Former Rowe volleyball star leaves court for good, will always miss high school rivalries and team camaraderie

Ryela Rodriguez, left, is a former McAllen Rowe volleyball standout that just completed her second year at Tyler JC.
I caught up with Ryela Rodriguez while she was on Christmas break. She counted down the days at Tyler Junior College before she could beat the Piney Woods and head south for the holidays – but I think she brought the cold weather with her.
Ryela just completed her sophomore volleyball season at Tyler JC in which her Apaches came within one game of the national JUCO championship. She played an important role as the team’s second-leading block artist.
I’ve been writing a column for my friends at for about a year on RGV athletes playing at the next level called Where Are They Now? Catching up with some of these athletes – in far off places or on the road – can be a chore. Mississippi, Kingsville, Belton, Alaska.
One thing I can count on though: young people, teenagers and millennials will answer a text and usually immediately (as a parent I am annoyed by this, but as a reporter I am grateful). So if I can get a phone number, Twitter handle, or even a Facebook (oh man, how old school) page, I got them.
Ryela wasn’t so hard. But then that’s Ryela. A more enthusiastic, personable and focused young athlete you could not meet. I made her the feature point of my Where Are They Now column that came out Tuesday in The Monitor, Click here for story but we talked (texted) about so much more that wasn’t able to fit into the article, but I want to share here.
The 5-foot-11 middle blocker will hang up her volleyball uniform for good after this year. She will move on to a four year school, maybe Baylor or Texas A&M, after making the difficult decision to focus on academics. That doesn’t mean she’s not going to miss the sport. She told me that when people asked her if she misses high school, she told me she misses it for one reason: volleyball, friendships and crosstown rivalries.
And what she says clues us into why volleyball in McAllen has been so successful the last decade. It’s been able to build a community – one that’s serious about developing volleyball talent – with its three high schools and club teams because of proximity and relationships. 

“I enjoyed and loved playing high volleyball with my friends sooo much,” she told me on Sunday. “There are so many pictures that just show how exciting and happy me and my friends would get when we played. Playing against my friends was also so much fun. I remember several times where if we had just played each other, we would see each other later and just talk about the games and enjoy it regardless who had won. I️’m remembering times right now, and it’s hard to put into words how happy (I was) playing with Mayda Garcia (Rowe) or playing against Taylor Marburger (Memorial) and all those girls was for me.”

The Warriors went 76-15 in Ryela’s last two years at Rowe – that’s another reason to love it and miss it. No doubt, Ryela. I’ve covered many of these big cross-town battles, and they’re loud, and racuous and packed and flat out fun. They also showcase talent. Five McAllen athletes played D1 volleyball this past fall and a few more played in the lower ranks and in JUCOs like Ryela.

She also said that volleyball at well renowned programs like Tyler is tough and intense. Expectations are high and that’s carried over into games.

When it comes to comparing the environment, high school versus college it’s very different,” said Rodriguez. “In high school, the gyms would be packed with fans and in college it’s a little harder which was surprising. But, it’s super different between the teams from high school to college. In high school, they seemed like major rivalries, but when I got to college I realized how much major it could get.

“In college for us at the JUCO level they are very competitive and one program is always trying to out-show another one. Our coaches get involved and get heated, too. I️t also comes down to who’s the better coach and everything is so much more competitive compared to how it was in high school for me.

Playing in the heated games versus other top JUCOs was nothing but awesome. I would live for the rivalries in high school, but in college there’s even more on the line so it’s just awesome really. Our bench gets really into it, too, like who can have the better cheers or who can be louder, and it’s just awesome.”

She’s going to miss it, I’m sure. But nothing lasts forever, and Ryela deserves credit for making a wise but difficult decision here to move into a world without competitive volleyball – she’ll always and forever have the great memories.

And if she ends up on your campus next fall, make sure and pick her up for your intramural team. They won’t know what hit them.

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