McALLEN — From the start, the 2019-20 season has been a long, rollercoaster ride for McAllen Memorial on the hardwood.
Memorial, three-time defending district champions, has staked its place as one of the premier powerhouse girls basketball programs in the Rio Grande Valley. But this year, the Mustangs got off to an uncharacteristically slow start compared to the sterling standard they’ve set for themselves in years past.
Over the previous four seasons, McAllen Memorial tallied a 96-42 overall record, won at least 20 games each season and continued to improve year after year.
The Mustangs, however, have had to fight and claw to a 15-12 record this year without several of their key players for large stretches. Fully loaded once again, however, they are out to wrap up a fourth consecutive district crown and prove to every team in their path that they are better than their record might suggest.
“Definitely, especially because we were missing our point guard because of volleyball and then I was out,” McAllen Memorial senior forward Valeria Garcia said. “I feel like our record definitely doesn’t live up to our name.”
The Mustangs were missing at least one starter in each of their first 14 contests; essentially half the season.
Junior point guard Cori Talamantez missed the team’s first six games as she battled with Memorial’s volleyball squad deep into the 6A state playoffs. Then, right before she made her season debut, Garcia went down with a significant injury.
During that stretch, McAllen Memorial went 6-8 and scored more than 50 points just twice as the group struggled to generate consistent offense without both of its two leading scorers.
“It’s been really difficult. I was out for about three weeks due to an ankle injury, so coming back and having to adjust was really difficult,” Garcia said. “I did rehab like three times a day and all I thought about was getting back on the court. It was horrible. It was horrible having to sit out and see my teammates struggle a little bit. I’m so happy that I’m finally here and able to work for them and able to help them win.”
Garcia returned to the court in early December at the most difficult juncture of Memorial’s non-district schedule.
The Mustangs played their first game at full strength at the Northeast ISD Tournament in San Antonio against a murderer’s row of the top teams from Austin, El Paso and San Antonio.
It was a tall order for the team to try to find its groove against its stiffest competition with little to no time to prepare as a full group. The Mustangs ultimately lost four close games in the tournament, making it the team’s longest losing streak since November 2017.
Ever since — virtually unstoppable.
“In the beginning, we had injuries,” McAllen Memorial head coach Clarisse Arredondo said. “Valeria was hurt and ever since she’s gotten back and we’ve started district, God bless that we haven’t had any more injuries. We’ve been rolling on all cylinders now. We’re peaking at the right time.”
Since returning Garcia and Talamantez to an already deep, talented roster, the Mustangs have gone undefeated against Valley competition and are currently riding a nine-game winning streak.
Memorial has an unblemished 8-0 record in district, securing the top spot in a crowded and competitive District 30-6A while extending its district winning streak to 35 games dating back three years.
“We lost a lot of games that we shouldn’t have and in the end, these games are what have helped us maintain an undefeated district record,” Garcia said. “Even though we may lose, it’s never a loss. It’s just tiny steps toward our success, so that’s how we’ve been taking it. We’ve been taking it very lightly. If we ever lose, we learn something from it so it’s not like we lose completely.”
Garcia and Talamantez have been instrumental to the Mustangs turnaround, joining sharpshooters Tori Alvarado (7.7 points per game) and Kimberly Treviño (6.3) as well as jack-of-all-trades center Iasia Goldman, who averages 9.0 points and 12.2 boards a night while leading the Valley with 6.0 blocks per contest.
Since returning from her early season injury, Garcia has notched double-digit point totals in 10 of 13 games. The senior forward has averaged a near triple-double for the season with a team-best 14.5 points, 9.0 rebounds and 6.1 steals.
Talamantez has been equally effective, scoring 13.6 points, dishing out 3.6 assists and notching 3.7 steals per game while pioneering the team’s attack from behind the perimeter.
“Cori is just tenacious on defense. Offensively, she’s looking to score, whether it’s driving or hitting a 3. She’s hit some big 3s for us. She’s the engine for our team,” Arredondo said. “On defense in our full-court press, she gets after it. On the half-court set, she’s all over the place. People in the stands are like, ‘Man, that kid can play some defense.’ To be able to play defense like that and then come on the offensive end and still score, you have to have a motor on you.”
Memorial hasn’t just taken care of its business in 30-6A, though. It has dominated.
The team has blasted the majority of its district opposition, winning seven of eight games by 10 points or more. The only team that’s given the Mustangs a run for their money has been PSJA North.
The Raiders pushed them to overtime in their first meeting before getting blitzed 10-0 in the extra period and were topped again Tuesday in their home gym.
“Now I think we’re finally getting into the rhythm,” Garcia said. “Definitely when we’re missing players it’s never the same, but when we have our full team it’s like no one can stop us.”
The Mustangs will return to action when they host McAllen Rowe (16-9, 6-2) at 6 p.m. Friday.