The Spartans (2-8 overall, 2-4 Imperial Valley League) looked to be on their way to their fifth IVL loss after the Eagles opened the match in grand fashion. Southwest used five players to pound the ball past Central, which made six unforced errors and had just one kill.
P.J. Enders earned five service points and three kills to give Southwest (3-9, 2-4 IVL) an early 1-0 game lead and what looked like an easy night.
Not so fast.
The Spartans quickly turned around the contest as the Eagles committed 12 unforced errors and six service errors in the second game and Manuel hammered four kills and Halley Brown served for five service points to bring the Spartans even in the match.
"We failed in every aspect of the game after that first set," said Southwest coach Karen Saikhon. "We were our own worst enemy. Central was digging everything and we made all the mistakes."
The Eagles cut the miscues in the third contest, but the offensive volleyball gods started smiling down on Central.
Ten kills, two blocks and four service aces by the Spartans kept Southwest off balance as Central ran to a 14-1 lead before the Eagles could respond. Mara Lopez had four straight points (two aces), Manuel recorded four more kills and Emilee Patinio tallied six service points in hammering Southwest.
The Eagles got on the board late when Jessica Conway blocked a Spartan hit for a side-out and served for three points. The surge of Conway, who finished with a game-high 12 kills, was followed by a couple points from Heather McGuire but they couldn't bring Southwest back after closing within 14-6.
Liz Lechuga set up Manuel for a kill and a side-out and then aided Angelica Asaeli in killing a ball for a 2-1 set advantage.
"The girls finally started playing together as a team," said Central coach Beth Hopkins. "We played against Brawley last week and they had a tough time but tonight they came back strong and worked as a team."
Added Manuel: "If we're playing together we're hard to beat."
Hard was the name of the game in the final contest, as in hard-fought match.
The Spartans jumped ahead 7-2 behind four aces, two each from Ari Segura and Lopez, but Southwest came storming back. Numerous errors allowed Southwest to cut into Central's lead.
Conway nailed three kills, all courtesy of assists from Melissa Lerno, who had a game-high 19 assists, to bring Southwest to within 9-7. The duel stayed within two points at 12-10, but Lechuga stepped to the service line and collected two points for a 14-10 lead on a kill by Patinio and a mistake by Southwest. She then put away the match with an ace.
"We've been waiting for a match like this, where I could count on any given player to get the job done," said Hopkins. "We're really looking forward to the second half of the IVL after this win."
While Central will use the win for momentum going into the second round of IVL play, the Eagles and Saikhon have a different outlook.
"We've got ourselves in a big hole," Saikhon said. "The second half really means a lot and we've got our work cut out for us."
The Spartans will continue on the road at 6 p.m. Thursday when they face Calexico, while Southwest will remain at home in El Centro for a match at the same time and date against Brawley.
Holtville 3, Palo Verde 0
BLYTHE — Holtville High School got an easy victory here Tuesday with a 15-12, 15-5 and 15-4 sweep of Palo Verde.
Michelle Strahm led the Vikings with 15 assists with Jessell Guerrero on the receiving end of most of the assists with nine kills. Strahm contributed 10 service points. Mykell Johnston led Holtville with 11 service points, including seven aces.
The Vikings (5-2, 4-2 IVL) will continue their road trip at Imperial at 6 p.m. Thursday.
Brawley 3, Calexico 1
CALEXICO — After dropping the opening set to Calexico, the Brawley Union volleyball team finished with three victories to improve to 6-0 in IVL play here Tuesday.
The Wildcats (17-4 overall) dropped the opener 15-13 before coming back with wins of 15-4, 15-9, 15-11 behind a triple-double from Leighan Sudduth. Sudduth collected 18 kills, 27 assists and 18 service points to lead Brawley.
Kristen Colace contributed 22 assists for the Wildcats.
Arlene Morales led the Bulldogs (4-4 overall, 3-3 IVL) with 12 service points, Mayra Gonzalez had 15 assists and Melissa Noriega contributed 10 kills.