ALICE — Seeking to hold off another late rally, McAllen Memorial senior middle blocker Demy Banks dropped into a crouch next to the net at midcourt.
The Mustangs had been exchanging blows with the Bulldogs all night and the two teams found themselves locked in another bitter battle down the stretch of the fifth and final set. With the ball flying wildly across the gym, neither side appeared to be in good enough position to set up the crucial point.
The Mustangs returned the ball over the net to their opponents who barely played it back over to Banks, who leaped and high pointed the ball hammering home the game-winning point to lift McAllen Memorial over Laredo Alexander 18-25, 25-18, 25-19, 16-25, 15-11 to keep its season alive and advance to the Sweet 16 on Tuesday night in Alice.
“I feel like all of our hard work this season and the miles and the sprints all finally paid off,” Banks said. “To win in five is just an amazing feeling.”
“They came together. I feel like I’ve been saying this all season, but they come together when it counts,” McAllen Memorial head coach Ashley Doffing said. “They showed that they not just wanted to play, but they showed their experience. These girls have seen this kind of rallies and these kind of opponents, and today they stepped up.”
The celebratory conclusion capped off what was a roller coaster of a match that saw each side struggle to gain much separation from the other. Memorial jumped out to a commanding lead to 10-3 to open the first set, but quickly saw that evaporate as Alexander’s blistering outside hitters relentlessly attacked the middle of the defense.
But the Mustangs would battle back in each of the next two sets, busting open a 16-16 tie in the second by taking nine of the final 11 points and sealed the third set in their favor by winning seven of eight points out a timeout to take the edge in the match.
“I think it’s all about momentum,” Doffing said. “These kids, even though they were down, they didn’t let it get to them.”
Memorial was able to claw its way back into the contest thanks in large part to the play of Banks, who led the team in kills and blocks, and fellow middle blockers Bianca Ramirez and Jocelynn Fernandez.
The trio continually stuffed Alexander’s attacks in key moments, which allowed Memorial to benefit from unforced errors while the Bulldogs tried to adjust their offensive approach on the fly.
“They’re a huge team and they have a lot of great hitters. But when they run into a block like that, they’re going to have to change it.”
Alexander adjusted well enough to run away with the fourth set, but ultimately had no answer for Banks in the middle.
The Bulldogs came out on top when the two teams played earlier in the year, but that was before they had a full cast of Mustangs’ middle blockers to contend with.
“(Demy) was out the first time we played,” Doffing said. “We hadn’t lost by more than 15 points against them. She, I think, makes the difference.”
Doffing also praised the veteran leadership on Memorial’s squad that helped give them the composure needed to pull through in some critical moments. She hopes that Banks, along with fellow senior leaders Sidney Marburger and Lacy Henderson, can have the same effect on the team’s mental approach in the next round.
“I’m still a little speechless myself. We know what we’ve got to work on and we’re ready to work,” she said. “Being there isn’t just enough and that’s what this whole team said. Getting to the Sweet 16 isn’t enough, we want to take the game.”