February 10, 2022
By Greg SelberClick here for select game photos
They more or less knew what was in store, given the history and the odds. So when the visiting Lady Cougars brought their patented brand of rough and tumble football to EHS Tuesday, the Lady Bobcats were not surprised. Since the halcyon days of old, North has been a physical side ready, willing, and able to mix it up with anyone.
The slight surprise in this District 31-6A showdown was the way North coach Marianna Watson’s group worked with the ball. Using senior standout Ariana “Nana” Gonzalez as the active midfield fulcrum, North was able to take the action to EHS for much of the night.
Though the Lady Bobcats led 1-nil late in the match, North leveled near the death and the deal went to penalties, EHS winning and keeping a hold on third place; the Lady Cougars are in a fight for fourth right now with Econ and La Joya.
“We knew they would be aggressive, they’re always tough,” said the sleek battering ram, Milena “Melo” Munoz, whose tireless efforts in the middle of the EHS defense Tuesday was, as always, part of the story. “Yes, they did touch the ball pretty well at times, so did we … that free kick, well, it was pretty good, I have to say.”
The play Munoz referenced was Gonzalez’ equalizer, a magnificent curler from just outside the box, fashioned at 4:44 of the end. Erasing a 1-0 EHS advantage, it came after a mildly controversial handball call against the Lady ‘Cats. At first glance the incident appeared to happen just inside the area but was instead marked a yard outside. Gonzalez, whose slaloming runs, superb layoffs, and quick wide releases made her probably the Girl of the Match for her side (strong second for Ya Ya Hernandez, more on her later), arched a breathtaking kick that sailed over the wall and past the leaping keeper high left, nestling arrogantly in the top-hand corner.
A real beauty of a goal.
It was nothing less than what Watson’s side deserved, one supposes, because for significant stretches of the night, the Lady Cougars had been flying, using the speed of Sam Aguilar on the right and Trinity Ochoa on the left, and getting newly returned team leader Deyanara Hernandez into dangerous positions as well. All the while, Gonzalez was bossing the midfield, shooting rockets this way and that, sometimes taking long runs herself into the teeth of the Edinburg D.
Luckily for Coach Serjio Elizarraraz of EHS, Munoz and her pals were equal to the task for most of the night. Crafty Angie Molina made a number of clearances, as Coach Eli knew she would: he has always praised her smarts out on the pitch. Another contributor to the stand against consistent North pressure was the fearless Denise Guerrero, a sturdy left back who time and again stepped in to try and thwart the Lady Coog advance.
Back upfield, the other ‘Cat Cuata, Miriela “Titi” Munoz, was having her own battles against determined opposition. Facing off with veteran Ya Ya Hernandez, the flashy and athletic Munoz dipped her shoulder, cut the ball back, and danced free to create a bunch of fine chances. For her part, the rugged Hernandez closed Munoz out several times, using her timing and physicality to work against the quickness and guile of the four-year Lady Bobcat star. It was inspiring to see those two grinding for 80 minutes.
During this knock-down, drag-out affair, both the sisters were felled twice, Melo taking a strong kick right off the ear, and Titi getting plowed under a few times. But true to form, they shrugged it off and came back for more.
“The ref doesn’t know how hard my head is,” cracked Melo at one point, admitting later that she relishes the contact.
“We have to be aggressive, because all the teams are going to do that,” she explained, mentioning the team’s penalty kicks defeat suffered against La Joya a day earlier. “La Joya was not that skilled but they were very aggressive, sometimes that’s what it takes. They just came at us.”
After the Lady Bobcats clinched the PKs against a valiant North side, Munoz discussed the overall caliber of play, comparing the night to an earlier loss to Vela, when the Lady ‘Cats posted a clean sheet against the explosive Lady Sabes – second in the table now by a point to Juarez-Lincoln.
“Now that was a good game,” she smiled. “We held them the entire time, we did well in every aspect of the game.”
GOING AT IT
As stated, North attacked from the get-go Tuesday with Aguilar racing down the right side to considerable joy, often chasing down excellent balls sent by Gonzalez. But Titi Munoz was also rampant on the right, roaring down to make a fine cross just three minutes in. A few minutes later, she got loose again before a last-second intervention from Y. Hernandez stopped the threat.
Soon it was Aguilar again, flowing toward the byline and lofting a dangerous ball in, leading to a shot over goal from out front. With sometimes keeper Abby Martinez needed up in the midfield and senior Melanie Cruz in goal, EHS held firm, even when Gonzalez found Aguilar in the box with a sure feed.
Ruby Torres, up from defense for this fixture, got a shot away for North, and it felt like the Lady Coogs were creeping their way to the scoreboard.
But on the counter, EHS got close, only to have Gonzalez track back and boom away a mammoth clearance at the 16-minute mark of the first.
Freshman Amily Rodriguez, the elegant newcomer in the midfield, started to percolate now and EHS regained some possession as a result. But Aguilar was still performing at high quality, executing a perfectly graceful no-maybe catch of a long ball and turning in the same motion to head upfield.
Something about the OG Rivalry generally brings out the best in these two schools.
At 12:17 came the first major break, as Rodriguez pounced on a North defensive blunder and maneuvered coolly through two defenders to slot home a shot through the wickets of North net-tender Belen Santana. And that, people, is hard to do! Rodriguez held it long enough to get through traffic, never panicked, and let fly her skidding attempt at the correct moment.
EHS took the 1-nil lead into the break despite a couple of late corners by the Lady Cougars. Melo bodied down one of them and controlled it, steaming upfield to distribute; just the type of routine and amazing play the EHS faithful (led by Mega Intense Mom) have enjoyed for four tremendous campaigns. Watson’s gang benefited all night from the thunderous throws of Ochoa, and right at the end of the half, Torres located a long toss from her and nearly beat the defense.
The second half was more of the same, first-class football between bitter rivals, interrupted by two incidents of some note.
At 13:30, a series of loud retorts went off behind the field, sounding like fireworks but then again – shades of Donna North – like gunshots. The admins on the scene were off to investigate, and the match soon resumed.
Then, after a loud row right before the handball/free kick/not penalty inside the final five minutes, the entire North rooting section was pointedly asked to leave by the powers that were, the former having spent much of the night engaging in a game within the game with both the officials and the EHS cheering group.
This, too, we have come almost to expect from EHS-North, but during the delay, it was funny to see the girls on the pitch. Standing in a mixed group, the Lady ‘Cats and Cougars eventually started in on a laughing spree together, half exhausted and half bemused by the dueling parents and the overheated rancor that had filled the night air. It got so fun-silly that Gonzalez, waiting to take a corner kick, had to remind her teammates (“Hey, come on … focus!” she hollered) of what would eventually be at stake.
After the restart, the violation occurred, leading to the simply sublime effort produced by Nana, who certainly had no problems laser-focusing in on the task at hand. The kicker to this was: the departing throng of Cougar diehards had somehow managed to linger on the outskirts of the park despite the ejection, and were heard to unleash a joyous chorus of cheers at the glorious feat that tied the match. Only at a soccer match, honestly.
In the PK session, Titi smashed a brilliant winner to the roof of the net, after Cruz had guessed right, to the right, and saved the second North kick. Given that advantage, the Lady ‘Cats romped to the two points, as North, facing a 4-3 deficit, skied its last effort wide left to end it.
Watson, in her first season back at her alma mater, had suggested that North was in need of a big win Tuesday to make its mark on the race. One has to say that even though the Lady Coogs clipped just a single point out of the showdown, their overall effort and quality – and the versatility they showed, mixing perennial strength with improved speed and skill – should give them plenty of momentum heading forward in the hunt for a playoff spot.