EDINBURG — Luanna Emiliano is listed as a 5-foot-7 freshman setter on the UTRGV volleyball roster.
Don’t let the facts, however, get in the way of the truth. The Belo Horizonte, Brazil native plays much bigger in stature, and much wiser than her freshman classification. Friday, she directed her Vaqueros like a maestro to a 25-18, 25-21, 25-18 victory over Incarnate Word at the UTRGV Fieldhouse in Edinburg.
It was the second straight win for the Vaqueros (4-3) during their four-day UTRGV Tournament. They defeated Louisiana in five sets Thursday night and will play Texas Southern at 5 p.m. today, before closing out with Texas A&M Corpus Christi at 1 p.m. Sunday.
Emiliano nicely filled the stat sheet, leading the Vaqueros in assists (33), aces (three) and digs (13). She added three kills and had the squad’s only solo block of the evening against Incarnate Word (4-4).
“I love to block, it’s my favorite thing,” she said. “I need to practice it more. I feel really good here and have a really good relationship with my hitters.”
Emiliano said her favorite set is the slide, where the middle hitter — usually 6-foot-2 Veronika Jandova —goes from the middle and behind Emiliano to receive a quick back set. The play worked several times during the sweep and Jandova finished with 10 kills, only behind 6-foot-2 right side hitter Sarah Cruz, with 14.
UTRGV head coach Todd Lowery appreciated the stats but was quick to talk about the immeasurable aspects of the game Emiliano brings.
“It’s a blessing for us to have a freshman who can come in and see the game like she does. I can’t say enough. We just seem to be in a rhythm when she’s handling the ball and really able to go from to defense to offense more consistently than we have been able to in the past,” the seventh-year head coach said. “Probably the biggest thing for me standing on the sideline watching is her ability to read the game. She has a feeling for her hitters and that gives our hitters confidence.”
The biggest difference between Thursday’s five-setter against Louisiana and Friday’s match against Incarnate Word was the ability to get a lead and slowly stretch it. Leading 12-11 in the first set, a second ball tip to an open spot in the middle of the court by Emiliano started a six point run by UTRGV. Emiliano also served two aces during that run and another freshman, Perris Key, added one of her seven kills on the evening.
“We talked about in the locker room getting a quick start and I think they did a great job,” Lowery said. “The other thing we talked about was how we handle it when we get head by four or five points. We let Louisiana hang around when we got up by four or give in a couple sets and they scored some points and we got a little tight.
“Our goal was if we get ahead by four or five to stretch it to six, seven or eight and give ourselves some breathing room. And the girls did a great job after coming out of time outs and stretching those leads.”