McALLEN — In the fiercest, most competitive volleyball rivalry in the Valley, McAllen High and McAllen Memorial traded blows back and forth throughout the night. Fans from both sides were packed into the gym like sardines all the way up to the rafters.
The sound was a deafening roar when McHi knotted up the score at 24 all in the fourth set and the intensity ramped up. That’s when the Mustangs turned to middle blocker Demy Banks.
Banks hammered home the final two points of the evening — one on a tip that just cleared the net, the other on a spike toward the middle of the court — giving the Mustangs a 25-19, 25-17, 20-25, 26-24 win over the cross-town rival Bulldogs on Tuesday at McAllen High School.
She finished the match with a team-high 14 kills.
“They’re a great team and it just feels really great to finally beat them,” Banks said. “Winning these big rivalry games are what it’s all about. It just means the world.”
The match carried extra significance for both squads. McHi entered the match riding a 33-game winning streak, after having won every game since a season-opening loss to Laredo Alexander almost two months ago.
Memorial, meanwhile, came into the contest seeking revenge after being taken down by the Bulldogs in the championship game of the PoundFest Tournament in early August. The Mustangs earned their revenge Tuesday by toppling the third-ranked team in the state in a tough road environment.
“When we left PoundFest, we had a little chip on our shoulder. I think we finally got to release that,” Banks said. “Beating the team in third feels great, but it would be even better for us to be third.”
McHi jumped out to a 7-3 lead in the opening set, but Memorial took 12 of the next 17 points to seize a three-point lead and never looked back, storming out to a six-point set win.
Bulldogs outside hitter Lexi Gonzalez led the way in the early going for her squad, tallying 12 kills.
The second set started out teetering back and forth with the two teams splitting the first 16 points. The Mustangs, however, pulled ahead again thanks to some pinpoint accuracy attacking the back row of the Bulldogs’ defense and seized a 2-0 advantage after taking the set by eight.
“I think our defense really needs a pick up,” McHi head coach Paula Dodge said. “Every coach will probably tell you defense is what wins ball games, and we need to work on that on the front end and back.”
But McHi showed why its one of the state’s top-ranked squads at the 6A level in the third set. The Bulldogs broke a 5-5 tie with three straight points before Memorial signaled for a timeout to stop the run.
It didn’t work, as McHi pressed its foot on the gas and held off a late surge to nab the set and force a fourth. The Bulldogs were aided mightily during that stretch by strong offensive performances by middle blockers Ada Sadlier and Haidee Moore, and outside hitter Celina Saenz who all ended the night with five or more kills.
“We picked up a lot of positive things from this. We need to learn and grow from that,” Dodge said. “It’s what competition is about. It’s one of those learning situations.”
But the setback did little to deter the Mustangs, who seemed to be the more emotionally charged team from the jump. Their energy continued to grow throughout the later stages of the match and they harnessed that to rebound for a grueling back-and-forth fourth set.
“This is an intimidating gym to play in,” Memorial head coach Ashley Doffing said. “We made them ready for it. We blasted music in practice and I told them this was going to be a tough game to take. They definitely were focused on the court and it showed.”
Neither the Bulldogs nor Mustangs led by more than three points in the final set, with the lead changing hands several times. The gym was filled with echo of Memorial’s student section screeching “Overrated!” while the McHi students chanted back “This is our house.”
The Bulldogs looked poised to steal the set and force a decisive, climactic fifth to clinch the match, but the Mustangs didn’t allow it. They battled back from a late one-point deficit to win six of the last nine points and escape with a victory.
Memorial enjoyed dynamic offensive showings from Natalie Silva, Sydney Marburger, Elaine Silberman and Jocelyn Fernandez, who combined for 26 kills.
“This is the team that we knew we could beat. We did have to go over little hurdles, but I think they just prepared us for this,” Doffing said. “I’m super proud of these girls and their hard work.”
The win puts the Mustangs in the driver’s seat for District 30-6A just two weeks into the district slate, but the two teams will have to meet again once more when the Bulldogs travel to Memorial on Oct. 19.
In the meantime, Dodge and McHi will look to regroup and embark on a new winning streak starting Saturday. Doffing and Memorial, though, are hoping that teams throughout the Valley — and the state, for that matter — took notice of their signature win.
“They wear purple, but it’s really nice to be wearing blue today,” Doffing said. “Hopefully we’ll be ranked in state, but we want to go undefeated (in district). That’s been our goal from the beginning.”