Brownsville Rivera coach Mary Elizabeth Avelar-Guerra was a little worried when the 2020 volleyball season first began.
She knew the COVID-19 pandemic caused her players to miss valuable time on the court and a quick turnaround from the first practice to the first game of the district season was ahead. But she also knew this was the season, and this was the team, to elevate the Rivera volleyball program, and she led the Lady Raiders to do everything necessary — on and off the court — to reach their full potential.
Avelar-Guerra coached the Lady Raiders to a perfect 13-0 regular season, an undefeated District 32-6A championship and a bi-district victory. Her leadership earned her The Brownsville Herald’s All-Metro coach of the year title to go along with her district coach of the year honor.
“It’s so gratifying and exciting,” Avelar-Guerra said. “This was a very exciting season, and it was also a very tough season. It was like no season we’ve had before. It was scary because we didn’t know, first if we’d even have a season, and then when the season started, if we’d make it without someone getting sick.
“Everything was so up in the air, and the fact that we only had one round of district brought a lot of pressure, because if you lose a game, that’s it. There was no chance to come back,” she added. “But I was really proud of my girls because they handled the pressure well and they used the pressure to play harder.”
Avelar-Guerra has been coaching volleyball at Rivera for 28 years. Since the minute the Lady Raiders’ season ended in 2019, she and her team started looking forward to 2020. They knew the talent and experience coming back would bring good things to Rivera.
After a long offseason spent away from the court, crossing their fingers for a chance to play, Avelar-Guerra had some concerns about the players’ readiness when the season began. But the Lady Raiders quickly calmed her nerves by working hard in the gym during practice and out of it, closely following safety protocols to avoid having to hit pause.
The dedication and sacrifices paid off. Rivera racked up win after win and rose through the Texas Girls Coaches Association’s Class 6A poll, all the way up to No. 10. Avelar-Guerra pushed her team and kept them focused on their goals, and under her guidance the Lady Raiders surpassed even their own high expectations.
“Thank God everything worked out and the girls got to play,” Avelar Guerra said. “I’m so proud of them and their parents, because their parents did a lot to make sure we got here by helping follow protocols. I even had some girls that missed a game because they weren’t feeling well, and just to be safe they stayed home and went to the doctor to be cleared. They were that dedicated to making sure we made it through the season.
“We knew, if there’s a year when we’re going to win district, this was it,” she added. “We had all the starters coming back from last year when we went to playoffs. … We knew it wasn’t going to be easy because we had a really tough district. But I knew we had a shot. I told them, ‘You’re going to have a target on your back because they know everyone’s coming back. Everyone wants to beat you.’ There was a lot of pressure and the girls really stepped up, and I’m so proud of them and what we did this year.