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Lady Warriors featuring strength up the middle

Arlington Martin volleyball coach Tracy Perez-Petersen has had taller middle blockers than Nia Rodgers. But what the senior lacks in size, she’s more than made up for with a large amount of productivity and positive attitude.

“My middle has really improved,” Perez-Petersen said. “She’s a great blocker, and I think she does a nice job of getting her kills when she has the opportunity.”

Improved middle play is one factor that has the Lady Warriors in thick of the hunt for the District 4-6A title. Martin won back-to-back road games over defending champion Lamar on Sept. 30 and Bowie on Oct. 4 to improve to 7-1 in district play. The Lady Warriors faced 8-0 Fort Worth Paschal, which handed Martin its lone loss, on Friday.

“Last year we got second [in district], and coming back this year and getting first in our district would be a really good progression and improvement from our program,” Rodgers said.

One area where Rodgers has noticed improvement since last season is in the chemistry between the middle blockers and setters. “This year, I think we just work better with the setter and we hit better,” Rodgers said.

Junior libero Sofia Viscuso, the younger sister of former Martin/Lamar standout Olivia Viscuso, characterizes Rodgers and the other five Martin seniors as leaders who play well together and understand what it takes to win.

“The seniors have been there longer than a lot of us so they know better and they’ve played together,” Viscuso said. “They flow together, and then the juniors and underclassmen come in and we’re the support. We’re trying to help them look good.”

Viscuso has been adept at making teammates look good. Perez-Petersen considers Viscuso a calming influence. “When she’s playing her position, she does a good job of making everybody feel calm and confident.”

Rodgers said Viscuso plays fast, communicates well and makes great plays. “She does really well, and I’m excited to have her as my libero.”

What Rodgers, Viscuso and their Martin teammates have not done well is start games. “We always start slow and end up needing to fight our way back,” Viscuso said. “We need to start strong and stay strong throughout the game.”

Fortunately, Martin’s shown a strong knack for battling back. In a recent win against Arlington, the Lady Warriors overcame a 10-point deficit in game four. Despite sweeping Bowie in their second matchup, Martin also had to overcome several deficits in that match.

“We do a nice job fighting back when we’re down,” Perez-Petersen said. “Tonight we did a nice job coming back. We’ve just got to get it turned on earlier, but we did a nice job.”

With Martin now facing the other 4-6A contenders a second time, Rodgers is focused on cutting out the early struggles and keeping the Lady Warriors in district title contention.

“It boosts our morale,” Rodgers said of her team’s championship hopes. “It kind of helps us continue to get better and gives us confidence.”

The race toward the playoffs continues this Friday as most of the Arlington school district football teams stay within city limits for 7:30 p.m. Friday kickoffs.

Arlington visits Bowie at Wilemon. The Colts’ main assignment will be containing the high-powered Vols offense, led by quarterback Donoven Davenport.

Sam Houston visits Martin at Maverick Stadium. Both teams have limped a little through the first half of the season, with Sam winning just one in its first five.

Lamar is on the road at Mansfield, playing at Anderson Stadium. The Tigers were 3-2 in nondistrict but have been playing hot since then, while Lamar has been hot all season.

Seguin will also be on the road, traveling to Cleburne at 7:30 p.m. Friday for a clash between district rivals who have had great first halves of the season. 

Seguin kicks off the volleyball action this Friday, playing at Cleburne at 5:30 p.m., while Lamar hosts Mansfield at the same time. Bowie and Arlington clash on the Lady Colts’ home court at 6:30 p.m., while Martin and Sam Houston play at Sam at the same time.

Stephen English: senglish@star-telegram.com, @sbenglish74

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