In the midst of a large swath of land that engulfs District 30-5A – nearly 150 miles from Mission to Laredo –sits the quiet city of Roma, population approximately 11,500.

Quiet, it may be, but Elaiza Martinez and her Roma Gladiators volleyball team have a name reverberating loudly throughout said district. It has never been any louder than Saturday, when the senior star hitter/blocker and her squad defeated the multi-time district champions – the close to two decade long queens of the court – Mission Veterans 25-12, 25-22, 21-25, 25-17 on Saturday at Mission Veterans.

Roma’s Paula Danielle Barba (8) celebrates a point with teammates against Mission Veterans in a game at Mission Veterans High School on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023, in Mission. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

The win improves Roma to 3-0 in the district (20-7 overall) and sets up a supersonic matchup of potentially still unbeatens next Saturday as La Joya Palmview, also 3-0 in district, travels to face the Gladiators. Mission Veterans falls to 2-1 on the season in district.

It’s not the first time the Patriots have lost a match during their forever-grip atop the district standings. They’ve won district titles even with one or two losses. It is, however, the first time Roma has claimed a victory over Vets in head coach Angie Garcia’s 18 years at the Roma helm.

“We’ve gone five sets with them but never taken a complete match,” Garcia said. “This was big for us.”

The match started as expected, with Martinez swinging like she held a sledgehammer, pounding away at a defense with no answers. She tallied six kills in the set alone, to go with a block and, at one point, screamed toward a Patriots defender, who stopped on a dime as if seeing a ghost while the ball dropped innocently to the floor and gave Roma a 14-4 lead.

“We were 2-0. They were 2-0 and we weren’t ready to give up that spot and we wanted it,” Martinez said. “We came in with a goal to be district champs this year and we are fighting for every point.”

Roma’s Ceci Benitez (9) defends at the net in a game against Mission Veterans at Mission Veterans High School on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023, in Mission. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

Mission Veterans head coach Diana Lerma is a legend in the coaching ranks. You don’t reach that moniker or that many titles and wins without coming back from setbacks. Even after the Patriots dropped the second set despite opportunities, they rallied to continue keeping Roma out of system and win the third set.

Vets earned the third set with solid defensive play from lefty libero Chloe Rosillo and timely kills from Angela Perez, Camilla Southerst and Monika Regalado to force a fourth set as whispers of a reverse sweep started passing through the gym.

Martinez and Company, however, refuted those theories from the beginning of the fourth with a resounding “shush.” They led from the start and inched the gap bigger every few points. They also figured how to return to system. Then, Martinez and teammates Madelyn Garcia, Paula Barba and Ceci Benitez went on the attack. The victory celebration was more emotional than just a district win for the Gladiators. It was the realization of what had just transpired.

“We’ve already talked about Elaiza being our go-to girl,” Garcia said. “It’s very obvious she’s out main girl, a stud – a force to be reckoned with,” Garcia said. “But those other girls know what their role is. I tell them that if Elaiza has 18 to 20 kills, you are not allowed to give me one or two. you each have to give me five or six or seven so you can even out with what she’s giving us. When we get kills from them, we are a more rounded and stronger team because of it.”

Roma’s Elaiza Martinez (11) celebrates with teammates on the court after winning the set against Mission Veterans in a game at Mission Veterans High School on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023, in Mission. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

Martinez ended the day with a match-high 19 kills to go with 18 digs, six blocks and a pair of aces. Ceci Benitez added 10 kills, seven blocks and a pair of aces, and sophomore Madelyn Garcia contributed eight kills and 23 digs. Paula Barba and Jaiela Garcia had five and three kills, respectively and Garza tallied 41 assists.

“We have a feeling this is going to be a great season,” Martinez said.

“I told them this game would come down to mentality,” Garcia said. “Physically we were ready. We’ve trained hard and try to prepare for every team and every team is different. We knew what type of hitters they had and what they had but sometimes you get stuck during a couple of rotations and it’s about getting back into system. They just have to figure it out, stick with it and get back into rotation.”

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