VOLLEYBALL PREVIEW: Having learned lessons in 2013, East Central and Highlands seek district titles

McCollum bears look of 28-5A contender

AREA TEAMS INCLUDED: East Central, Edison, Harlandale, Highlands, Holy Cross, Jefferson, Kennedy, McCollum, Memorial, Southwest, South San, Southside, volleyball.

Photo taken by KJ Toso. For more photos or to purchase photos, please visit: http://kjtoso.photoshelter.com





















High school teams can grow up so fast.

East Central, Highlands and McCollum were taking their early-season lumps as inexperienced teams a year ago. Each of them watched close games slip away as they struggled to get over the hump and manufacture a strong finish.

As the 2014 season opened, East Central (21-17, 8-2) was being identified as the title favorite in District 28-6A. Highlands also was the clearcut choice to win its district. The biggest obstacle between the Owls and the District 28-5A championship, however, just might be McCollum.

The Cowboys, like East Central’s Hornets, suddenly are senior-laden.

“We have eight players back from last year and seven were starters,” said second-year East Central coach Todd Dorgan, whose returning starters include 2013 28-5A defensive most valuable player Brandi Campos.

“We’re ready to compete. The girls coming back are seniors that have been on varsity since they were sophomores. They have a really good relationship and comfort zone with each other.”

District 28-6A

Favorite: East Central. Area playoff contenders: Southwest, South San.

East Central promises to be a deep and versatile team, along with its experience.

The Hornets aren’t lacking in talent with returning all-district players Madison Simon and Nichole West and second-teamer Lindsay Lubianski (a 6-foot-3 middle blocker). Setter/outside hitter Kaylin Mills, setter Alex Pena and outside hitter Christie Cosper also will be factors.

“They finally started putting together the first game of district,” Dorgan said. “They bought into my system but, more than that, they believed in themselves.”

Southwest (16-25, 5-5) should be in the playoff mix, along with Corpus Christi Carroll. South San (12-19, 0-10) will angle for the fourth-place berth.

Sophomore right-side hitter Ashlyn Sulaica could be a key for Southwest. Setters Angie Aguilar and Dori Martinez lend experience, as does libero Zoe Marin. Three 5-10 sophomores could be an interesting variable for the Dragons.

“They’re scrappy as all get out,” Dorgan said. “They fight tooth and nail.”

District 28-5A

Favorite: Highlands. Area playoff contenders: McCollum, Harlandale, Edison, Brackenridge. Sleeper: Jefferson.

The light bulb went on for young, talented Highlands (20-21, 13-3) during the District 28-4A season, even after an 0-10 start against a tough schedule. Now that champion Brennan has bumped up to 6A, the Owls seem ready to move up from second place.

Hitters Jazmine Jackson and Bryten Mitchan supply plenty of power, but versatile senior Emily Pearce is the glue that holds Highlands together. Jenelle Rodriguez is a player to watch.

Developing a solid defense to complement its offense will be a key, but the Owls have the depth and versatility to make everything click.

“We have high expectations, but by no means is it going to be easy,” Highlands coach Jaci Barrientes said. “We’re going to have to play good defense and implement our game plan. We’ll have to pinpoint (opponent’s) weaknesses and go at them.”

At McCollum (12-22, 7-7), Martinez has more seniors than she’s had since 2011, her first season as Cowboys coach, and more height at her disposal than ever. The Cowboys return seniors Neyda Sanchez and Emily Solis to pair with 5-10 sophomore Miranda Rich.

“I’m excited,” McCollum coach Rose Ann Martinez said. “We had our first scrimmage over the weekend, and I saw signs of maturity.”

Harlandale (24-12, 10-4) graduated nine seniors, but no one thinks the Indians will fall out of playoff contention under longtime coach Sylvia Cardenas. Senior middle blocker Erica Arredondo and first-year setter Kianna Sandoval should capably fill larger roles. Arredondo (5-11) is one of six Indians who are 5-10 or taller.

“I’m looking at Highlands probably being the strongest,” Martinez said. “I see (Brackenridge) with us and Harlandale. Edison always has athletes.”

Brackenridge (14-26, 10-6) and Jefferson (24-11, 12-4) also were hurt by graduation. Brack has Jolicia Shelton-Brown and Skyler Reyna up front. The Mustangs return probably the district’s best player in senior Gabby Vasquez.

Edison (13-25, 9-7) has height, as usual, with seniors Destiny McCarty and Kalani Wood.

“You’re not going to have any matches where anybody is a little bit down,” Barrientes said. “This year, district should be a fight. You’re going to have to show up every day. It goes back to who fights more and who wants it more.”

TAPPS & other 5A teams

Holy Cross (27-11, 6-3) graduated outstanding leaders Mallory Ozuna and Julia Ibarra, but will put its talented returning core led by junior Victoria Gonzalez and sophomore Henrianna Ibarra to the test against a murderous schedule. And that’s before the Knights embark on a District 4-4A schedule that includes two-time TAPPS state finalist Victoria St. Joseph.

“Now I know how Texas A&M’s coach feels without Johnny Manziel,” Holy Cross coach Ruben Calderon said, referring to Kevin Sumlin. “But they got some experience in the summer and their confidence is good.”

Only three teams will make the playoffs from the Knights’ district, so Calderon hopes going through the crucible of the Harlandale, SAISD and Stillman Valley tournaments will give his team a taste of what to expect in the postseason.

Holy Cross sophomore libero Daisy Flores should fill an important role.

“Victoria St. Joseph is still the king of the district,” Calderon said. “After that, if we do what I think we can do, we’ll have a good shot.”

Southside (6-27, 2-12) is assigned to far-flung District 29-5A, where it will compete against Uvalde, Eagle Pass Winn and three schools from Laredo. The Cardinals may have a chance for a playoff run with juniors Selena Raudales, junior Mayra Sendejo and sophomore Alyssa Gallardo returning.

“I know they play really hard,” said Barrientes, whose Highlands team was scheduled to play Southside Wednesday. “I didn’t get to see them last year, but I saw them in the summer league. They’ve got a lefty that will play right-side hitter who’s pretty strong and pretty tall. She’s going to be one of their go-tos.”

Kennedy (7-24, 2-12) and Memorial (11-26, 2-12) will have their work cut out for them in District 27-5A with perennial powerhouses like Alamo Heights, Boerne Champion and Kerrville Tivy.

About Mike Considine (1440 Articles)
I started this blog as an extension of the sports stories I've been doing as an independent contractor for the Southside Reporter the past five years. I've been a sportswriter for more than 35 years, including two stints with the late, lamented San Antonio Light. I cover high school football for the San Antonio Express-News in the fall. My purpose, in creating this blog, is to shine a light on the athletic achievements of teams and athletes on the south side of San Antonio.

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