Bulldogs overcome slow start, win in four

BROWNSVILLE — McAllen High volleyball coach Paula Dodge had a big concern going into Friday’s Class 5A bi-district matchup on the road at Brownsville Veterans Memorial.

That big concern was at middle hitter, sophomore Katherine Fourt, who dominated the court all season to lead the Lady Chargers to a 10-0 district record and the top seed for District 32-5A.

Sometimes, however, the best defense is an overpowering offense (as well as a great defense). That’s the recipe the Lady Bulldogs used to overcome a sloppy and slow first set en route to a 22-25, 25-15, 25-19, 25-10 victory and advance to the postseason’s second round.

Junior Celina Saenz and seniors Olivia Tite and Haidee Moore combined for 50 kills with 19, 18 and 13, respectively and the Bulldogs attacked almost at will following the first set. They also kept Fourt and the Lady Chargers from getting into any rhythm. But when Fourt received an opportunity to attack, she responded with thunderous kills or soft tips placed perfectly in holes, and showed what she was capable of and what the district will have to face for the next two years.

“We had to keep the ball away from the setter’s hand and the ball away from (Fourt),” Dodge said. “Her hitting ability was our biggest concern.”

The Lady Bulldogs offset that with pressure serves and a variety of attacks that spanned the volleyball spectrum — kills, tips, shots down the line and an occasional second ball finding a wide open corner from setter Madison Helmcamp — that kept the Lady Chargers on their heels and not knowing where the ball was going.

The match didn’t start that way. Led by Fourt, strong defense and a poor serve receive by McHi, the Lady Chargers led for most of the first set, keeping a three or four-point advantage through half of the set before extending that to six, 22-16, and holding off a McHi comeback to claim a 25-23 win.

“We had a much better transition today from defense to offense, but we had a slow start again. We like to dig a little hole to climb out of,” Dodge said. “Today during that first set we struggled with making serves and our serve receive and passing the ball up. We were making our setter work so hard. At this point in the season, we need to pick it up from point zero.”

The serves became an offensive weapon, especially when senior libero Audrey Zamora was behind the service line. Zamora was serving during 23 of the Lady Bulldogs’ 75 points during the final three sets, including a run in the fourth set that started with McHi ahead 8-7 and ended with the Lady Bulldogs leading 17-7. She also collected four of her match-high eight aces during that run and was aided by two Tite kills and a tip into a double block for a point.

“Audrey knows what to do back there,” Dodge said. “And she knows when she missed what she did wrong and fixes it.”

McHi ended the regular season with an 8-6 official record to claim the No. 4 seed in District 31-5A and align them with Brownsville Veterans, the No. 1 seed in District 32-5A. The Lady Bulldogs had to forfeit four games during the regular-season due to an ineligible player. Without those forfeits the Lady Bulldogs would have finished as the No. 2 seed with a 12-2 district mark. So far, District 31-5A has won all three of its matches against District 32-5A, with McAllen Memorial sweeping Donna High and McAllen Rowe doing the same to Brownsville Lopez. The other 31-5A team, Sharyland Pioneer, plays host to Edcouch-Elsa today.

“This is the third part of the season, and you need to start strong,” Dodge said. “They have to have it in their hearts. We are gonna play until we lose.”

McHi will play again Tuesday against the winner of today’s match between Corpus Christi Veterans Memorial (13-5) and Laredo Cigarroa (5-5) in Alice. The time has yet to be determined.