McALLEN — The McAllen Rowe volleyball squad rolled over its opponents at Day 2 of the 14th annual PoundFest Tournament, winning all three of its matches and securing a slot in the championship bracket Friday at McAllen Rowe High School.
Rowe — which won its pool Thursday after defeating Brownsville Hanna, Harlingen High and Port Isabel — welcomed a tougher slate of foes after Friday’s pools were reshuffled to group the region’s top competition together in advance of today’s championship bracket.
The Warriors, however, were eager to prove themselves and ready to tangle with some of the Valley’s premier competition.
In the first match of the morning, Rowe clashed with Edinburg North, which fought back hard after losing to McAllen High on Thursday to win second place in its Day 1 pool. The Warriors and Cougars started off exchanging blow for blow in the early going.
Neither team could gain much separation until the middle of the first set, when Rowe’s stifling defensive pressure along the front of the net started to cause problems for Edinburg North. The Warriors utilized a few quick scoring bursts to bulk up a comfortable lead and won the first set 25-17.
But the offensive woes for the Cougars would only worsen in the second. Rowe’s presence up front forced a lot of shots from Edinburg North toward the sidelines that refused to stay in play. The Warriors took 15 of the first 16 points in the second set and cruised to a 25-13 second set victory.
“It’s very important for us to perform at a defensive level,” Rowe head coach Magda Canales said. “The kids know already that if the defense is not there, there’s no way we can set up the offense. It’s very important for us to be together and keep communicating.”
The game of the day came mid-afternoon, when Brownsville Rivera and Rowe took the court. Rivera had been firing lightning-quick strikes and spikes over the middle that caused enormous problems for opposing defenders all day.
The match featured several long, chaotic rallies where the ball seemed to go everywhere in the spacious gym except the floor. The Warriors, however, switched up their strategy and found the Raiders’ Achilles’ heel, tipping short lobs at the soft spots in their opponent’s defense.
The move was highly effective and neutralized Rivera’s offensive effectiveness. Tips were just out of reach of middle blockers and jammed the team’s prolific outside hitters making it impossible to deliver the fast attacks that defined its offense.
Rowe held off a late charge from Rivera to secure another two-set victory 25-15, 25-20.
“That was a big adjustment on our kids’ part,” Canales said. “The kids saw that certain areas were open, they kept tipping there and it was a little different for them. ‘Do I hit? Do I tip?’ If the tipping is working, keep at it. They did a good job adjusting to the defense that was presented in front of them.”
The final game of the afternoon pitted the Warriors against La Feria, which had struggled earlier in the day already. But the Lions came out playing an inspired brand of volleyball and took Rowe by surprise securing early leads in each set.
The Warriors started reactionary, defense-oriented ball in the early going, looking at times like they were playing not to lose rather than win. But that all changed after a timeout when the team emerged and attacked aggressively.
“It’s got to be a big part (of our identity). If we’re passive, we’re not going to make the play,” Canales said. “I said, ‘I know you’re tired, you’ve got to jump higher. Give me that little extra inch and you’ve got to continue swinging fast.’”
Rowe pounded spikes from the corners at the Lions’ back row and toward the sidelines, and the results were immediate. The Warriors took 10 of 12 straight points and won convincingly in straight sets 25-19, 25-12 to win the pool outright.
Edinburg North and Brownsville Rivera will join the Warriors in the championship bracket, after both teams topped La Feria and dueled one another in a three-set thriller that saw the Raiders come out on top 23-25, 25-14, 15-9.
Elsewhere in Day 2 pool play, McHi went 3-0 in its group with convincing victories over PSJA (25-4, 25-11), Brownsville Veterans (25-21, 25-15) and Sharyland High (25-12, 25-16). Outside hitters Lexi Gonzalez and Celina Saenz stood out again for the Bulldogs, anchoring their front row defense and leading their offensive attack.
“We’re gelling pretty well right now. They’re doing a good job of playing together,” Bulldogs head coach Paula Dodge said. “It’s going to be a pretty big battle (Saturday). It’ll be interesting (Saturday) just to see where we’re at at the beginning of the season.”
Sharyland High will join McHi in the championship bracket as well after going 2-1 on Friday.
In the final championship-feeder pool, McAllen Memorial defended its home court with another 3-0 performance after toppling Edinburg Vela (25-15, 25-12), Los Fresnos (25-16, 25-17) and Harlingen High (25-12, 25-20). Setter Sydney Marburger and libero Cori Talamantez starred for the Mustangs, leading a speedy, airtight defense that has vaulted them to the top of their pool.
“We’re able to answer back almost anything and I put pressure on my kids. I know their capabilities and I really try to push them,” McAllen Memorial head coach Ashley Doffing said. “We need to continue working like Memorial knows they can and as long as they do that, they’ll be good.”
Los Fresnos and Vela will round out the eight-team championship bracket field after the two teams went 2-1 and 1-2 on the day, respectively.
The championship bracket will begin at 9 a.m. today at McAllen High School. The first pair of games will be featuring McHi against Edinburg Vela and Sharyland High versus McAllen Rowe, with the winners facing off in the semifinals at 11 a.m. The second set of games between Los Fresnos and Brownsville Rivera, and Edinburg North against McAllen Memorial will get underway at 10 a.m., with the victors facing in a semifinals matchup at noon.
If both teams were to advance far enough, McHi and McAllen Memorial would face one another in the championship game.
The PoundFest championship match will begin at 2 p.m., immediately following the conclusion of the third and fifth-place games.