EDINBURG — Sarah Cruz walked up to teammate Veronika Jandova right before set point. She put her arm on Jandova’s shoulder and said something to her during the critical fourth set of UTRGV’s match against Louisiana on Thursday.
“I was trying to hype her up,” Cruz said. “I wanted her to hit the ball as hard as she could. We didn’t have anything to lose.”
Jandova obliged, ripping a thunderous kill that all anyone could do was watch as it pounded the court. Down two sets to one, that point forced the final set tiebreaker in front of a large UTRGV crowd.
“I was happy for that,” Cruz said.
That set was the turning point and UTRGV went on to claim a 20-25, 25-23, 25-27, 25-21, 15-12 victory over the Rajin’ Cajuns (3-2) at the UTRGV Fieldhouse during the first day of the UTRGV Volleyball Tournament.
“Wow, fun to be back, huh?” UTRGV head coach Todd Lowery said about the team’s home opener. “I couldn’t be more thrilled for the girls to be honest, because they did this last weekend and grinded it out on the road and we just didn’t get over the hump. But for them to grind it out in a five-setter and get a win, that’s everything for me.”
While volleyball is known as a high-flying sport where most of the action is above the net, perhaps the most critical point came from a save where the ball was centimeters from hitting the floor.
Leading 22-19, sophomore middle hitter Luisa Silva Dos Santos dove and pancaked a ball that surely looked as if it was floor bound. After she popped it up, setter Luanna Emiliano got the ball to outside hitter Ingridy Foltran for a kill to put the Vaqueros (3-3) up 23-19 instead of 22-20 with Louisiana serving.
Cruz led UTRGV with a team high 26 kills while Jandova contributed 16. Freshman Evana Ramos, The Monitor’s 2020 All-Area Player of the Year and an Edinburg North graduate, tallied 34 receptions. And as a team, UTRGV had 101 receptions without an error.
The fifth set included 10 ties and there were 30 ties throughout the five sets, including 10 during the second set, also won by UTRGV. Throughout the match, Lowery kept telling his team to be aware of Louisiana’s patterns, especially when Kelsey Bennett, who led all players with 27 kills, rotated to the back row.
“They had a couple of rotations where they don’t have an out,” Lowery said. “When (Bennett) goes to the back they really don’t have a high ball on the outside so I was telling the front row to keep an eye on who is where and what patterns they are running. If they want to swing through our block, pinched in tight, that’s what we wanted them to do and if they could score, good job on them.”
UTRGV returns to action at 7 tonight during the second day of the tournament against Incarnate Word.