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EDINBURG – When Johanna Montelongo fell to the floor, grasping at her left knee, teammates Mia Dominguez and Julianna Guajardo knew at once they would need to step up their game.

The concern on their faces and their teammates faces was measurable. They were clearly shell-shocked.

PSJA led 1-0 on sets and were ahead 20-14 when the play occurred. The Bears’ outside hitters took the responsibility well, combining for 34 kills and 53 digs to lead their team to a 25-16, 25-16, 23-25, 26-24 win over a scrappy, defiant and resurging Edinburg North team in District 31-6A action Saturday at Edinburg North.

PSJA High’s Johanna Montelongo (8) sends the ball across the net in a game against Edinburg North at Edinburg North High School on Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023, in Mission. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

Montelongo, a senior and one of the top all-round players in the Rio Grande Valley and South Texas, had already registered eight kills, eight digs and five aces and was a clear difference maker at the time.

But it wasn’t until Karina Lucio came up with a crucial block and found an opening on back-to-back rallies that the Bears finally put away the Cougars, who led 21-13 in the fourth set, looking to push it to five and an opportunity for a reverse sweep of the defending district champs.

“Johanna is our key player, our number one,” Lucio said. “We were in shock at first but coach told us that we have played without one player before and we needed to play together. We had to win that for her and we fought our hardest

“When I was in the air (on the last play), (the defender) looked at me and she wasn’t ready – so I had to give it to her.”

PSJA improved to 29-5 overall and 3-0 in district. Edinburg North dropped to 2-1. Etsel Ramirez, Maya Espinoza and Natalie Avenado kept the Cougars in the match offensively and with their blocking. Setter Itati Ramirez also had a productive match, keeping the offense on system and finding her hitters while also making some smart tips and pushes at the net.

But Guajardo, a sophomore, and Dominguez, a senior, had too much ammunition and kept firing away while also scoring with some effective roll shots and other off-speed attacks.

“This win is good preparation for playoffs,” Dominguez said. “Losing the third set was hard for us, and losing Jo shook us up. The fact we were able to prove even after being down by so many points we could come back and win was important.”

Edinburg North led the fourth set 21-13 on a perfectly placed back-tip from Itati Ramirez but North couldn’t take advantage and sided out on the next serve. Dominguez then served up a pair of aces as PSJA begin its comeback. North pushed it to 22-18 before Guajardo hit a roll shot to the wide open middle and added a jam down the line on set point for North as the Bears climbed back to tie it at 24. Then. Lucio scored her block and tip to secure the final two points and the match for PSJA.

“I knew Mia and I would have to step up and it wouldn’t be the same,” said Guajardo, who had a match high 18 kills. “It got in our heads a little and we were very frustrated. It’s important to get out of that mindset and we did. Coach told us that the doughnut was open and I was trying to aim there but Etsel is a great defensive player and she was always digging me.”

Victoria Gonzalez had 42 assists for the Bears while libero Alexa Carranza added 39 digs and a pair of aces.

“I told them that they are who they are no matter where they are,” PSJA head coach Caroline Cuellar said. “Whether they are here, or in San Antonio or wherever, they are still PSJA volleyball.”

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