San Perlita looking for repeat run

SAN PERLITA — San Perlita had the rare treat of being off on Halloween during the UIL playoffs, and deservedly so, for winning the District 32-1A title.

The Trojans found success this season with a new coach, gritty seniors and talented returning players to grab the bye in the Class 1A UIL playoffs and set up an area-round meeting with Runge at 7 p.m. Friday in West Oso.

San Perlita won an area-round game last season but has a new coach this season.

Trojans first-year head coach Naomi Castaneda comes with collegiate sporting experience despite being new to coaching volleyball. Castaneda attended Los Fresnos in high school and played soccer at UTRGV. The experience as a college athlete has been immense in guiding the Trojans to a district title.

“Truthfully, I would say, it is all the girls,” Castaneda said. “I had no idea what I was coming into because this is my first real job as a coach. I know the sport, but I did not know what I was going to work with, so the girls made it real easy.”

Castaneda said she had to mainly focus on some of the weaker spots.

“I think the thing I needed to work on the most with these girls was their mindset,” Castaneda said. “If they made an error, they took to heart. It got them mentally, and I learned really fast that these girls needed reassurance on the court.”

The coach said volleyball is this group of girls’ sport. Because San Perlita is a Class 1A school, most of the girls play most, if not all the other major sports. Castaneda credits their success in volleyball to their dedication to the sport.

“I know it sounds corny, but I just had to get these girls to believe in themselves,” she said.

San Perlita picked up belief early in the season by competing against Class 6A and Class 5A teams. The Trojans beat Brownsville Porter, Port Isabel and La Joya High and took sets off of Brownsville Veterans Memorial, Brownsville IDEA Frontier and Edinburg Economedes.

Senior Naomi Barrera said coming into the season she was just hoping for it to be good despite having a new coach.

“First few games passed by, and you can just tell that we came together,” Barrera said. “We knew we were going to get district champs this year.”

Barrera said Castaneda helped lift the Trojans above everybody’s standards. Barrera, the heartbeat of the team, has been on varsity all four years and has never lifted a district title.

“I worked my butt off this season, my senior season, I wanted to come out strong,” Barrera said. “I appreciate my team, and they know how much work we have all put into this. I know that when the game starts getting a little quiet, my coach looks at me. I know to bring the team back up.”

The Trojans graduated players from last season’s third-round run, but they added players like Summer Terry, a point guard on the basketball team who has helped the Trojans at the net, and also have a fully recovered Alyssa Graciani at outside hitter. Graciani dealt with a shoulder injury as a junior. Both of them are seniors.

“I think it has been a great year,” Graciani said. “We want the same thing, we want to win, and that is what we try and do every single game.”

Terry said she does not know much about the teams that the Trojans could face in the coming days. Castaneda also said she does not know much about some of the teams, it being her first year, but she watches film. However, highlights and film is different than in person, she said.

“If we play the same way how we play big schools, we will beat them,” Terry said. “I think focusing on ourself is a good thing.”

Terry explained the program has some younger players who will need to step up against some of those hard-hitting teams, they just need to worry about their jobs. Junior Daniela Rincon was once a young player but will be a key, experienced player looking to help out the three seniors on the team.

“I am a little bit nervous to see how the other teams are going to play, but I think we have a good chance.” Rincon said.

Runge defeated Medina in the bi-district round to set up the meeting with San Perlita.

“I strongly believe our girls are ready,” Castaneda said. “They have not won a district title in a long time, and I know they really want to work to prove that they earned it.”