September 27, 2022
By Greg SelberClick here for select game gallery
There were times Tuesday when it seemed like a decent possibility, a doable task, history in the making. The crowd was into it from the start, a bigger audience than normal, and one could feel the energy from the girls as they warmed up, bouncing around, hustling about, gaining fire from the music as it pulsed through the gym.
Dana Serna went through her usual pregame routine of wall ball, flipping it up and back, against the brick quickly, bip-bip-bip, visualizing the sets she would soon be called upon to make. During preparatory hitting, Nayeli Mendez was wowing them all with her massive slams and each of the Lady Jags was doing something busy. Even the opponents couldn’t help but wince a time or two watching Mendez unwind.
Coach Christina Soto, knowing that this match was a big one, was mobile as well, at the scorer’s table, into the drills, everywhere, nervous and yet confident. This had to be the night that her improved team, having shown its capabilities from time to time in 2022, was going to try and make a splash. If they were going to get back to the playoffs for the first time in a decade, Tuesday was going to be indicative.
Problem was, as fired up as Econ was, and as well as it has played during the season, albeit intermittently, the visiting team Tuesday was not going to be very cooperative, at all.
That team was EHS.
Fending off a number of strong challenges from the upstart Orange, the Lady Bobcats improved to 2-0 in District 31-6A and 22-8 overall, beating Econ in straight though contested sets to prepare for a crucial stretch of matches to come.
Every time Serna or Mendez, or Sidni Alvarez, made key plays to bolster the home attack, Coach Deanna Sanchez’ girls had the antidote. Whether it was the deadly combination of Hailey Vega to Emily Carranco, the high-flying power of Mia Dominguez, or the contributions from lesser-known lights, EHS got it done against a Rival, thwarting rallies when they flared up and mechanically grinding through minefields, playing steady, seldom suffering through poor patches, and generally strengthening its claim to elite status in the league. After a home match versus struggling La Joya Saturday, the vital week will arrive for the Lady ‘Cats: at North Tuesday and then P-SJ-A at home Saturday, as the first half rushes by on gossamer wings.
For the 0-2 Lady Jags, so hopeful at the start of the night and so spent at the end of it, Soto has a job on her hands now. As Econ prepares for Mission on the road Saturday, the veteran coach will need all her considerable skills to keep the team spirit high and the belief intact. There were enough positives from the Tuesday loss to EHS to enable her to do that – and she is an expert motivator, plain spoken but emphatic, the kids believe in her – but it won’t be easy.
Take the good things from Tuesday, trash the rest, get back into the groove and see what Saturday brings. Adelante.
The opening point on Tuesday was a pleasure, a taut marathon with sharp play and lots of noise all around. In volleyball, the game of emotion and momentum but also of execution and patience, big crowds seem to amp the girls. As it should be.
When the Lady Jags fired a service ace early on, the place went up for grabs, arms raised and voices too; balancing nachos in fists clinched in a triumphant roar is definitely an art.
When Mendez rose for a rejection at net but Dominguez answered with a scoring block, it was an indication: Econ was challenging, EHS responding. Pattern ingrained.
Though she has been under the weather lately – as have many of the Lady ‘Cats – young Makayla Olvera turned in a sharp hit for point and then another, as EHS climbed into a 7-3 lead. Earlier in the night, Sanchez had lamented the health of her squad but also gone vintage Coach D, suggesting, tongue in cheek (sort of) that the girls had had all year to be sick, offseason … now they just had to push through, no excuses. Habit, expectations, ingrained.
Alvarez rose to power one home off a Serna set and then crafty Jaylene Corona scored diagonally, but when a lengthy and contested point ended with EHS ascendant, 13-7, it looked a bit bleak. With Nat Hernandez blasting away methodically, the Lady ‘Cats gained steam. Even when Bianca Coronado came up with a smart save off a banner high in the rafters, EHS was ready to rock, erasing the Econ hustle play by getting another heavy Hernandez heave to keep moving ahead.
In the pregame huddle, the spirited Corona had spoken the mantra to her Lady Jag pals.
“Let this be the biggest upset!” she stressed, teammates nodding solemnly.
But EHS was flawless to close the first set, outscoring the Orange 15-4 with Olvera tallying twice, including a redirection of a wayward ball, right to left, to clinch it.
NOW OR NEVER?
Soto wanted her club to win the first set, for the sake of momentum. It hadn’t happened, and now the pressure was on. Let the good teams get away and you may never see them again, down the road.
