MISSION — Midway through the mutual season-opener between volleyball titans McAllen Memorial and Mission Veterans, a battle ensued between the teams’ middle hitters and blockers.
Memorial came out on top in those series. It was a telltale sign of the remainder of the day as the Mustangs claimed a 25-22, 27-29, 25-20, 25-19 victory over Mission Veterans on Tuesday at Mission Veterans High School.
Junior Joselyn Fernandez and senior Demy Banks tallied 15 and 12 kills, respectively. Banks added three service aces, two solo blocks and three block assists to lead the Mustangs.
Senior Kassy Lerma put together a dominant performance for the Patriots with 27 kills, 14 blocks and 23 digs. Freshman Rylie Barnett added 10 kills and five blocks.
Memorial’s Ashley Doffing earned her first win as a varsity head coach and said despite losing some big hitters to graduation and their long-time head coach Lorena Lopez, who took a position as assistant athletic director for the McAllen school district, she knew her team was ready for the big early season matchup between arguably two of the best programs in the Valley over the past five years.
“I’m sure they sensed that was happening there,” Doffing said about the battle in the middle during the third set. “Both of my middles played last year. Jo Jo (Fernandez) is just a junior and Demi just steps up and lead.
“They walked on the court ready to play and I knew what to expect from them. I knew they were good and they left no doubt today.”
“The big thing about the middle, it’s really a power play,” Banks said. “When something like that gets going and you are so competitive with each other and you win that, it boosts morale and gets you going for the next points.
“Kassy (Lerma) is amazing in the middle and to win something like that was really important.”
There were 23 ties in the first two sets, which took 1 hour, 11 minutes to play. Memorial libero Cori Talamantez was defiant in the back row, running and diving to save several points for the Mustangs off powerful kill attempts from Lerma, Barnett and senior Karina Salinas. Likewise, Veterans libero Bella Dominguez saved many points for the Patriots, but the offensive firepower favored the Mustangs, as did the defense.
“Memorial is not really known for being a defensive team,” Doffing said. “Usually it’s the big girls who take care of business in the front row, but our defense can move and they did today.”
After Veterans dropped the third set 25-20, Memorial jumped out to an 11-3 lead and extended it to 16-5 following a Banks block. Fernandez said that it was critical for her team to keep the pressure on in that fourth set.
“We can’t let up because we know they have some great hitters and can score some points and make a run at us,” Fernandez said. “In the middle, I knew we had to get a lot of touches on their attempts to slow the ball down and help our defense, so we could give them better opportunities to pass the ball. We didn’t want to let the score get into our heads because it could bring us down and they are a strong team.”