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McHi-Memorial rivalry opens new chapter tonight

BY TJ GARCIA

With apologies to McAllen Rowe, McHi and Memorial have created what might be best described as a friendly but fierce rivalry over the last decade – and in almost every sport. The Mustangs and Bulldogs – separated by a mere 2.5 miles – get after it and fight for pride and bragging rights on the courts, fields and even the cross-country trail.

What makes it one of the best rivalries going in the Valley? Their games are not only heated, but they are played a high level, and just about everyone knows each other. Players transfer between schools, go to each other’s proms and compete at just about everything. That’s what makes Friday night’s 6 p.m. girls basketball game at Memorial between the two so special – and both teams are undefeated in district play.

But wait there’s more: McHi and Memorial are two of the hottest teams in Valley coming into the game riding long winning streaks. And for added rivalry value try this on for size: the two coaches played high school ball together at McHi, are still friends today but can’t wait to knock each other off on the court.

McHi enters the contest having won eight in a row under first-year coach Stephanie Cantu. Over that eight-game stretch the Lady Bulldogs have scored an average of 55 points per game and they’ve won by an average margin of 15 points. Cantu said the Lady Bulldogs (17-7, 3-0) recent success is predicated on the team’s ability to buy into unselfish play.

“The chemistry of the team and players themselves understanding their roles has developed the girls into the team concept,” said Cantu.

McHi is lead by junior sharpshooter Brianna Coffee’s 14.5 points per game. Victoria Alanis and Alex Gamino combine for nearly another 20 points per contest. Meanwhile, junior Celeste Saenz is the Lady Bulldogs’ leading rebounder at 7.3 boards per game, and point guard Heaven Wilbanks and Gamino average about three assists per game.

Memorial’s success can not be ignored. The Lady Mustangs (15-9, 4-0) have six of their last seven games (dropping a close one to powerful Laredo United) have responded well after struggling some early in the season. Memorial is averaging a potent 60 points per game over the seven-game stretch and is winning by a gaudy 23 points per game.

Memorial is led by senior Victoria Izaguirre’s 14.9 points per game followed by 6-foot-1 senior Ebony Johnson’s 12.8 and 5.8 rebounds per contest. The team’s leading rebounder at nine per game is freshman Valeria Garcia. Tani Talamantez is Memorial’s ball handler and ball hawk. She averages 3.2 assists per game and just as many steals.

The teams look evenly matched entering the game, and nothing less would be expected from these two. But making the matchup more intriguing is the close history of the two coaches. Third-year Memorial Clarisse Arrednondo and McHi’s Cantu both played basketball for the legendary Teresa Casso in the late 90s and early 2000s.

“Clarisse and I are good friends and we still talk on a regular basis,” said Cantu. “I’ve known Clarisse now for 16 years. We have a great relationship. She’s not only a former teammate but a good friend now.”

Cantu said when the two were on the McHi basketball team, Arredondo took her under her wing and showed her the basketball ropes. Cantu said she learned a lot.

Friendships may last forever, but for about 90 minutes Friday they will be foes. Cantu and Arredondo have been through these battle as players, but now as coaches it’s a little different, said Cantu.

“It’s a little more exciting as a coach because it’s great feeling to see your team experience a big game,” she said.

So far in this young season, it’s one of the biggest.

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