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MISSION High school volleyball teams are making their final preparations as district play begins for at least three Valley districts, those with 10 teams.

Several teams already have played at least one district match, so the Sharyland ISD Varsity Invitational gives them a chance to hone in on certain aspects, different rotations and other tweaks to begin the “second” season, known as district play.

For defending District 31-5A champion Sharyland High, its home tournament is an opportunity to find consistency, head coach Raul Castillo said.

The Rattlers were one of six teams that won their respective pools Thursday either at Sharyland or Sharyland Pioneer, defeating Harlingen South, Falfurrias and a scrappy San Benito team that is one of the positive surprises across the Rio Grande Valley. The Greyhounds are 9-2 on the year after beating South and Falfurrias and falling in straight sets to Sharyland, 25-14, 25-17.

While the Greyhounds rarely had clean attacks, they did keep several rallies alive and extended points on many occasions that seemed to be already locked up by Sharyland.

“I hadn’t seen them in a while, but based off their season record and the tournament they won in Donna and watching them play earlier today, I knew they were going to be a scrappy team, and sure enough they dug and they dug and dug, said Castillo, whose team is returning from a Class 5A Sweet 16 appearance last year. “A team like that is always dangerous because they are going to make those plays where you make the error. You are the offensive threat, and they’re just playing defense the whole time.”

The Rattlers didn’t strike quick out of the gate and San Benito stayed with them until midway through the first set, the Greyhounds trailing just 9-8.

Middle blocker Ashlyn Garcia and setter Kassandra De La Garza didn’t quite have their timing down for quick attacks, but on three different occasions Garza reached out with her non-swinging left hand, made the adjustment and tipped the ball to open court for points.

“Right now we are playing a little lazy and not getting our feet in position,” Castillo said. “When they wake up and once they started getting involved and making the sets and getting in hitting position, I was. like, ‘OK we’ll be fine.”

Sharyland also is the defending champion of the tournament, winning its first one last year en route to a 44-5 overall record. The Rattlers are 20-1 so far this season, winners of 19 straight, with their only loss coming to PSJA High in the McAllen High Poundfest tournament. They bounced back from that loss and won.

Another reason for their dominance Thursday was some heavy serving that gave San Benito trouble, setting up any type of attack.

“That is our goal. If you want to beat big teams, you are going to have to serve,” Castillo said. “We have a huge district and they all pass well and they all have big hitters, but if we can keep them on their heels where they are not an offensive threat to us, we’ll be just fine.”

The tournament continues today with more pool play then single elimination brackets Saturday

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