MISSION — Nearing the end of the third set, the Sharyland Pioneer Diamondbacks came out of their timeout huddle needing to put away their opposition. Donna High had trailed all night and appeared to be on the verge of pulling off a comeback and a big momentum swing back in its direction.
Donna served before it was quickly passed from libero Jorieliss Carabello to setter Natalie Reyes. Reyes dropped down into a crouch before setting up middle blocker Lorelai Hill to leap at the net and deliver a devastating spike into the middle row of the opposing defense.
Reyes continued to assist Hill and fellow middle blocker Daniela Alvarez, as the Diamondbacks won six of the game’s final eight points thanks to great serving and crisp passing en route to a 25-17, 25-14, 25-12 sweep of Donna High in the first round of the Class 5A playoffs Tuesday at Sharyland Pioneer.
“I think we were just ready to play. The girls were looking forward to this; we haven’t had a match since last Tuesday, so we’ve just been kicking up the intensity in practice,” Sharyland Pioneer head coach Laura Cavazos said. “I think our passing did really well tonight, which let Nat distribute the ball where we needed to and overall, I think we executed on what we needed to.”
It’s a big weight off the shoulders of Reyes and the Diamondbacks, who made the playoffs last season but were eliminated in the first round.
“Coming from last year with us losing in the first round, this is so exciting. I love this group of girls,” Reyes said. Donna is a good team. Personally, I was nervous, but our team pulled it off. It feels good and the weight is off.”
Pioneer demonstrated its sharp passing from the jump, which created scoring opportunities for everyone on the court. Four Diamondbacks finished the contest with more than five kills apiece.
Strong defensive play along the back row and the reliability of the team’s setters helped the Diamondbacks effectively and consistently attacks gaps at the back of Donna’s defense and get scoring contributions from outside hitters and blockers alike.
“Offensively, we just wanted to move the ball around,” Cavazos said. “We wanted to make sure that we kept our quick offense going and that we were able to give it to the hitters where they were able to execute where they needed to as far as hitting their open spots on defense.”
Reyes was the focal point of that flurry of ball movement for the Diamondbacks’ offense and largely set the team up for success. She finished the night with 36 assists and 10 digs.
She was joined by Alvarez and Hill in the middle, who seemed to dictate the tempo of this matchup. The Diamondbacks enjoyed a decisive height advantage at the blocker position, which allowed the duo to deliver punishing kills and eliminate attack lanes for Donna’s outside hitters.
“They’ve been consistent the whole year, Daniela and Lorelai. They’ve just been doing a good job for us,” Cavazos said. “They know their primary job is to block, but they bring a lot of offense to our team. If we can set them up, it means our passing is doing an extra good job.”
Hill finished the night with a team-high 16 kills, while Alvarez chipped in eight kills. Their contributions on the offensive end overwhelmed the defense and created more opportunities for Pioneer’s outside hitters.
“We were getting our middles ready so that creates that whole mishap of them having to stay with the middles and then that opens up our outside (hitters),” Reyes said. “Everyone was just making it happen and finding those holes. It was good communicating.”
The cherry on top for Sharyland Pioneer, though, was the team’s pin-point accuracy from the service line. Led by Elizabeth Fina, who had a game-high six aces, the Diamondbacks tallied 10 total aces on the night and their long rallies from the service line helped break open big Pioneer leads in each of the game’s three sets.
“I think we just come out and we’re aggressive. Sometimes that leads to a little bit of errors,” Cavazos said of her team’s serving. “We had a couple of missed serves that I would have liked to see us eliminate those errors, but if you’re that aggressive you’re going to see those errors. I thought we did a good job of trying to get them out of their system and out of play.”
Pioneer moves on to the next round of the playoffs having won nine of its past 10 games and appeared to get better as the contest progressed. The Diamondbacks have been playing their best ball to date recently, and Cavazos believes all the team needs is to continue playing its brand of volleyball.
“I think we just need to go into the gym being ready and prepared to play our game. Sometimes we can lose track of what we need to do on our side of the court and it’s just about making sure that we’re prepared,” Cavazos said. “I think our serving game was awesome and I’d like to do that again: serve aggressively. If we can distribute the ball like we did tonight, that would be great, too.”
With the victory, the Diamondbacks (32-12, 10-2) advance to the second round of the 5A state playoffs where they will face Victoria West, which defeated Corpus Christi Calallen 25-14, 25-19, 25-10 in the first round, this weekend. Specifics regarding the time, date and location of Pioneer’s second-round match are still to be determined by both schools.