January 22, 2022
By Greg SelberClick here for select game photos
They kept working, all day long, fighting against an opponent with classy midfield skill and polish, and though they finally expired, 2-0 against EHS, the Lady Jags gave a credible account of themselves as the District 31-6A race began in earnest Saturday afternoon.
For Econ this was the lid-lifter, after the opener against North had been postponed due to you-know-what. The Lady Bobcats came in after a tough Tuesday loss against feisty Juarez-Lincoln, and Econ Coach Robert Garcia knew that his side would have to hustle to keep up with a group that made the playoffs last year and now reloads much of the cast that made that happen.
That they did indeed hang in there with EHS was down to several factors, one of them being a willingness to mix it in the middle of the park, giving no quarter and asking none. Another reason the result was close – the Lady Jags had their chances on goal but could not take them – was the play of a forward gal and one in the midfield.
The striker of note was Jackie Maldonado, a bruising force who pounded her way through the EHS defense with consistency, reminding one of the recently graduated Maria Rocha with her aggression and determination. Several times, Maldonado took the ball and galloped into the teeth of the D, coming near the goal.
Back up the pitch it was senior Neyda Garcia, whose size and skill allowed to control the action at times. Blessed with a cannon for throws and kicks, Garcia also has deft handles on the ball, and was perhaps the side’s most impressive performer Saturday.
In the end, though, moments of brilliance told the tale for Coach Serjio Elizarraraz’ team, as left winger Adaia Tebaul fought her way past the keeper on a loose ball and was able to slam home the first EHS goal. Then, later in the first half on a brisk and drizzly day perfect for football, it was senior Titi Munoz who came up aces with a masterful goal. She and freshman Amily Rodriguez shared the ball on a short corner from the right, and when the Lady Jags were slow on the uptake, granting the bomber Munoz way too much space – she doesn’t need much – the sinewy star cracked a rocket that sailed past the keeper headed to the left-hand shelf up high, giving her school a 2-0 lead and finishing the scoring for the day.
For a squad that missed the playoffs last season and is seeking to return to the glory days of mid-decade, it was a solid Econ performance despite the result, as Garcia’s charges gave their all and at times appeared to be ready to break through. Defensively, they were dogged in trying to hold off the slick-passing Lady Bobcats, whose combination of Munoz and Rodriguez will no doubt be a pain for league enemies to contend with in 2022.
DETERMINED TO HANG
Econ hit the track well as the match began, directly after the Jag boys had warred with the ‘Cats to start a Weekend Special doubleheader. With Maldonado winning the ball and shouldering up on would-be defenders, the Lady Jags got into the area a few times, and Garcia’s arching Route 1 balls, plus her strong throw-ins, set the offense up well.
For EHS, converted keeper Abby Martinez, a four-year presence for the program, showed that she has adapted well to the gloves, making a number of saves during the day and kicking with power, as she has done on the wing in the past.
As Munoz and Rodriguez negotiated downfield for the Lady Bobcats, the Lady Jags dug in and clawed through some rough patches. Tebaul, with some serious effort, charged right to the crease midway through the first half, but Econ kept her out. But minutes later, as a long ball sailed into the area, Tebaul was quick to the spot, outfoxing the Jag netminder after a mad scramble to send her side to the 1-0 lead.
Undaunted, Maldonado then marshaled a sortie of her own deep into the EHS defense, producing a foul and free kick, which young Genesis Mendoza popped to a goal catch from Martinez. Later in the half it was Maldonado again, shrugging off a defender on a powerful turn, advancing into the EHS half before being derailed.
Then Coach Eli’s kids doubled the lead as Munoz played to a corner: she and Rodriguez did the rest. Munoz inbounded to restart instead of taking the shot, and Rodriguez laid off for her teammate, teeing up the deadly Munoz for a bomb that would not miss the target.
With the stands showing little clumps of moms and families in umbrella pods, the teams came out for half two, with Garcia scalding a terrific pass of 40 yards to the streaking Maldonado, only to have Melo Munoz, the stalwart defender, end the threat with her own brand of power.
In the midfield, little Stephanie Moreno was a workhorse for Econ, refusing to give any freedom to the EHS middies. Despite a lingering injury, Econ’s veteran Anahi Luna gutted it up to give her side some quality minutes, same for senior Yami Medellin.
Even their best effort could not keep the precocious Rodriguez from weaving her way through the defense to set up a free kick from Munoz. Rodriguez is a straight-up hawk with excellent mobility on ball and fine vision of the field and players. She has got some size and strength, too, and should be one of the city’s stars for seasons to come. She seems so natural out there: at one stage she dribbled out of her own box, making two Lady Jags miss as she angled and slalomed into the midsection, looking to pick a pass. Freshmen don’t usually take that risk and be so unbothered by doing so.
The Lady Jags still felt they might be able to rebound, and Luna worked to a shot halfway through the second stanza. But T. Munoz came out with the ball eventually and abused a pair of defenders with the kind of feint-and-go moves she’s made a habit of using to perfection for four glorious campaigns. Whoop … there she ain’t.
But again, Garcia of the Lady Jags, having come up from the midline, steamed a 35-yard missile goalward that Martinez was forced to control with her feet right in the goal mouth, and a great Econ opportunity to get on the board had passed.
The Lady Jags seemed to slam harder now, with Maldonado going at it with M. Munoz in a thunderous clash of very strong girls. Medellin got a bead on Tebaul for a solid lick, but when Mendoza hopped on the moment and sent a thru ball deep downfield, the Lady Jag runners, tiring at this stage, did not give much chase.
Maldonado summoned a last burst of energy to almost run through on goal, finding Diana Soto with a pass, but the EHS stoppers were equal to it. One last maybe came through another gargantuan Garcia ball into the box, Maldonado popping to goal for a keeper catch near the end. As the whistle sounded, the Lady Jags had worked to another free kick, showing their undying will, but could not make the attempt, the match being over at that point.