November 30, 2021
By Greg SelberClick here for game photos
December has arrived and with it, the impending start of the district basketball schedule in the Valley. The girls get going Tuesday, Dec. 7, the boys a week later, and city squads should be smack dab in the middle of the races in District 31-6A.
On the boys’ side, Econ sports an all-senior starting lineup led by returning star Ray de Leon, and the Jags have been up against some tough competition in preseason, playing San Antonio schools four times. The Jags defeated Weslaco recently for a signature win and will be at the BISD Tournament down in Brownsville this weekend. They start league action on the road at P-SJ-A Dec. 14.
Vela, contrary to its routine in recent seasons, got off to a fine beginning this time with wins over Laredo United and Harlingen South, and a tournament victory against North, by 1. At 5-3 right now, the SaberCats have their own senior contingent – Tony Requena, Jacob Rodriguez, and Aiden Avelar – and appear ready to challenge for the crown. When 31-6A kicks off, Coach Lucio Rodriguez’ team will be in against North, on the road. Always a teller of tales, that contest.
As for EHS, the rebuilding process has gone pretty smoothly in the early going, as the Bobcats won five of their first seven ball games despite an injury to senior Darren Guerra. Juniors Ian Garcia and Joaquin Soto have picked up the slack, along with senior Derek Guerra, as the ‘Cats have cruised through an early season slate loaded with sub-6A outfits. EHS will be at Hanna next week for a warmup effort before league duty calls, Dec. 14 at home versus Mission.
North was at home Tuesday against Brownsville Porter and recorded a season-high 83 points in hammering the Cowboys. Coach Rudy Garcia’s club has a mix of youth and veterans as it seeks to return to the postseason once again. The main fulcrums are junior Cristian Faz and senior Anthony Thomas, who combined for 31 points against Porter, with six three-point makes. With Faz handling the ball out front and the long-armed Thomas jumping out on defense with excellent effect, North made short work of the visitor, leading by 22 at the half and managing 20 points or more in three of four periods.
Junior swingman Jorge Santa Maria was an active option with 18 points, 12 in the first half, while sophomore Joseph Cruz appears to be a keeper alredy; he scored a dozen points against the Cowboys and ran the point well with the second group when not rotating in with the first. Not that big, but he defends with relish.
The Coogs lost a fine forward in Ethan Garza to graduation, along with a couple of seasoned guards, but 6-foot-7 Eddie Gonzalez is back, and showed ample improvement against Porter. He scored on a pair of stickbacks on the offensive glass, and the impressive part was that Gonzalez did not put the ball on the floor either time. When a 6-7 kid holds the ball up high and goes back up, very few defenders are going to be able to do more than watch, or foul.
Gonzalez also exhibited court sense with a pair of sharp passes to cutting teammates, and North will probably stand out in that regard in 2021-22. The Coogs attacked Porter from the tip, trapping at halfcourt and sometimes sooner; they harassed the Cowboys at one end and ran out on the other, flashing good team speed and a willingness to attack the rim.
And then there is Thomas, who suffered a concussion at the La Joya Tournament in what Garcia described as a scary moment. The lanky off guard took a charge and was kneed in the head by an opponent; he had to be taken to the hospital and missed several games.
Luckily, Thomas is back in action, and against Porter he led the charge with hustle on D and accuracy from deep, hitting four threes and finishing with 16 points. As the game began Tuesday, he stepped in on a Porter drive and tumbled down, showing that the concussion experience has made him even more determined to be a hard man. Which he is.
In actuality, North wasted an opponent that is having real trouble getting it together, but the Coogs have also played a challenging schedule so far, with Garcia noting that in the losses his group has suffered, it was in just about every one of them to the close.
As for the rest of the league – in its final run before UIL realignment in February – the city clubs are in against a mish mash of possibles. Neither Tri-Cities outfit has done much thus far, while Mission has only been fair. Juarez-Lincoln is going to have to hustle to stay out of the cellar, but La Joya appears to be a contender despite ample graduation losses. The upshot is, it’s anybody’s cheese, really, with no one expected to lead gun to tape in 2021-22. Folks have tabbed the Jags the early favorite, though Vela, North, and La Joya each have a reasonable case for some love in that respect.
Checking in on the girls as they prepare to kick the 31-6A run off, one sees EHS at 13-4 and Vela at 11-2, the former having hit a slight iffy patch and the latter coming off a victory against Weslaco. Both locals have defeated the Pantherettes, which speaks well for their chances of competing for the Upper Valley title.
The Lady Bobcats are getting an MVP-type season from sophomore Emily Carranco, as she has averaged 13.2 points and 8.2 rebounds per game, also leading the club in blocks, steals, and assists. Kimora Fagan (11.6 ppg, 70 percent free throw shooter) and Maddy Martinez (10.5 ppg) have solidified their roles as key contributors, while senior Genesis Hall had a memorable night against Weslaco, hitting four bombs en route to a career-best 18 points.
But Vela has been equally impressive with its new-look lineup. The Lady Sabes won seven of nine against upstate foes in a peripatetic early season journey with junior transfer Emma Lucio (17.1 ppg, 39 steals) a prominent part of the success. She suffered an injury a few weeks back, meaning senior Lauren Vega has assumed more of the burden. The four-year standout is at 12.4 ppg with 40 assists, and recent explosions against Alexander (29 points) and SA Lanier (23) indicate that Vega is intent on finishing her Vela career with a flourish. EHS transfer Janai Coleman (10.3 ppg, 8.0 rpg) has lent athleticism and toughness to the attack, while the combo of junior Fey Vasquez and senior Aneyda Chapa has provided 11.7 rpg for a Lady Sabe group that has real balance, inside and out, although little proven depth.
Marah Guzman’s North girls scored a couple of recent wins, against Mission Vets and Hidalgo, to climb close to .500, and the Lady Jags of Econ recorded a season-best 63 points in their last game, a home rout of Porter.
The first night of district play sees Vela at home against a Pharr North team that has struggled mightily in non-district, while EHS hosts Lincoln and Econ is at North. That last battle should be competitive, as the two faced off earlier in the season and now look to take a step forward with a lid-lifting result. Friday, Dec. 10, it’s La Joya at Vela; North at Mission; and EHS at Econ.
Heading in, Vela and EHS look like titlist hopefuls as well as formidable P-SJ-A. After that, a mad scramble unless Pharr North’s poor beginning of the season ends up being a mirage. The Lady Raiders, after all, have been a top-shelf outfit for many years and brought back a lot of talent from last season. For the five-team middle-of-the-road pack trying to catch the leaders, a down season from the Lady Raiders would be just what the doctor ordered.