McALLEN — Local high school seniors Glenys Maldonado of Edinburg Vela, Angel Nuñez of Sharyland Pioneer and Jazaline Ayala of Rio Hondo each signed national letters of intent to play their respective sports collegiately at a joint signing ceremony Saturday afternoon at the Cavazos Sports Institute.

“Honestly, the emotions are just through the roof,” said Nuñez, a star for Pioneer behind the plate. “It’s been a happy day not only for me, but everybody who’s been along with me through this difficult journey to see me do something I’ve wanted to do since I was small.”

VELA’S MALDONADO CHOOSES SOUTHWESTERN VOLLEYBALL

Maldonado, who played soccer and volleyball for the SaberCats, signed to play college volleyball at University of the Southwest, an NAIA school in Hobbs, New Mexico.

She made a name for herself as the Valley’s most versatile volleyball star and credits her longtime trainer Jaime Cavazos for improving her athleticism and aiding her on the recruiting trail.

“Coach Jaime has a really good system going. A lot of people I guess don’t get results because they don’t trust in the technique he’s teaching you. You’ve just got to do it,” Maldonado said. “I went up 6 or 7 inches on my vertical these past five years since I started coming here. That’s because I only came sporadically because I was busy with travel and stuff too, so during the summers I would come back. That’s how great of a coach he is. He knows what he’s doing and it’s been an amazing experience.”

A four-year varsity letterman, Maldonado was Vela’s unquestioned leader on the volleyball court and shined at virtually every position.

She was voted the SaberCats’ captain in both her junior and senior seasons, when she led Vela to back-to-back district championships and won District 31-6A’s Most Valuable Player award in back-to-back seasons, as well.

During her senior year, Maldonado eclipsed two rare milestones and became the only active high school volleyball player in the Rio Grande Valley to surpass 1,000 career kills and 1,000 career digs in the same season. The senior outside hitter was also named one of MaxPrep.com’s “Top 25 Players of the Week” nationally and was picked as an All-Valley selection by the RGV Coaches Association.

“I’m being recruited to play as an outside (hitter), but I’m thinking she might have me playing back row as well. I really hope so because I love diving all over the floor,” she said. “I think that was the plan to be an all-around outside. I’m really excited because it’s going to be new girls and new teammates.

“A lot of coaches might want you as a libero one year, then the next they might want you outside and another year they might need a setter, so you want to come to the table with everything so you have more chances of being recruited because you’re giving them all these options with how they can use you. Ultimately, it’s whatever the team needs.”

Maldonado, who was also one of the top students in her class at Vela, will be heading off to college with an associates degree in hand. It ended up being one of many selling points that attracted her to University of the Southwest, where hopes to get her doctoral degree in business.

“I had a lot of options in Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut and Iowa,” Maldonado said. “But ultimately I wanted to get some distance, but obviously not a crazy distance either because I’m very attached to these people right here, my family.

“I get to go against a lot of schools here in Texas, so they’ll be able to go and see me versus me going to New York and not going at all. They’ve always been to my games and I’m used to that, so I need their support, and I love the academics at this school.”

PIONEER’S NUÑEZ SIGNS WITH OLLU BASEBALL

Pioneer senior catcher Angel Nuñez, who played a key role in the Diamondbacks’ memorable run to the 2019 Class 5A final four, signed his national letter of intent to continue playing baseball at Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio, an NAIA school competing in the Red River Athletic Conference.

Sharyland Pioneer’s Ismael Nunez holds his pen ready to sign for OLLU at Cavazos Sports Institute on Saturday, May 30, 2020, in McAllen. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

Nuñez, who becomes the latest in an assembly line of Pioneer baseball stars moving on to the next level, will be the fourth Diamondbacks’ senior baseball player to sign to play college sports this spring.

He will join a Saints squad filled with talent from across the RGV from Donna, Harlingen, Los Fresnos, Lyford and Weslaco, including former Sharyland High infielder Andrew Ogletree.

