Lady Cards overcome sluggish start to top Donna High

Harlingen High outside hitter Gabriela Sema (9) prepares to strike the ball during a non-district volleyball match against Donna High Tuesday night at Harlingen High. The Lady Cardinals defeated the Lady Redskins (25-27, 25-21, 25-15, 25-15)

HARLINGEN — While it is often said that the best lessons are learned through failure and defeat, sometimes a stern warning can be all the motivation a team needs to kick itself back into gear.

Such was the case Tuesday night for Harlingen High volleyball and coach Joslynn Torres, who guided her squad to victory in four games 25-27, 25-21, 25-15, 25-15 over Donna High.

The first game was a wakeup call for the Lady Cardinals, who blew an early 11-4 lead before freshman middle blocker Juli Bryant led Harlingen High’s turnaround during the next three games.

“It’s really just about protecting home court,” Torres said. “I just told them to have some pride in wearing that jersey, have some pride in playing here and having a crowd here tonight. If you don’t want people to come here next Tuesday, then continue to play how you (played in the first game). If you want people to come to your games, show some passion, show some excitement, some pride in what you’re doing.”

The sluggish start seemed to briefly carry over into the second game, as Donna High got out to a 9-6 lead.

“We’ve been in our heads a little bit,” Torres said. “We’re trying to get out of that inconsistency that goes on. Literally, it’s all mental. We have a great team. We saw it in Game 2, 3 and 4. So being able to come out strong and stay on that high is, for some reason, extremely difficult for us.”

Torres said she expects her younger players to emulate senior outside hitter Elaine Coronado and her steady presence.

“(Coronado) was the only one that consistently continued to attack,” Torres said. “A lot of my other players, when it’s a tight game, they send a free ball over, or they make it easy for the other team to put it back in play. Elaine showed that (determination) and continued to attack regardless if we were down, up, whatever.”

A kill by Gabriela Sema helped to get the Lady Cardinals out of their funk, rallying back to bring the deficit to two points at 13-11. A leaping block up front by Alexandria Ramirez and another sequence of well-placed shots forced Donna High to hit the ball out of bounds and put Harlingen High up 17-15.

But it was Bryant who ignited the Harlingen High crowd with her strong play.

“She has been the spark that we need, when we need it,” Torres said. “But at the end of the day she is a freshman and she does lack confidence sometimes, but the team and everyone makes her feel welcome and makes her believe in herself. She really picked it up for us, and whenever she does something awesome, you can hear the support and feel the energy from the entire team.”

Once Ramirez delivered another clutch block to maintain the two-point advantage at 23-21, Harlingen High did not trail again for the rest of the match.

Setter Elena Aguinaga’s chemistry with Bryant and Callie Cervantes was evident, as she placed the ball in great position for the Lady Cardinals’ strong outside hitters to punish the ball.

Harlingen High continued to pour it on in the fourth game, going up 8-0 and leading by as much as 12 during the final game of the match. Bryant recorded kills at three key moments, including a tip that put the Lady Cardinals ahead and a deflection that landed for the match-winning point.

Harlingen High is slated to play next at Sharyland High at 6:45 p.m. Thursday.

Stefan Modrich Total Posts: 158 Stefan Modrich is a 2017 graduate of Arizona State University, where he was the Sports Editor for The State Press, ASU's independent student news publication. He is also a graduate of the University of Zagreb in Croatia, where he completed a foreign language program in 2018. A native of Franklin Park, Illinois, Modrich previously covered high school sports for The Arizona Republic, Chicago Tribune, and Mars Reel Media.