Sharyland Pioneer’s Natalie Reyes rides smooth transition to the Monitor’s All-Area newcomer of the year

Sharyland Pioneer's Natalie Reyes, newcomer of the year poses at Pioneer High School on Thursday, Nov. 29, 2018, in Mission.

MISSION — Most smooth transitions are only possible because of the hard work done behind the scenes. That reason is key to why Sharyland Pioneer didn’t miss a beat in 2018.

Sharyland Pioneer freshman Natalie Reyes knows all about work ethic, and she saw her grind pay off as the Diamondbacks reached a third-place finish in 31-5A and a return to the UIL Class 5A postseason.

She was the cornerstone of a smooth transition for a program who only knew one setter in their young history, a really good one, Audrey Smith, who went on to play her next sets at the NCAA Division I level for Texas Tech.

Smith handled the setting duties for Sharyland Pioneer volleyball for four seasons. During those four years, a promising young setter was watching and patiently waiting for her chance to do the same once she got to high school.

“I looked up to her since forever, since I’ve been around here,” Reyes said of Smith. “Just the way she was, her positive attitude. The way she was a leader on the court and the way she held herself was just amazing.”

Reyes was around the team before high school because her aunt, Nicole Villarreal, was an assistant on the volleyball team.

Reyes made sure to do everything in her power to make her freshman year special.

“I worked hard this summer so I guess you could say it was well-earned,” Reyes said. “But with all of that and all the support, everything from my parents to my teammates saying ‘come on Nat, you can do it.’ It was great.”

In 2018 she finally had the chance to show her stuff as the setter that helped transition from one four-year letter winner to another with intentions to do the same.

She had 419 assists in 20 sets of action for a 21.0 per set average. She was only whistled for five errors on 1,274 chances.

Pioneer head coach Laura Cavazos said the adjustment didn’t take long and the coachable freshman needed minimal guidance by the end of the season.

“She’s definitely the quarterback of the team, and at the beginning of the year, I definitely led her in the direction I wanted to go and how I wanted her to run the offense,” Pioneer coach Laura Cavazos said. “What was most impressive this year about Natalie was toward the end of the year, she took less and less direction from me. She made that role her own and took off with it. She understood the demands that come with the job, you don’t get a lot of glory as a setter.”

The offense flourished with Reyes splitting time with senior setter Lauren Brechler.

Junior Daniela Alvarez had 266 kills, while senior Daizy Coronado had 233 kills. Three other Diamondbacks, Jessica Zarate, Samantha Ayala and Thalia Ochoa, finished with more than 100 kills on the season to put to rest any fears about finding chemistry with a new setter.

“At first I was a little worried, but once we got together it was just great,” Reyes said. “We gelled really easily and I really think the seniors and the upperclassmen, all the returners were very nice, they treated us well.”

Student of the game

Villarreal, who has been around Reyes all of her life, had no doubt the success would come early.

“She’s a self-learner. She’s watching volleyball all the time,” Villarreal said. “I know that’s what her passion is. We’re going to support her 100 percent because it’s what she loves. We don’t have to do very much to get her out to do the things that she needs to do.”

Reyes’s mother is a long-time volleyball coach at McAllen Memorial’s feeder middle school, Cathey, meaning Reyes has always been around top volleyball players on the rise.

Most coaches ask their players to review film to improve, but Reyes doesn’t need to be told.

“I watch more college ball than (watch) myself, but I always have to look at what I did right or wrong,” Reyes said. “I think not just looking at the good plays, but looking at what you can do better, is what helped me become a better athlete. ”

If you missed Reyes on the volleyball court, no worries. The dual-sport freshman already traded in her knee pads for basketball shoes. She plays guard for coach Villarreal on the varsity Pioneer Diamondbacks basketball team.

nmata@themonitor.com