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EDINBURG — Poetry in motion may be the most appropriate way to describe the communication and performance between UTRGV setter Luanna Emiliano and middle hitter/blocker Luisa Santos de Silva.
While it may look simple, it’s not something that has developed overnight.
“We’ve played together since I was 12, it has been the whole time, my whole life, so it’s natural,” Emiliano said about the connection with Silva. “We don’t come here and try to make this connection like something we just thought the day of. We like to play together and enjoy the time together, so we just come with everything.”
Emiliano connected with Silva multiple times throughout the match, mostly on quick sets in the middle, and the Vaqueros defeated the Cardinals 25-19, 25-20, 25-17 on Tuesday at the UTRGV Fieldhouse.
More than 2,200 people were in attendance, the second-largest crowd in program history, for the Kids Day match that filled the stands with energetic students from across the Rio Grande Valley. They often cheered wildly, chanted “UTRGV” and watched gleefully as the Vaqueros improved to 6-4 on the season, winners of five of their past seven matches.
Junior outside Ilana de Assis paced UTRGV with 11 kills, followed by Silva with 10. Both tallied a .450 kill percentage. Emiliano, last season’s Western Athletic Conference Setter of the Year, pushed out 29 assists, 15 digs and two kills. As usual, she was a human highlight film making the surreal seem commonplace and, during one play, looking like someone from the Matrix, getting out of the way on a ball hit that ended out of bounds.
“This is two home matches in a row with the gym full, and not just full but with a lot of energy,” head coach Todd Lowery said. “It speaks volumes especially like today in a match we were in control of. I didn’t feel there was any letup from our side and really just constant pressure on UIW, and a lot of that was our girls feeding off the crowd and really just rolling.”
It’s a new-look Vaqueros this year. Lowery said they purposefully looked for defensive standouts during the recruiting process to extend rallies and not put so much pressure on the offense to have to put kills away during every attack.
It looked like a perfect plan Tuesday. Junior libero Kiaraliz Perez led the team with 16 digs, often sprawling onto the court to make a hair-raising save. Even more impressive was her control and accuracy with the pass, no matter how much flailing she was doing. That defense, combined with the six blocks for the match, led to UIW hitting a dismal .077 with 27 kills.
“I didn’t think we were very good defensively against Tulane on Sunday,” Lowery said. “We talked about it and worked on it (Monday). We came in early and got after it on defense, and I think we went back to the way we were playing the first weekend, not giving away any responsibilities — is this my ball or somebody’s else’s ball — and with the mentality that somebody is going to go and somebody is going to help you out. I think we got away from that a little last weekend.
“It’s a positive early in the season because we will continue to get better if they continue to take what we are talking about in practice and apply it on the court.”
UTRGV returns to action Friday in the USF Challenge. The Vaqueros play 8 p.m. Friday against San Francisco and 1 p.m. Saturday against San Jose State. They return home at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 28 for their WAC home opener against Utah State.