San Antonio – For the Rattlers this season, it’s been a year of constant step-ups from players who have transformed to become some of St. Mary’s top competitors. Melissa Heft is just one such Rattler.
Now in her second year playing on the Rattlers’ floor, Heft (So., San Antonio) has more than trumped her stats from her first year, as much as 12 times in one category, stepping up to become an essential force at the net who now puts up numbers in single matches that bested her totals from all of last season, including in Saturday’s 3-1 win over McMurry University.
The Rattlers (14-8, 4-5 in conference) nearly took the War Hawks (12-6) in three, but battled it out to claim it in four 27-25, 25-21, 25-23, 25-22.
Heft was among the top Saturday with 13 kills, 14 points, half the team’s block assists with two and a .321 hitting percentage. To compare, Heft’s numbers for all of last year reached 11 kills, 14 points and six block assists.
“I worked really hard over the summer,” says Heft, who has quadrupled her playing time this season, going from 20 sets her freshman year to 82 sets including the four-set win over McMurry. “I’ve been staying focused and I think just my freshman nerves are gone and I’m ready to step up and really make a difference on the team. And I would definitely not be where I am if I didn’t have my team backing me up.”
It took all of the Rattlers to pull out the victory Saturday, to which the War Hawks did not give in easily.
The extra-points first set alone saw 19 ties and 10 lead changes between the two above-.500 teams, which was won by one of Heft’s 13 kills on the day. The Rattlers held steady for round two, slipping in the third set by just two points before pulling it in in the final set, 25-22.
“The last game we lost was a very important game we should have won,” says Heft of Thursday’s loss to the University of Texas-Permian Basin. “And we’ve kind of stepped up a fire inside of us. We have to win these next upcoming games in order to get into the conference tournament. We just all came together and worked hard to make sure that happened today.”
Heft represented a fraction of Saturday’s kill-heavy game as the Rattlers had two others break double-digits in kills and points with Karlie Ortega (Jr., San Antonio) leading with both 15 kills and points followed by Kelsey Huber (So., San Antonio) with 11 kills and 12 points. The War Hawks’ M.J. Vickers was the Rattlers’ thorn as she led the day with 19 kills for 20.5 points, just shy of a third of McMurry’s total points for the day.
Victorria Martinez (So., Arlington, Texas) charged to lead St. Mary’s once more in digs with 31 Saturday while Mikayla Bass (Fr., Coppell, Texas) led with 25 assists.
Saturday’s kills’ numbers represents St. Mary’s continued strategy of success, led by Huber with 220, Jenna Paul (Fr., Alvin, Texas) with 193 and Heft with 178 kills so far this season.
St. Mary’s strong middle blockers and outside hitters will continue to be the force that will help the Rattlers determine its postseason fate which depends not only on how the Rattlers play, as they currently hold the No. 5 position in rankings, but also how the rest of the Heartland Conference fares in hopes of bumping up just one spot in order to secure a place in the tournament.
With the pressure continuing to heat up in a do-or-die reality for the rest of their season, Heft is one of the several talented Rattlers right in the middle of St. Mary’s odds.
“It’s a big difference being able to play this year but I’m absolutely taking advantage of it,” says Heft.