“I emailed coach (Bryan) Aughney, and maybe a day later he emailed me back saying, ‘Thank you for your interest, send your information over and maybe we can get something started,’” he said. “He just kind of made it feel like another home. That’s why I chose Our Lady of the Lake.”

Nuñez, a four-year letterman for the Diamondbacks on the diamond, played 95 career games for Pioneer and tallied an impressive .321 batting average, a .521 on-base percentage, 72 hits, 43 RBIs and 37 runs scored during his high school career.

The Diamondbacks senior also played a crucial role for the team on the mound during its thrilling march to Class 5A state semifinals as a junior, the first Valley baseball team to ever accomplish that feat. Nuñez recorded a 5-1 record in 9 appearances and tallied three complete games, one save and a no-hitter in 2019 while sporting a stellar 2.80 ERA.

“It wasn’t the fact that we were the most talented team, it was that we all bought into what coach (Casey Smith) was selling to us. We were all able to distinguish each other’s roles and fill in that role perfectly. That’s probably what took us to where we were at last year along with the camaraderie and chemistry we had,” Nuñez said.

“It honestly feels great because a lot of people thought that it wouldn’t be us. That’s why we always put ‘Why not us?’ in our Instagram posts and we always had that tag ‘#RR331’ because that was how many miles Round Rock was from us where the state tournament was,” he added. “We shocked a lot of people because everyone would always talk bad about us like we weren’t going to have a good team. Proving people wrong is one of the best feelings.”

Nuñez has trained with Cavazos at CSI for the better part of a decade and credits his trainer for spotting the potential in him and for pushing him to train harder, even when that meant getting creative while under lockdown.

“When I first came here in sixth grade, I wasn’t the fastest or the strongest, and I know that. Jaime saw that from the beginning and ever since then he just kept working with me and working with me. It’s kind of just helped me become stronger, not only physically but also mentally because baseball is one of the most tiring games mentally,” Nuñez said. “I really don’t have a lot of heavy stuff at home, so I would just grab a bucket of baseballs and a bar and just start squatting.”

AYALA PICKS LAMAR AFTER BANNER RUNNING CAREER

Ayala, who lettered four years in cross country, track and field and basketball, signed with Lamar University, a DI school in Beaumont that competes in the Southland Conference, to continue her decorated distance running career.

Rio Hondo Highs Jazaline Ayala talks with those gathered before signing to Lamar University at Cavazos Sports Institute on Saturday, May 30, 2020, in McAllen. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

“I chose (Lamar) because they were the first ones to offer me a full scholarship,” she said. “I thought it would be a great opportunity to get out more and go farther. I saw their track program and how good they were and how everyone else on that team is a great athlete.”

The Bobcats senior runner developed a reputation as one of the Valley’s top cross country and track and field athletes. She qualified for the University Interscholastic League’s Class 4A cross country state championships in back-to-back seasons as a freshman and sophomore.

Ayala crossed into rarefied air as a junior when she qualified for another state championship, this time on the track, running the 800 meters. It marked the first time any Rio Hondo student athlete involved in track and field had qualified for the UIL’s state championships in Austin in more than 15 years.

“In cross country, it was beautiful out there with the hills and lakes. It was really pretty running out there and each year it was either cold, fresh or hot, so it was very different,” Ayala said. “My freshman year, I actually went to go see the track state championships to see how it was. There were a lot of people surrounding it all taking pictures. But when I got there my junior year it was very different. They took us out separately to go warm up inside the Longhorns football stadium, so we got to see that and warm up on the track there. It was really cool to experience that”

She finished seventh overall in state as a junior in the 800, and she credits her previous state championship experiences for mentally preparing her.

“It actually helped me a lot. I knew what I had to do and how to get myself ready for the race. It was very helpful,” Ayala said. “Some of my favorite memories were having those uber-long roadtrips with my coach and my other teammates.”

amcculloch@themonitor.com