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ELSA — Ofelia Griffith thought her team had turned the corner during the first round of district play, taking steps forward as the season progressed.
After Tuesday night’s first set against Mercedes at home, the Yellow Jackets’ head coach started wondering if that ship made a complete U-turn.
However, behind a vigilant and scrappy defense, and what Griffith calls smart, aggressive play, the Yellow Jackets bounced back to claim a 15-23, 25-20, 25-19, 25-22 victory over the visiting Tigers. The win puts E-E in a four-way tie with Mercedes, Brownsville Lopez and Brownsville Veterans, all 6-4, for the final two playoff positions. Brownsville Pace improved to 10-0 in district, and Harlingen South is now 9-1.
“I was afraid we were going backwards, that we had been moving forward and had a good, solid second half of the first round of district.” Griffith said. “I hoped we didn’t turn back.”
E-E’s defense refused to let a taller and seemingly stronger Mercedes attack easily earn points after the first set. Libero Alliyah Ramirez kept digging one hard-hit ball after another by Mercedes hitters Leah Adame and Jackie Bibian, and sophomore Yellow Jackets setter Adilylah Gonzalez tracked down nearly every second ball and found her hitters. While Mercedes was the aggressor, E-E kept consistent, after that first set.
“We need to be able to move the ball around, and they understand that,” Griffith said. “We have a strong hitter and they will go out and try to shut her down, so we need to be able to diversify. The defense is excellent, and I have some great girls out there and have some strong girls on the bench.”
As each set progressed, the Yellow Jackets locked in on the Tigers’ timing on their attacks and started getting hands on the balls at the net more often, either sending blocks back to Mercedes or popping them up for Edcouch-Elsa to set up another attack.
“The type of game I want to play is smart, aggressive ball, but notice the first word is smart,” Griffith said. “Hit the ball to open areas. Not every kill has to be from a swing attack. It can be from a roll shot, or a tip — whatever it takes.”
Gonzalez also had a critical kill in the fourth set as the teams traded points. With Mercedes leading 20-19 during the fourth set, Gonzalez hit a shot that clipped the back line and tied the game. E-E then finished the match on a kill from Janelle Diaz into the Mercedes block.
“I just knew I wanted that shot,” Gonzalez said. “We didn’t want to go to a fifth set.”