LOS FRESNOS — There was a lot on the line during the District 32-6A match between the Los Fresnos Lady Falcons and Harlingen High Lady Cardinals on Tuesday.
Los Fresnos, playing with a rowdy home crowd and trying to create a tie atop the standings with a win, came out on fire.
The No. 25 Lady Cardinals, playing to solidify their position as district title favorite, quenched that fire. Harlingen High bounced back from an opening-set loss to defeat Los Fresnos 25-27, 25-21, 25-10, 25-18.
The Lady Cards improved to 11-1 in district and remained in sole possession of first place with two games remaining. Los Fresnos fell to third place at 9-3, behind 10-2 Brownsville Rivera, which defeated current four-seed Harlingen South on Tuesday.
“We knew they were going to come with it. Completely different match than the first round,” Harlingen High coach Joslynn Torres said. “Going down that first set, man, it was hard to take. But the message was, ‘Hey, the momentum is going to be in waves. They’re going to get it, we’re going to get it. We have to ride the wave correctly mentally.’ They did so good in the sets after that to do that and come out on top.”
Los Fresnos played with relentless effort and hustle to win the first set. Olivia Parra was strong as an every-rotation player and shined particularly bright up front to lead the offense from the outside pin.
Los Fresnos used its block to stifle Harlingen High’s offense for stretches. Shiloh Jones, Savannah Smith and Dakota Martinez executed at the net with blocks and kills. In the back, libero Caydence Castillo and defensive specialist Cory Reyes were superb to pick up everything the Lady Cardinals sent over.
Harlingen High fought off three set points and put itself up 25-24, but Smith, Jones and Parra were clutch to seal the win.
Harlingen High junior Juli Bryant was strong during the second set to help even the match. She sparked a run that took the Lady Cards from down three to leading by two.
The teams swapped small scoring runs throughout the tight second set, hustling after tips and stray passes to keep rallies long and intense. The back row defenses were dynamite on both sides of the court throughout the match. Harlingen High libero Elena Aguinaga slid across the court like a vacuum. Castillo and Reyes were solid for Los Fresnos.
Harlingen High outside hitter Casey Vidal and middle blockers Aaliyah Gomez and Alana Rouquette were solid to seal the second-set win.
The third set was dominated by Harlingen High, led by Bryant’s determination to reach a goal she set as a freshman. She entered the match needing 17 kills to reach 1,000 in her career, and she hit that milestone early in the third frame.
“I asked how many kills I had when I went to the bench the first time. They said I had, like, four, and I said, ‘Oh I really need to step it up,’” Bryant said. “When I realized in a timeout that I needed two more, I was, like, ‘It’s about to happen.’ And then I did it and I got overwhelmed with joy. I just started crying. It feels amazing.”
While the Harlingen High fans revealed a poster celebrating the achievement, Bryant continued rifling off kills to set the tone for the largest set victory of the night. She finished with 24 kills.
“(Bryant) just got the best of both worlds,” Torres said. “I’m so, so proud of her for being able to accomplish this as a junior, with a COVID season. She killed it today.”
Los Fresnos showed some fight during the fourth set, but the intense match had taken its toll. The Lady Falcons looked gassed, and smelling blood in the water, Vidal, Bryant and Gomez went on the attack.
“Who’s going to make less errors when we’re this tired? It was conditioning and the reps we’ve gotten, the scrimmaging we do in practice. That’s what got us through,” Torres said. “(Vidal and Bryant), they were going to go and put the freaking nail down. So, so beyond proud of all of them because the hustle was there.”
Vidal finished with 29 kills and five aces, and Gomez added six blocks to help Harlingen High overpower Los Fresnos and complete the comeback win.
“We never got down on each other. We were able to battle through it,” Bryant said. “I think the biggest difference was we had Casey Vidal step up tremendously. I’ve never seen Casey play that hard before, and to see her stomp there, it was amazing.”