Lady Cards keep rolling, sweep rival Lady Hawks

HARLINGEN — This season’s first edition of the Bird Bowl pitting the Harlingen High Lady Cardinals and the Harlingen South Lady Hawks against each other brought great energy to the gym.

The District 32-6A match was played at Harlingen High. The fans in red were rowdy from the get-go, with the packed student section wielding brooms in hopes of watching their No. 18 Lady Cardinals sweep the crosstown rival.

Harlingen High (23-5, 2-0) didn’t disappoint, earning a 25-15, 28-26, 25-15 over Harlingen South.

“I feel a special type of way because I’m an alumni from South but I’ve worked here for five years, so whenever they come into our gym, it’s like, ‘All right, let’s go,’” Harlingen High coach Joslynn Torres said. “I’m proud of them, they handled it well. Mentally, it’s tough to play in this kind of environment, and they did well. … We got ready, we prepared for it, and they executed well.”

The Lady Cards opened a lead during the first set as outside hitter Juli Bryant strung together three consecutive points with booming kills. After a slow start, Bryant’s opposite, Casey Vidal, got going on her second trip to the front row. Vidal’s potent swing and good serves by setter Juliana Valdez helped Harlingen High extend its advantage to 18-9.

Despite the large deficit, Harlingen South was playing well and rallies between the teams were long. Malloree Mireles and Sonia Corona were tough at the net with block touches and good hits, and both team’s back-row defenses showed great hustle to sell out for pancake digs and chase down awry passes.

Back-to-back aces by libero Elena Aguinaga put the Lady Cards up by 10 late in the set. Corona’s serve helped the Lady Hawks cut into the lead, but Harlingen High put the opening frame away comfortably as middle blocker Alana Rouquette slowed down South’s hit at the net.

“When I get (to the service line), I just take a deep breath and think, ‘Get it over,’ first of all. It’s an attack to help my team, and I’ve always taken pride in my serving so it’s great to see that paying off,” Aguinaga said.

Energized by its raucous crowd, Harlingen High quickly jumped out to an 8-1 advantage in the second set, forcing a South timeout. The Lady Hawks came out of the huddle determined and put together an impressive comeback.

Blocks by Mireles and a stellar series from Corona got South its first lead at 13-12. Corona was swinging well in the front, and when she went back to serve, she recorded two consecutive aces for the lead and some cushion.

After swapping points, Bryant put down two straight kills to tie the match at 16. Corona answered, sending over hard hits, and tough serving by Kaylie Dickens put the Lady Hawks up two.

But Aaliyah Gomez, Vidal and Bryant in the front and excellent defense from Aguinaga brought Harlingen High back to set point at 24-23. A block by Mireles and a kill by Meghan Pachciarz swapped the momentum, giving South set point at 25-24.

“I thought Malloree did a good job at the net for us. We knew coming in we had to put a stop to not only (Bryant), but Vidal as well. I thought we matched up well and played well in that set,” South coach Lizzette Esparza said.

The rivals took turns scoring until consecutive kills by the dynamic duo of Vidal and Bryant clinched Set 2 for the Lady Cardinals, 28-26.

“Set 2 was disappointing, and that’s what we struggle with sometimes. Crosstown rivalry game, that’s what we expected, and that’s OK,” Torres said. “I’m proud of them for coming out with the ‘W,’ even in that second set, and to come out in Set 3 and take care of it the way they did, I’m proud of that.”

Harlingen High was fired up after winning the battle and rode the wave to dominate Set 3 and secure the sweep. Vidal and Aguinaga showed their serving prowess, and the Lady Cards’ libero anchored a defense that didn’t let much touch the ground.

“It felt great to have a crowd hyping us up. It’s a rivalry, so we always go all out and it’s the best feeling for my senior year,” Aguinaga said. “Ultimately, I always feel like our communication and chemistry is what helps us out of a hard time. Once we clean up our serve-receive, everything just comes together.”

The Lady Hawks were scrappy and had some really solid stretches, but they gave up too many points with errors to keep up with Harlingen High.

“I don’t think it’s going to get any rowdier than this, so if we can manage and keep it together in a game like this, I think we can manage in any game,” Esparza said. “At the end of the day, I think errors and missed serves at key points were our fault. But I’m proud of them for sticking to the plan.”