MISSION — In the battle between Laredo LBJ and Mission Veterans in the finals of the Mission Varsity Volleyball Tournament, Davids need not apply. There were just two Goliaths.
The Goliaths did what they do best. The Wolves and Patriots unleashed their two cannon-like hitters and they went at if for nearly two hours, hammering balls at resilient defenses, but even the strongest walls weaken when battered relentlessly. In the end, Kassy Lerma, Rylie Barnett and the Patriots just had a little more of that firepower and claimed an 18-25, 25-23, 25-23 victory at Mission Veterans High School on Saturday.
In a series of plays that that were a microcosm of the match, the final 12 points of the third set — following at tie at 18 —were either won by kills, a block or one ace, by Bella Dominguez that gave Veterans a 24-22 advantage. There were no errors, just multiple power punches and volleyball at a very high level. Coaches didn’t bother with strategic timeouts; they encouraged and let the players do what they do best swing away.
LBJ fell to 11-2 on the season, while Mission Veterans improved to 13-4.
The Patriots trailed for most of the final two sets, by one or two points in the second set and by as many as three in the final set, 18-15, following one of many Yaretzi Ortiz’s kills down the line. That’s when Lerma, a senior and Barnett, a freshman, were given ball after ball. They responded authoritatively and Barnett ended the excitement with, what else, a signature kill for the title.
“I’m always asking them, ‘Why are you trying to give me a heart attack?’” Mission Veterans head coach Diana Lerma said. “This was a great match against a great team and all our girls stepped it up to defend our title and our home court, so that was all good.”
The only time that one team pulled significantly away from the other came in the first set. After being tied at 16, the Wolves went on a 9-2 run to claim the first game. A rare tip by LBJ off the second ball dropped in the middle of the Veterans defense and a pair of Patriots errors were in the middle of the set-ending run.
“When we lost, I got so mad,” said Lerma, who finished with a team high 20 kills to go with 15 digs and four blocks. “I was saying that it wasn’t going to happen again and you could see all of us picking up our game.”
Barnett picked up her game the most — and when it was most needed, during the second half of the match. Barnett plays opposite Lerma so there is always one of the big guns for setters Ronnie Cantu or Allyson Anaya to set to.
“I knew I had to put it away for my team,” said Barnett, who added 12 kills and five blocks. “I knew they needed me. This was a fun game and very competitive.”
Cantu, one of eight seniors on the team, had a team high 25 assists, setting up Barnett, Lerma and Karina Salinas, who registered three kills.
“Being the championship game, we’re always riled up for that first set,” she said. “This was a game where it was important for me to communicate with my hitters, especially considering they (LBJ) had a big block opposite side and a really great defense. I had to put the balls where the hitters needed it and I felt we did that in the last two sets.”
After losing to McAllen Memorial to open the season, Mission Veterans went on its annual trip to Houston to play in a tournament with several perennial playoff teams and state contenders. The Patriots went 7-2 on that trip and both players and coaches credited those matches with preparing them for the tournament — the powerful LBJ squad.
“That Houston tournament has always been a great beginning for us,” Cantu said. “It really helps our team chemistry and gets us ready for games like this.”
Following the match, Kassy Lerma summed up the high-powered match.
“It made me love volleyball all over again,” she said. “It brought with it all the hungriness of playing volleyball.”
Mission Veterans returns to action at 6 p.m. Tuesday at home against Edcouch-Elsa.