BY HENRY MILLER
It’s McAllen versus Laredo as the UIL Class 6A regional volleyball semifinals take place tonight. Both games begin at 7 p.m.
McALLEN HIGH VS. LAREDO UNITED AT ZAPATA
The Bulldogs are coming off a convincing four-set victory over Harlingen South on the road.
They had a scare, however, in the second set when their leader, Lexi Gonzalez, came down awkwardly after a kill and slowly went to the ground, grabbing her foot.
The score was tied at 4 after a dominant performance in the first set. Trainers evaluated her and when she returned, clearly ready to play, the roar of the crowd on the McAllen side was almost as loud as the deafening silence on the other side. Gonzalez returned with the Bulldogs trailing 19-15 and failed to overcome the deficit, but once again dominated the final two sets to claim the area victory and advance.
Gonzalez was missing earlier in the year when she had a college visit scheduled, and the Bulldogs visited state-ranked Los Fresnos. There, they dropped the first set but bounced back to win the next three.
The difference in that match and the Harlingen South match was that they prepared and knew Gonzalez would be missing. Watching her, however, crumble to the floor was shocking to the McHi players and seemed to take all the momentum away from McHi, while breathing new life into Harlingen South.
Still, players like Haidee Moore and Celina Saenz showed they were ready to step up and had two of their best performances of the season.
One thing head coach Paula Dodge wasn’t happy with were the number of service errors that the Bulldogs had, especially while Gonzalez was in the front row. While the Bulldogs apply pressure with their serves, putting them in the net or sailing them out of bounds only helps their opponent.
If the Bulldogs put on another offensive attacking performance like they showed when at full force against South, the Bulldogs could punch — or kill — their way to the regional semifinals.
McALLEN MEMORIAL VS. LAREDO ALEXANDER AT ALICE
The Mustangs lost their regular-season finale against McAllen Rowe in four sets, then took five sets to win their first-round playoff matchup. They looked like a completely different team in the area round, disposing of Edinburg Vela in four sets to set up a rematch with Alexander.
Ironically, Alexander advanced with a win over Los Fresnos and Memorial hosted a tri-match with those two teams earlier in the season. The Mustangs fell to Alexander and defeated Los Fresnos.
Against Vela, Memorial’s big middles dominated. Sets were tight to the net and they controlled the game against an undersized SaberCats squad. Those middles — Jocelyn Fernandez and Demy Banks — are game changers and will need to have a similar, or better, performance to face Alexander, which also brings some big hitters along.
If Memorial’s bigs can minimize the damage from Alexander’s bigs, one thing is for sure: it will open up the outside for Memorial’s other hitters including the high-flying Sidney Marburger, who does a little bit of everything for the Mustangs.
Defensively, libero Cori Talamantez and defensive specialist Mercedes Lara should give the offense plenty of extra opportunities to strike. But even the strongest back row can be weakened by constant pounding, that’s why it will be critical for Memorial’s big two to at least break even in the battle for the net.
If those scenarios happen, Mustangs could clinch yet another trip to the regional semifinals.