More than two months later than it would be compared to past seasons, teams from the Big 7 are finally back on the volleyball court competing. Six of the seven schools began a shortened regular season last week consisting almost entirely of district matches due to the effects of and guidelines put in place in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Mission Veterans Head Coach Diana Lerma talked about how the game environment was different than before due to the numerous changes put in place for safety. Among them, teams did not switch sides between games nor did they shake hands afterwards. The Lady Patriots were one of the first to get back on the court and play under the new conditions. “We set the tempo for everyone else because we can either comply with what they’re asking and not be upset about (it),” said Lerma.
Besides the abbreviated season and safety protocols that have been put in place for players, coaches and spectators the teams of the Big 7 are also dealing with new district alignments that the University Interscholastic League (UIL) announced this past February.
That growing rivalry between Mission Vets and Sharyland Pioneer? No more; at least in the regular season. They are now in two different districts. Ever wanted to see how the two Sharyland ISD schools would do in district games against the perennial powerhouses from McAllen? You get to this year!
La Joya High and Mission High (La Joya Juarez-Lincoln is not competing this season) have moved from District 30-6A to 31-6A as have PSJA High and PSJA North. All now have the four schools from Edinburg CISD, three of whom made the playoffs last year in 31-6A, to contend with in place of the three McAllen schools.
“It is a little different but I still feel like it’s very competitive,” said Lady Coyotes coach Diamantina Martinez. “We still have a lot of good teams that we’re competing against.”
To get in all their district games, the teams in 31-6A will be playing games on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays; three times a week instead of the usual two. The UIL allowed the change for this season.
The three McAllen schools moved to District 31-5A, joining with Sharyland High, Pioneer, two schools from PSJA ISD and Valley View. Six of the teams in this new alignment, including both the Sharyland schools, made the playoffs in their respective leagues last season. Per UIL rules, only four teams from any district qualify for the post season.
“(The) McAllens have always been a powerhouse,” said Sharyland coach Raul Castillo. “Anybody going into their district; they know they have a challenge in front of them, especially when it comes to volleyball.”
“We know there a lot of playoff contending teams, teams with a lot of experience , a lot of height, a lot of athleticism,” said Pioneer coach Laura Cavazos.
The teams in 31-5A will also be playing up to three matches per week this year with games on Tuesdays and double headers (two matches against two different opponents) on Saturdays.
Cavazos talked about the importance of getting proper nutrition and hydration for the Saturday contests but added that in previous seasons tournament play often involved more than one match a day. “I think we’ll be OK,” said Cavazos.
The large number of games each week limits practice and preparation time for ones’ next opponent, making each session more important according to Castillo. “Having a high IQ when it comes to practice,” said Castillo when asked about how best to deal with the challenge. “That goes for everybody on the court. Understanding the game the way it should be. ”
La Joya Palmview and Mission Vets also have a new home and some new opponents as well. The two teams are now part of District 30-5A which consists of six schools. The Lady Lobos and Lady Patriots will find themselves headed west for most, if not all, of their district road games this year as part of a league that also includes Rio Grande City, Roma, Laredo Cigarroa and Laredo Martin. The small district means only ten games will decide one’s postseason fate. Teams in this district will be playing games twice a week in the usual Tuesday/Saturday format.
Despite the different scheduling plans, what every team faces this year is basically a one month dash to determine who gets to be a playoff team.
La Joya Palmview coach Margo Iglesias-Cantu’s message to her team about that aspect of the season was clear. “I told the girls, “You’ve got to be positive and intense as soon as you step on the court. You come in this gym and it’s all business.”