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Sharyland High head coach Raul Castillo likens the McAllen High volleyball team to a mirror image of his Rattlers.

On Tuesday, the Rattlers were just a cleaner, stronger version.

Kenisha Martinez had a match-high 16 kills, Kassandra De La Garza added 10 and the Rattlers claimed a 25-18, 25-21, 25-16 over the visiting Bulldogs in a District 31-5A battle Tuesday at Sharyland High School. Sharyland’s win sets up an instant classic Saturday when the Rattlers travel up the road to play rival Sharyland Pioneer, with the winner standing alone in first place.

Sharyland High’s Pamela Pena celebrates a point during the Rattlers’ match against McAllen High on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2023 (Joel Martinez / [email protected])

Sharyland is 33-1 overall, 8-0 in district and has won 32 straight matches. Last year they won 30 straight before McAllen Memorial ended the streak. Pioneer is 29-3 overall, also 8-0 in district and has won seven straight matches and 16 of the last 17. The Diamondbacks’ last loss came Aug. 26 against Sharyland High in the finals of the Sharyland ISD volleyball tournament.

It was critical for Sharyland to not overlook a solid McHi squad that’s 26-8 on the season and 5-3 in district.

“They have the same as us,” Castillo said. “We both have lefties, both have big pin hitters, and good middles, defenses and setters. When you walk into one of their practices, it’s like watching our team.

While the match was marred with an overabundance of errors, it also had more than the average number of ESPN-like highlights where several long, extended rallies left bodies strewn all over both sides of the the net. During one play in the second set, Martinez jumped serve and, by the time the rally was over, she had dug three attack attempts, falling to the floor each time, and dove for another ball that one of her teammates cut off. McHi’s Karely Cantu ended the point with a tip at the net after several powerful attacks from each team.

“It was an exciting game,” said Martinez, who was recognized after the match for collecting her 200th career ace and 1,000th career dig while De La Garza was also celebrated for her 200th career ace. Both are juniors. “We had to stay focused on this game and not think about Pioneer.”

That’s going to be difficult to do over the next few days. Sharyland is the defending District 31-5A champion and advanced to the UIL Class 5A Sweet 16 a year ago. Pioneer won the district crown the previous year and also advanced to the Sweet 16 that season.

Neither team seemed to be able to find a rhythm for any length. During one run in the second set with Sharyland leading 18-17, Ava Garza tallied six straight service points, one being an ace, another coming from a kill down the line from De La Garza and the other four coming from McHi attack errors.

“You can’t come into this game thinking McHi is going to back out,” Castillo said. “This is our third time playing them, and they don’t stop. Are we going to play or shut down? They had some incredible defensive plays and did a good job defending us, and on our side we had some great defense, too.

“We knew they are going to attack and they did, but they created some errors and that kind of killed some momentum, but we tell them we can’t return the favor and we kind of did that, like ping pong.”

McHi returns to action at noon Saturday at home against Valley View while Sharyland travels to Pioneer, also for a noon, Saturday matchup.

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