libero spot in college volleyball as a freshman with Howard Payne. But with her agile, graceful work as a setter, Hailey is well on her way to a shot at the next level; her combinations with the devastating Cuellar are poetry, synchronized swimming, and WoW all mixed together.
The Lady Jags hung in there behind some fierce net play from Neyda Garcia and tried to get their slugger, Sidni Alvarez, started. But with Dominguez powering a couple, Cuellar as well, it ended 25-9 for the first set.
The Lady Bobcats are like a communication class, and that includes some ancillary effects, such as the groovy bench dance from junior Miranda Reyes and senior Arianna Guerra, who get set for their minutes on the court with a bit of boogie. Then there’s junior Arely Ramirez, whose perfected hand-slap routine with Vega will make one dizzy. The game can be fun and in fact, should be, albeit alongside the necessary commitment to winning and achieving; this crew seems to be finding the balance in that regard.
For set two, Garcia scored with a sharp diagonal hit and the Lady Jags were up early, 3-2. But the Vega/Cuellar tandem again percolated and when Cuellar vaulted up to post a sick block and then rose equally high on the next serve to kill with will, EHS took a 7-6 lead and would not thereafter waver. Alvarez and Garcia kept Econ in it until Vega toed the service line for a run, with Carranco starring with solid pops, tips and all-around excellence. She scored to end a play that started with Econ digging Cuellar but continued with the Lady ‘Cats recovering to roll downhill.
Cuellar and understudy Dominguez helped clinch it, the former with an absolutely gorgeous tip, and the latter with a floater of an ace that had all six Lady Jags befuddled until it plinked the wood. It was 25-12, and time for a quick afternoon, though the pesky Lady Jags would do their best to stave off the seemingly inevitable result.
When Dana Serna scored off a block to get the set rolling it looked alright, but by the time Alvarez turned in several ringing kills, the Lady ‘Cats had burst out to a 10-3 advantage. Hernandez bombed a weighty spike into the backline for a point to key the rally while Cuellar’s screaming line drive serve raced to the corner and was basically impossible to touch, much less return. Soon, Serna rolled to save one for Econ and popped up to get back into the play, but with Vega setting a perfect table and the multiple cannons going off regularly, there was no stopping the Red and Blue.
Carranco showed her versatility with two blocks and a spike while libero Bianca Coronado hustled to keep her Orange team alive. A highlight of the final set came when Alvarez seared one deep to the backline for the Lady Jags, only to have Dominguez answer directly with an equally impressive smash. The EHS sophomore also adjusted well in mid-air to reach one of the few eh passes the Lady ‘Cats made all day, redirecting it over and down.
Soon it was time to go home, 25-15 EHS, and the seniors could walk off knowing they had gained the W on their special day.
The race is up for grabs right now and the Lady ‘Cats are in the thick of it, using their weapons in the physical sense, and working on the cerebral part of it. The more they talk and communicate, the more they start to fulfill the expectations of their demanding and perennially successful coach.
And it doesn’t hurt to have a kid like Cuellar, who levitates like a human drone, uses her long arms as windmills, and explodes on enemy diggers like an atom bomb. Special player, no doubt. One of the best the city has even seen.