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“That is the McAllen Memorial team everyone expected.”
It was the first thing that came out of Sharyland High head coach Raul Castillo’s mouth after Memorial captured a 25-21, 30-28, 25-21 over their District 31-5A rivals. The win sends the Mustangs to the Region IV-5A regional tournament – aka the Sweet 16 – for the second straight year on Friday in San Antonio. The will play Rouse (39-13), which defeated Cedar Creek in four sets Tuesday.
Memorial’s win also ended the state’s longest winning streak at 43. It’s the second time in two seasons that Memorial ended a long win streak by Sharyland, last time defeating them after 30 straight wins.
In a match filled with highlight reels, there were moments where the intensity and anxiety in an sardine-packed Memorial gymnasium – filled with a sea of red and another of blue – was palpable.
Late in a back-and-forth second set the teams’ two superstars were almost singled out – Sharyland’s Kenisha Martinez and Memorial’s Amare Hernandez – and everyone in the gym, probably even those who had never seen a volleyball match before, knew that those two would see every ball the remainder of the set after it was tied at 23.
Neither team nor player disappointed, each alternating massive kills before Hernandez gave Memorial a 28-27 lead. After Sharyland tied it again, it was the game-changer, Leah Garcia, who did what she has done for four years at critical junctures – nailing back to back kills to give Memorial a 2-0 set lead.
“We needed to have more energy,” said Garcia, who had 13 kills and a block. “We know what they like. We watched film and we knew who their hitters were. I wanted the ball because I was ready to put the ball down and I was ready to win in three sets. I had in my mind already that we were going to win in three sets.
“It was intense.”
From the start, there were unbelievable saves, digs and top-of-the-line play. There were times where one set of fans started roaring, only to be outdone by the other group because of a great play where the ball remained in play even though it looked like nobody would save it.
Hernandez and Martinez, as expected, were the focal points of the two explosive offenses. Hernandez, a senior and Texas A&M commit, ended the night with 18 kills, 15 digs and a block. As Memorial started pulling away, Madisyn Sosa started loosening up and began firing meteors across the net. Still recovering from a knee injury, head coach Ashley Doffing said she was a completely different player by the end of the night, as close to where she was prior to the injury.
Sosa finished with 10 kills, 13 digs and an ace, returning to her sky-walking style of play.
“Our offense is something – when we have everyone firing on cylinders, they can make this team unstoppable.,” Doffing said. “Sosa has gone through a roller coaster of a season so to see her overcome everything and shine the way she did tonight makes my heart happy.”
Gaby Torres again ran a smooth offense with 29 assists, eight digs and one ace and senior Kaitlyn Martin put together some big blocks – three of them – to go with four kills in the middle.
Martinez led Sharyland with 14 kills and Kassandra De La Garza added 11. Both are juniors.