BY CLAIRE CRUZ |
RAYMONDVILLE — Last year, the Raymondville Lady Kats came one win short of the District 32-4A championship. They’re determined to earn a better fate this season.
They took the first step in achieving that goal Tuesday night with a thrilling five-set victory (25-27, 25-22, 18-25, 25-18, 15-7) over Port Isabel.
“After last year’s loss, it was real hard for them… they want to come back and they want to give it a shot at district again,” Raymondville head coach Norma Rodriguez said. “I told them, ‘this is the first step to getting ourselves up there.’”
The match was competitive from the start. Both teams delivered big hits and smart tips in the first set, and scoring runs were plentiful.
But Port Isabel’s senior middle blocker Olivia Soliz was the difference maker in the opening round. She slammed down kill after kill and put a big block up at the net to stymie the Raymondville offense.
The Lady Tarpons carried their momentum into the second set, but Raymondville’s resilience and adjustments in the back row slowed them down. Three consecutive Port Isabel attack errors gave the Lady Kats an 18-16 lead, and from there the set see-sawed with scoring runs until Raymondville eventually pulled the match even.
Soliz and fellow middle blocker Jane Christensen dominated set three and gave the advantage back to Port Isabel. Raymondville committed an abundance of hitting errors early, and as the set went on the Lady Kats defense became sloppy and couldn’t stop Port Isabel’s high-powered offense.
“Our hitters did a whole lot better job today of hitting the ball hard,” Port Isabel head coach Julie Breedlove said. “That’s one thing we’ve really been working on, trying to hit the ball hard and get it through the blocker’s hands.”
Raymondville senior setters Claudia Mesa and Iscela Bazaldua took over in set four. They made great defensive plays and smashed kills to carry their team to a deciding fifth set.
Fueled by the support of the rowdy home crowd that had the “I believe that we will win” chant ringing through the gym, the Lady Kats immediately took control of the rubber match to seal the victory.
“It was very intense,” Mesa said. “Our main focus was to win the game, which we did, but it was a challenge. We just focused on working together as a team and we’re just going to take it one game at a time. [The win] gives us encouragement and motivation that this season is going to be good.”