McALLEN — As the steam from the Harlingen South Hawks started to fade, the steamroller known as the McAllen High Bulldogs began to move.
The end result was a 25-18, 25-14, 25-8 victory for the home-standing Bulldogs in a match that pitted a pair of squads that met last year in the Class 6A area playoffs, also won by McHi. The teams began the day with a combined 47-4 record. At the end of the day, McHi improved to 27-1 and Harlingen dropped to 21-4.
Everything changed in an instant. Through the first half of the first set, the two teams played head to head, Harlingen South being led by its all-everything powerful hitter Mikela Mireles, who received every set for the Hawks until she went to the back row to serve with a 7-6 lead. The teams tied at 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12 all before the Bulldogs’ Lexi Gonzalez nailed three straight kills and sophomore Sabrina Garza added a pair of aces and McHi suddenly led 16-12.
McHi went on to dominate the Hawks, 59-28, the remainder of the way to capture its 27th win of the season in impressive fashion.
“We do have some improving to do, some fine tuning,” said a cautious, but pleased, McHi head coach Paula Dodge when asked how good the Bulldogs could become. “But, I am loving what I’m seeing.”
McHi’s only loss of the season came at Laredo Alexander, dropping the fifth set 15-13. The Bulldogs were ranked for the first time this season on Monday, appearing at No. 22 in the Texas Girls Coaches Association Class 6A volleyball poll.
Gonzalez had a field day at the net for the Bulldogs, knocking down a game-high 22 kills. On one series, a strong South defense picked up two of her kills on back-to-back attempts, but only could watch as the senior sensation blistered a third attempt down the middle of the court, untouched. That’s when Harlingen South Anissa Lucio called timeout, but the steamroller had already started.
“Lexi is our big hitter and top attacker, but aren’t we lucky to have girls that can put the ball down from all three areas up front?” Dodge said. “The plan is to mix it up. We don’t want our opponent to know what side we’re to.”
That game plan seemed to work to perfection. Setter Madison Helmcamp was feeding sets — shoot sets, quick sets, the whole menagerie of them — to her hitters all over the court. Celina Saenz ended with nine kills, followed by Ada Sadlier with six and Andrea Tovar with five. Helmcamp also collected six kills when Madie Garza was dishing off some of her 19 assists.
At one point in the second set with McHi leading 18-11, Saenz registered three kills, Sadlier added a kill off a quick set and then a block and Tovar added a kill off a slide move and the Bulldogs finished out the set on n 8-0 run.
But it wasn’t all offense. What was maybe most frustrating for Mireles and the rest of the Hawks was the resilient back-row defense spearheaded by Garza and libero Audrey Zamora, who combined for 19 digs, many of then coming off Mireles’ attempts. On back-to-back occasions both defenders found themselves on the floor making saves.
“Those girls have been working hard together and they are working good together, reading the block and seeing where the blocks are and aren’t,” Dodge said. “They were laid out a couple times getting the back ball back up. That’s the fun part for me to see.”