Though they were scrambling to keep up, the Lady Jags responded to start the second battle, as Mendez peppered a kill from Serna and Alvarez followed suit. It was 5-4, Econ, the fans back in it, before the jamming junior Dominguez crashed two kills off block, with sophomore Melanie Perez serving. What is it about that little rascal Perez; she’s always doing something productive out there, under the radar!
Soon up 4, the Lady ‘Cats looked in their rearview and saw Econ raging forward. The rampant redhead Mendez delivered an ace and Alvarez swooped through the air to punish the backline. When Serna and junior Joselyn Rosas combined for a no-doubt block score, it was 9-8, home side, and there was much rejoicing. From there, Soto’s crew kept churning, into a 13-11 lead after a pound from Rosas and this was followed by a second diagonal score from Corona. Lady Jags starting to command it.
The biggest stretch of the season had arrived, the underdog vibing, visions of victory in its head. However, like all championship contenders, the Lady Bobcats were about to counter with their statement.
It started with two perfect Vega-Carranco connections and continued apace. Vega, one of the many gals who has been through sickness lately, picked this moment to remind everyone why she is one of the best setters – athleticism personified – Sanchez has ever had in Red and Blue. She served the team forward during a dominant 9-0 run, fed the hitters like a master chef, and got down to dig a nasty rocket from Mendez. When she finally proved mortal on an unforced error, Vega blinked, shrugged, got back in the fray. Dolphin Warrior.
Behind 20-14, and scrambling to keep up, Econ got a deep kill from Mendez, but EHS cruised to the set win, 25-18, and went to work on the sweep. In the huddle after the set, the Lady Jags were sweaty, red-faced, but undaunted. Still fighting, they needed to find a way to slow down the enemy hitting train, after a 14-4 finish to the set by EHS.
PRIDE ON THE LINE
The third go threatened to be a runaway as the Lady ‘Cats jumped out hot, 6-1, the Lady Jags falling victim to fatigue mistakes. And when Coronado hit the deck to save one, the ball was in play but soon fell harmlessly to the court on her side. Tired legs.
While the bench cheered on its teammates, led by peppy sophomore Aissa Garcia, the Orange tried to use the pick-me-up. Serna walloped a huge kill, normally not her role, and that helped. But the count was 15-7 and heading higher until the home girls put on a last-ditch stand. And it was an impressive one.
Serna vaulted up at the net with assistance from sophomore Patty Garcia, the result being a tremendous block that got the party re-started. Alvarez netted a winner that whizzed the net and fell over (she giggled, it was funny, lucky but hey, she’ll take it).
Jackie Maldonado, getting her minutes in the rotation, returned some massive dividends with hustle, clever sets, and the kind of desire she brings to the soccer pitch every match. Point by point, Econ resurrected itself into contention, until it was a 1-point deal, EHS up 15-14. This was the sort of intensity Soto has been urging from her team, and it came at a key moment. Maybe they could surge on ahead and win the set, and after that, who knew, maybe keep it, own it, savor it. Win it.
But the Lady ‘Cats re-asserted themselves via a great dig from Dominguez and a resounding block from Carranco: the streak was over for the Orange.
Leading 19-17, EHS put it away with a late flourish. Maldonado dived to stop a tip from hitting wood but Hernandez of EHS was there to blister a deep retort. That was it in a nutshell; Econ had its moments, but EHS made the plays more consistently, stymying the upstarts and their ability to stay in the mix.
After the final set ended, 25-18 to the Lady Bobcats, Econ’s fans filed out, the players wearily gathered their gear, and Soto did the paperwork that coaches do after every match. She was stoic in defeat, upbeat, although she was concerned with a knock suffered by star hitter Mendez, details on that, unknown. Then she walked out onto the court to see her little nephew, who was wandering around all small, looking up at the giant net, smiling and milling about as all li’l cats are wont to do.
“I don’t know what it will take for us to get over the hump,” she said quietly, after managing to get her nephew’s attention. Hummingbirds.
“But we’ll keep working, we have to. We picked it up pretty well a few times tonight, I can see our progress. But honestly, the girls are pretty deflated right now, obviously … they thought they had a chance to do it tonight. We all did, and we just have to get back at it now, weights tomorrow, then prepare for Mission. This shows us what we can do, but it also shows us that we’re not quite there yet.”