McALLEN — Midway through the first set, McAllen High and Sharyland Pioneer were locked in a terrific back-and-forth rally that saw one ferocious spike after another followed by a series of diving saves and sets to keep the ball afloat.
At one point, Diamondbacks libero Shelby Cavazos literally ran out of the gym doors to save a wild deflection and keep the rally going, hitting the ball backward, behind her head, to volley it over the net to save a point.
Pioneer wound up earning the hotly contested point and the crowd erupted with applause and rose to its feet. But McHi and senior outside hitter responded with a flurry of kills as the Bulldogs (17-1) went on to top the Diamondbacks (9-7) in straight sets 25-16, 25-4, 25-18 in a battle between two of the area’s hardest hitting squads Tuesday.
“On both sides, we both had really strong hitting,” Bulldogs junior middle blocker Haidee Moore said. “Especially Pioneer, their defense was amazing. It definitely such a good game.”
The game started off as a see-saw type affair, with one team reeling off a long scoring run only to have it erased by the opponent. McHi won nine of 12 points to jump from a narrow 3-2 advantage to a comfortable 12-5 lead.
But not to be outdone, Pioneer came storming back by taking five of the next eight points to narrow the deficit.
Then the craziness really kicked into gear.
The Bulldogs and Diamondbacks went blow for blow on a series of long, intense rallies. Rodriguez and Moore delivered some blistering fast spikes to the other side, only to have them returned either via insane diving saves and out-of-bounds returns or spikes from outside hitters Daisy Monie and Samantha Ayala that appeared to have even more gas behind them.
The packed crowd was electric on both sides, and after the point punctuated by Cavazos’ incredible out-of-the-gym save, the energy level in the building ratcheted up several notches.
“On the court, it’s just like chaotic,” Moore said. “You’re just trying to get the ball down and hit it as hard as you can, but not try to hit it out. But I think our team did pretty good during those rallies.”
The point for Pioneer made it 20-15 in favor of McHi, but Gonzalez and the Bulldogs took over from there winning five of the last six points to slam the door shut.
“We’re two good teams; they’re a very good team,” Bulldogs head coach Paula Dodge said. “That’s what I told the girls when I called that one timeout. We had that one rally where the ball went across the net probably 10-12 times and I told them, ‘This is great volleyball. This is why we’re here.’”
The second set was a totally different story, however. The Diamondbacks actually jumped out to an early lead and appeared to be siphoning momentum away from the home team.
But incredibly, McHi answered back by capturing 21 points in a row to climb out from a 3-1 hole to firmly grasp a dominant 22-3 lead and ultimately a 25-4 second sit win.
An incredible run of great serves from sophomore setter Sabrina Garza, thundering kills from Gonzalez and a bunch of blocks from Moore and fellow sophomore middle blocker Ada Sadler.
“I think it was a lot of real tough serving, Sabrina was doing some real tough serving and whoever else,” Dodge said. “She was placing the ball wherever it was difficult for them to generate their offense.”
“That was very exciting. We just stayed focused the whole time and just kept doing what we were doing,” Gonzalez said. “Since it was our first home game like officially, we were super excited and wanted a big crowd to come out and support us.”
The Bulldogs allowed the Diamondbacks to hang around for longer than they would have liked in the third and final set, but the final two points defined what this game was all about.
For the penultimate point, Gonzalez sent a bullet to the middle of the defense that was impossible for the Diamondbacks to return and wound up in the back row of the bleachers. And on the final point that sealed the deal, Pioneer skied a spike out of bounds on the left side, clearly trying to avoid another return by Gonzalez on the opposite side of the court.
Moore, Gonzalez and their teammates credit the dominant win to better team chemistry and communication throughout, something they hope to carry into district play.
“Honestly, just communication,” Moore said. “We were talking and being confident and were never letting our energy level go down. It was good.”
“A lot of teamwork. We’ve been doing good in that one and I think it just got boosted up this game. I think that helped us a lot,” Gonzalez said. “It feels great and we’re very confident in the Sharyland Tournament now.”