COLLEGE VOLLEYBALL: Odessa College looks to make up for lost time due to late start

Odessa College head coach Dayana Acevedo-Rios wasn’t sure what to expect watching her team warm up for its first match in the Wrangler Classic.

Hired in July to replace Kristi Gray, Acevedo-Rios was behind in recruiting and was forced to the sidelines, along with her assistant coach and several of the players, because of COVID-19 protocols.

So, she watched the Lady Wranglers prepare to face Trinidad State (Colo.) College, the first-year head coach had plenty running through her mind.

“I was thinking that this is one of the first times that we’ve had everyone at the same time,” Acevedo-Rios said. “And I still have another international player coming in that had visa issues and couldn’t get here on time. So by the next time we play, we should have a full team.”

The Lady Wranglers weren’t affected too much by the starts and stops of the practices.

With setter Vanessa Cantoni taking control from the beginning, Odessa College started strong, got a little sluggish in the middle of the match and then roared away to a 25-18, 22-25, 25-17, 25-29 victory at the OC Sports Center.

Odessa College’s Brianna Mock (11) and Yasmin Figueriedo (13) attempts a block on the ball against Trinidad State’s Amirah Young (6) Friday afternoon in the OC Sports Center.

The Lady Wranglers were set to meet Navarro College at 7 p.m. Friday and then play two more games Saturday to close out the competition.

Cantoni, a freshman from Curitiba, Brazil, guided the Lady Wranglers with her energy and vocal encouragement.

“She’s very vocal on the court and communicates better now,” Acevedo-Rios said. “When she first got there, the language barrier was a little difficult, but she and the other players from Brazil are doing a great job at communicating.”

The victory was Acevedo-Rios’ first as a head, but she is no stranger to success having coached at Iowa Western Community College, one of the top NJCJAA Division I schools on a yearly basis.

Iowa Western is ranked No. 1 in the country, while Odessa College is fifth in the nation. It was one of the reasons that Acevedo-Rios took the position during the summer.

“Odessa College has been getting better and better; that made it very attractive,” she said. “I got here late in the recruiting process, so I leaned on agents I knew from Iowa and got some very good players to bring in.

“But it’s going to be a long process because we had the late start. I got COVID and my assistant got it and then the players were quarantined. One time we only had five players on the court for practice.”

The lack of court time didn’t show in the first set as the Lady Wranglers jumped to a quick 9-4 lead and were never threatened the rest of the way.

In the second set, however, passing mistakes and service errors reared up to trip up Odessa College as Trinidad State reeled off seven straight points to go from two-points down (18-16) to five points up (23-18) before closing out the set to even the match.

Odessa College celebrates a point made against Trinidad State in the fourth set Friday afternoon in the OC Sports Center. (Jacob Ford|Odessa American)

The Lady Wranglers cleaned up the mistakes in the third and fourth sets and were able to regain control of the match, taking advantage of size mismatches in the middle, which Cantoni was able to exploit by running quick attacks for Ainara Fernandes, Sydney Collins and Lyric Love.

Acevedo-Rios was happy with the victory, but knows the team will have to take time in practice to get things ironed out.”

“It’s nice to get the W,” she said. “But our serve has to get better, our serve receive has to get better and now we know what we have to work on.”

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