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Sharyland High’s 25-21, 25-23, 25-22 sweep over Sharyland Pioneer on Saturday not only earned the Rattlers sole position atop district 31-5A as the first half of district play came to a close, it also guaranteed that the proverbial target on their backs will be larger and more inviting than ever.

Sharyland improved to 33-1 overall, 9-0 in district and claimed its 32nd straight win Saturday at Pioneer High School. The Diamondbacks fell to 8-1 in district and 29-4 overall. They are by themselves in second place, ahead of McAllen Memorial and McAllen High, in third and fourth, respectively.

Neither team held much of an advantage throughout the three sets, despite Pioneer leading in both the second and final sets before dropping those. Pioneer had answers for just about everything Sharyland threw, or hit, at them. Libero Florencia Curiel made several unbelievable saves as the Rattlers ran her from one side of the court to the other and from beyond the back line to under the net.

Curiel finished the day with a match-leading 21 digs while Izabella Cano also played stupendous defense and added 20 digs.

Midway through the second set, however, the answers faded through the arm of junior hitter Kenisha Martinez. Trailing 13-11, the outside hitter found her groove, and a couple gaps on the floor. During a 12-9 run for the Rattlers, Martinez tallied five kills and two pushes deep to the corners to score as Sharyland went out in front 24-22. She then registered a kill to end the second set. She finished with a team-high 13 kills.

Pioneer, while defensively keeping the game close, couldn’t stay even offensively with Martinez and Kassandra De La Garza, who ended the day with eight kills and 14 assists. Still, head coach Raul Castillo said there was a sense of urgency to win the third set, knowing that Pioneer was still a threat.

“We had to earn every point and I knew that coming in,” Castillo said. “Defensively, they are just monsters over there and in pressure situations they do the right things. We had to adjust coming from behind twice but you can’t stop with a team like that. If you’re up two sets to none, they’re gonna come back – and sure enough…

“The idea was to serve aggressive and hit a high ball and try to keep Aleena (Zuniga), Tera (Schumacher) and (Scarlet Verjal) from doing too much damage because they can jump and they hit the ball well.”

Verjal led all players with 15 kills while Zuniga and Schumacher combined for just 12 kills

Pioneer led most of the third set, by as many as five, 14-9 and was up 20-17, before it was De La Garza’s turn to carry the offense, adding three kills, including a monster blow at 24-21 to end the match.

“I was ready to put it down,” De La Garza said. “I just knew we had to get that last point across. I said, ‘Give it to me, give it to me.’ We were getting a little tense and when we made a mistake it made it worse. They are a very good team.”

The match pitted the past two District 31-5A champions, Sharyland winning last year and Pioneer the year before. Both teams advanced to the UIL Class 5A Regional Tournament during the years they won district. Sharyland also won 30 straight matches a year ago.

“It’s always good. Today is great and we will celebrate, but come Monday we are going back to work,” Castillo said about being undefeated and in first at the district midway point. “ Everybody pretty much has us in their crosshairs and they want us to go down. They want us to go down and they want that opportunity.”

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