A large and loud crowd rocked the Mission Veterans Memorial High School gym in Mission this past Tuesday night to watch two UIL District 31-5A volleyball powerhouses square off in a pivotal early district match.
Both Mission Veterans and Sharyland Pioneer each came in with undefeated records (3-0) to start off the 2019 district race and that, along with the fact that the two had played a thriller against each other at the Mission Volleyball Tournament back in August , made this a must see event.
Veterans tied the match up 1-1 with a win in the second set and finished off the Lady Diamondbacks in the third set, breaking away from Pioneer after it was tied 12-12.
The match was close and intense enough for most people to circle September 24 on their calendar so they wouldn’t miss the first of two re-matches.
The big question: Could someone finally break the stranglehold the Lady Patriots have held over their district opponents for the past several years?
The answer is still no. Veterans came away with a 3-1 victory (25-11, 18-25, 25-22, 25-22) and now sit alone atop the District 31-5A standings with a 4-0 record after two weeks of play. The Lady Patriots are now 30-5 overall. The loss drops Pioneer to 3-1 in district and 23-11 overall.
The first two sets of the night found each team struggling to find their rhythm, something to be expected when matched up against a tough opponent. Veterans capitalized on numerous Pioneer miscues to take the first set and the Lady Diamondbacks did the same to win the second.
The pace and quality of play picked up in the pivotal third set. Kills from Kassy Lerma and Rylie Barnett helped push Veterans to a 21-13 lead before Pioneer’s Daniela Alvarez and Thalia Ochoa recorded two kills apiece as part of a 9-1 run that tied the set at 22. Three straight points for the Lady Patriots, including a big block from Karina Salinas, ended the rally and put the Lady Patriots one set away from victory.
Another Salinas block put the Lady Patriots up early in the fourth set. What followed was a back and forth display of power hitting that showcased the quality of the two teams. It seemed like every kill from Lerma, Barnett and Salinas was answered by Pioneer with kills from Alvarez and Lorelai Hill.
With the set tied at 11 apiece the Lady Patriots went on 8-2 run to go up 19-13. The Lady Diamondbacks battled back again but it seemed every rally was stopped with a kill from one of the Lady Patriots three big hitters in the decisive 25-22 victory.
After the game, Pioneer coach Laura Cavazos remained upbeat. “I think our girls did a great job. They played their hearts out. We know they (Veterans) have some good hitters so we just tried to stay focused on our game plan and execute.”
Lady Patriots coach Diana Lerma had her team ready again.
“I told them (our players) that they’re going to come after us. It was undefeated versus undefeated and they (Pioneer) brought their game in. This game allows us to prepare for the playoff atmosphere.”
And while there are still many more games to go, the playoffs is where we should expect to see these two teams when the regular season concludes.
They may not be the only Big 7 teams to make it there either. The Lady Rattlers of Sharyland High are tied with Pioneer in the same UIL District 31-5A standings with a 3-1 record after defeating Rio Grande City Tuesday.
Pioneer defeated Sharyland last week. La Joya Palmview fell to Sharyland, Pioneer and Veterans to open district play before securing a victory over PSJA Memorial Tuesday night.
In upcoming games, Mission Veterans travels to Sharyland High tomorrow afternoon and then to PSJA Memorial next Tuesday night.
After hosting Veterans, the Lady Rattlers travel to PSJA Southwest next Tuesday.
Pioneer looks to bounce back when they host PSJA Memorial tomorrow before heading to Roma Tuesday.
Palmview hosts Roma tomorrow and travels to Rio Grande City Tuesday.
Tomorrow’s games are all scheduled for 1 pm and the Tuesday matchups are scheduled for 7 pm with the exception being the Palmview/Rio game (7:30 pm).
In UIL District 30-6A, the Mission Lady Eagles are 2-2 and tied for fourth in district play having won their last two matches over Juarez-Lincoln and PSJA North. La Joya broke into the win column on Tuesday night defeating Juarez-Lincoln in straight sets. The Lady Coyotes sit at 1-3 in the district standings while the Lady Huskies of Juarez-Lincoln are 0-4.
Next up for Mission is the team they are tied with for fourth (McAllen Rowe). They meet tomorrow in Mission and PSJA comes in for a game on Tuesday.
La Joya hosts PSJA North tomorrow and travels to McAllen Rowe on Tuesday.
Juarez-Lincoln is at McAllen Memorial tomorrow and hosts McAllen High Tuesday.
Tomorrow’s District 30-6A games are all scheduled for 12 pm and the Tuesday games are scheduled for 7:30 pm.
This article originally appeared in the Friday Sept. 27, 2019 issue of the Progress Times.