Lady Cougars set for first-ever trip to 3rd round of playoffs

SANTA MARIA — One of the very smallest schools in the Valley is also one of the very few in the Valley to still have a team alive in the UIL state volleyball playoffs.

The Santa Maria Lady Cougars (36-3) made school history on Saturday when they beat Kenedy in a five-game thriller to advance to tonight’s Class 2A regional quarterfinal match against Freer (13-5).

“The program had made it to the second round several times before, but they had never been able to push through to the third round until this year,” said Lady Cougars head coach Sofia Garcia during a quick break from practice on Monday evening.

“I’m so proud of these girls,” she continued. “To be honest, we’re still sort of in shock with the whole thing, but they’ve worked really hard all season and deserve to be where they are now.”

Tonight’s match is set for 7 p.m. at Bishop High School, which is a significant location for the Lady Cougars as not only did they win there this past weekend, they lost there a year ago in a match that may have made this season’s success possible.

“Last season, we played Three Rivers at Bishop and lost a very hard-fought second-round game,” Garcia recalled. “Afterward, the girls took the loss very hard and after all the crying was over, the team decided then and there that they would do whatever it took to get past the second round.”

But while the Lady Cougars may have indeed accomplished the goal they set out to achieve, no one on the squad is ready to stop playing just yet.

“I think we thought that we would all be satisfied by going three-deep, but now that we got here we want to take it even further,” said senior team captain Whitney Salinas.

Alyssa Hinojosa, the team’s other senior captain, added, “We want to set the standard for other teams that come here after us.”

If the Lady Cougars win tonight, they would face the winner between Snook and Shiner in the semifinals of the Region IV-2A tournament in Brenham this weekend.

“Regardless of what happens, it’s been a great season for us,” Garcia said. “The community has really embraced these girls and been there for us all the way. Hopefully, we can go out there, be competitive and make everyone proud.”